Bone Bag

Sometimes misheard lyrics stick so long and rigidly that the mishearer ends up preferring their version than what’s officially being sung. When I first heard “Bone Bag” I thought Damon was singing about his cat called Shaking Bone Bag. At once I found this adorable, while I did worry about the poor kitty’s health a little. On subsequent listens I realised that Damon ain’t no Pete Doherty (even though The Libertines hadn’t formed yet at the time and Pete was still queuing outside HMV for Oasis releases and impressing MTV reporters), and he must have been singing something else. I’ve googled the words several times, but no website has given me a convincing alternative yet.

“Bone Bag” was recorded around the same time as “Oily Water” and “Resigned”, and shares those songs’ hazy production and introspective themes, while adding some Indian flavours in the percussion. Apparently Dave programmed those, went to the pub and returned to the studio to find the finished song. It remained unreleased until April 1993 when the band put it out there along with several other high quality b-sides to go with “For Tomorrow”. It fell off the radar almost immediately but resurfaced in September 1999 when it was played twice.

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Published in: on August 21, 2008 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Peach

The lyrics sheets that accompany Japanese releases are notoriously unreliable. It appears that they’re translated from English to Japanese and back again, with often delightful errors, such as, say, “Chemical waste, best part of the beach”. And there was I thinking it was about being lovesick about some violent hippy chick eating peaches. It’s an anti-Greenpeace song, in which birds have no business nesting anywhere apart of the gaping hole in your head. Morbid stuff.

Very laid-back morbid stuff at that. The song’s strums and echoes recall “Blue Jeans” (which was released later in the same year), and was revealed to be a favourite of Damon’s when Select Magazine did that article about every Blursong. He still played it to himself regularly at the time. It’s doubtful he still does, but “Peach” is definitely yet another embarrassingly amazing “For Tomorrow” b-side, vinyl-skip-gimmick et al.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Maggie May

They could’ve just said “no”, but weakened resistance in three quarters of the band resulted in this Rod Stewart classic getting unceremoniously molested for 1992 compilation album Ruby Trax. Only Alex refused to play on it on the grounds of despising Rod Stewart, and all bass parts were played on a keyboard. If only the rest of Blur had been as sensible.

It was also a b-side on “Chemical World” and subsequently included on The Special Collectors Edition in favour of the likes of “Young & Lovely”, “Uncle Love” and “Explain”. What really takes the biscuit though is that Blur’s label thought it’d make a good single, which, as far as record company blundering goes, would have been up there with Decca turning down The Beatles, Virgin Records buying off Mariah Carey for a rediculous sum only for her to release her biggest selling record on a new label a short time after, or Linkin Park being allowed near microphones and amplifiers.

Published in: on August 10, 2007 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beached Whale

I have never heard this Modern Life Is Rubbish outtake (which for years I was convinced was called “Bleached Whale”), but it must be good as the band were really on a roll at the time. Here’s hoping that either someone can persuade Alex to leak it onto the net, or it’s released in some rarities collection.

Now, about the second option: do it well! That means, a CD or couple of CDs, handsomely packaged, and available at record stores. Whatever you do, band/record company, do not follow the cheap and easy way of releasing such a collection as an iTunes exclusive. Physical copies we can play on our stereo sets is what we want. Or worse, ff I were a U2 fan I’d have gone to Hogwarts to learn some curses by now; the audacity of releasing such a collection only as an extra in The Complete U2!!!! I’d put a fucking Banishing Charm on The Edge, landing him right in a dole queue. Anyone who wants to hear bands’ outtakes are those that own all the records, sometimes multiple times over. Surely no fan will want to have to buy several hundreds of mp3’s of songs they already have for several hundreds of dollars/punds/euros to get twenty “exclusives”.

Published in: on July 24, 2007 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Oliver’s Army

“One of the worst things we’ve done” – Damon

Around the time of Modern Life Is Rubbish, Blur recorded three covers (four if you count the unreleased “Video Killed The Radio Star”), ranging in quality from the awful but hilarious to alright but boring. “Oliver’s Army”, released on the charity album Peace Together, falls in the latter category, despite it being the only one of the three that has a cooperative bass player doing what he’s paid to do, albeit reluctantly.

“What’s the point in trying to improve on what you already like? Plus, you only get half the money” – Alex

Blur’s version of Elvis Costello’s 1979 attack on the British Army “targeting disadvantaged young men leaving secondary school” (thanks Wiki) sounds kind of aenemic and flat though. There’s no conviction or anger in Damon’s vocals, Graham’s guitars may have been recorded while he was sleeping, and the Abba-esque piano parts that are the icing of the original’s cake have been ditched altogether. It’s as if the band didn’t want to refuse recording for a good cause, but neither felt like making too much of an effort. The fact that it bears listening to at all is all thanks to Mr. Costello’s composing skills.

Published in: on July 5, 2007 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Young & Lovely

Unlike, to name a few, Oasis, Suede, The Smiths and Kenickie, Blur aren’t often mentioned as a band whose b-sides are as good (or even better) than their album tracks. Part of the blame can be laid with the band themselves; they’ve tossed a fair few near-turds, remixes, live-recordings and inconcequential instrumentals onto their singles, especially during the Parklife era. All these threaten to overshadow the fact that a fabulous 2-disc set of b-sides to compete with Louder Than Bombs, Sci-Fi Lullabies or The Masterplan could easily be compiled. Hell, it would beat any of them.

Let’s not shit ourselves to state it;  Young & Lovely” is the best of the bunch. Everyone who’s heard it, from fans to band, and people from other bands to Food Records, agrees it should have been on Modern Life Is Rubbish. But, in the words of Damon, “it didn’t get on there and fucking “Turn It Up” did”.

Everything on the track is perfect. A “Beetlebum”-like pace with drums and bass forming an incredibly solid base for Graham to hammer-on on top of. Beautiful melodies that take more unexpected, yet unforced, twists than a great Umberto Eco novel (as opposed to an insane amount of fairly obvious, not-so-unexpected clumsy ones a la The Da-Vinci Code… hello Kaiser Chiefs!), and a lyric about hitting puberty that may be Damon’s sweetest. “Friday’s child” goes out for the first time in his life and is confronted with mannaquins in shop windows that “look far too real at night”, especially when shitfaced.

In short, this song is good enough to have been one of the best songs on any band’s Best Of, and they decided to make it an extra track on “Chemical World”. It’s also a bonus track on the Japanese Modern Life Is Rubbish (along with “Popscene”) in an exercise of making an excellent album super-excellent.

It was played live during the band’s special b-sides gig in September ’99, which contains a lovely Freudian slip by Damon, although in the song’s context it still makes sense; looking at mannequins when drunk can cause one’s bit to be raised.

Published in: on June 27, 2007 at 10:23 am  Comments (5)  

Pleasant Education

For all the talk about 1992 being a year of disaster for Blur, they were certainly productive; apart from most of Modern Life Is Rubbish some twenty other songs were recorded. A large part of these have been released as b-sides, but there are still some left in the vault. “Pleasant Education” is the only one of these that has managed to fill the hearts and iPods of Blur songs after it was granted some exposure of Blur-radio.com in 2000.

It sounds much like a leaked demo on a bootleg. You wouldn’t want to play it in your car, since you’d get around three minutes of silence; the volume is low and not an awful lot of higher notes and tones made it (although Damon does sound a little like he had a few portions of helium). It’s enough to make you wish for a compilation of unreleased songs, because what does come across is that it’s a very very good song, with some catchy hooks and a wonderful chorus that demands to be sung by large crowds. “I don’t mean to be cruel”, our favourite control-freak sings, but if denying this little gem wider exposure isn’t an act of cruelty I don’t know what is.

Note to the band: if you’re going back into the studio at the end of the year, why not give this song a chance?

Published in: on June 14, 2007 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Never Clever

“Popscene” is often called Blur’s great lost single. I will deal with the song itself later, but it’s necessary for some context here. In short: it was released in early ’92, flopped, the album it was supposed to be on got scrapped and, to punish the audience, the band has refused to release it on any Blur compilation since, despite it being on nearly every one of their setlists.

The second single that was supposed to be lifted from the legendary lost album was “Never Clever”, but after life, alcohol and an unsympathetic record company getting in the way it was scrapped. Since then it’s been released in a shambolic live version, recorded at Glastonbury ’92, as a b-side to “Chemical World”, while a more polished studio version was included on the Food Records anniversary album Food 100. In other words, “Never Clever” has been treated with far more discourtesy than it ever deserved.

In many ways “Never Clever” makes the perfect bridge between Leisure and the band’s more mature work that would follow; the drumming is reminiscent of the earlier Madchester-influences, but they’re played with an aggression that was never really there before, unless you go back to those pre-Blur days of Seymour. The almost-a-guitar-solo middle-8 with its backing vocals also wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Leisure, but the band are much more tight. Damon’s abilities as a writer of lyrics, in the meantime, had obviously improved, and are a logical continuation thematically of what had already been written about on “Popscene”: loss of identity in being compliant.

The live version adds some mild cursing and screaming, and Damon’s assessment, “well, that was good”. It certainly was.

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment