Beard

Having just spent half an hour writing about “Fried” only to realise that I already wrote about it before I am in no mood to treat any Blursong with respect. Which brings me to “Beard”. Now, I don’t think music ought to be taken too seriously, and don’t mind artists indulging their whims, especially when it comes to b-sides and such. Only fans will want to listen to those anyway, so you can get away with quite a bit. However, what the hell got into them when they thought releasing “Beard”, a complete waste of jazzy instumentalism, as a “Parklife” b-side was a good idea? It’s annoying, it sucks, and in comparison “Alex’s Song”, “Ludwig” or “Supa Shoppa” are right up there with the band’s best tunes. And it sucks. And it got included on The Special Collector’s Edition while “Young & Lovely” and “Explain” didn’t.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Death Metal

Every young boy needs to go through a heavy metal phase, rediculous t-shirts included. I have fond memories of my days as a headbanger, even going so far as to occasionally listen to some of the better records released at the time, most notably Death’s Individual Thought Patterns, Pestilence’s Spheres and Morbid Angel’s Covenant. Funnily enough it’s my discovery of Blur (and to a slightly lesser extend Suede and, erm, The Lemonheads) that spelled the end of this spell, and prompted me to go get a haircut.

Blur and Death Metal crossed paths again during the sessions for 13 when Blur recorded a 30 minute song called “Death Metal”, probably inspired by Graham Coxon who claimed to be something of a fan of the genre. Whether the song’s got Damon grunting and Dave using double bass drum or whether it’s just a title remains unsure. The chances of it ever seeing the light of day are about as big as England winning the European Championship football this summer. Not impossible (just ask Denmark), but very very slim.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 7:59 am  Comments (1)  

Oily Water

Initially released way back in 1991 on indie compilation album Volume 2, and regularly played live at the time (as can be seen on the DVD reissue of Star Shaped, which is only worth buying for the bonus footage as the sound on the original film is the worst I’ve ever heard on an official release… shame on you’s, EMI!), the marvellous “Oily Water” was dug up when it came to completing Modern Life Is Rubbish‘s tracklisting. It sounds as out of place there as it did performed live accompanied by a load of Leisure-era tracks.

It is, however, a monumentally intriguing song. Lyrically, it was a massive step forward for Damon, while the watery sounds of the guitar sound as uncomfortable as said words detailing what sounds suspiciously like a hangover. Quelle surprise. The effect achieved by Damon hollering into a megaphone adds to the spookiness, as do the wordless chorus and the seemingly randomly inserted hooks here and there.

I remember listening a live recording of the song from Rotterdam around 91/92 on the radio, and a painful amount of feedback came through the PA system at some moments. When I heard the album version they were sadly missing, but bless them for not reparing a tape drop outs (or is it tape drops out?) or two.

File under songs that fade out/end to soon, next to the likes of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Purple Rain”.

Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 10:44 am  Comments (2)  

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  

So You

Sounding like it could grind to a halt at any time, 1999’s “So You” brought together post-Britpop Blur past and future like no song from the era. Its pleasantly underproduced sounds recall the Blur-era recordings while also hinting at Think Tank‘s more mellow moments. There’s more than a hint of Gorillaz in the melodica solo, while the words seeming to detail a relationship breakdown echo those of “No Distance Left To Run”. Which it is a b-side of.

Sadly, this song wasn’t ready when Blur released the singles boxset so the only way to obtain it is by buying the single. Or maybe it was ready, but wasn’t released when it could’ve been so as not to take away from the single’s sales. In either case, it’s an absolutely essential little jewel that deserves far more listeners than your average bonus non-album track.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm  Comments (1)  

She’s So High

Early in 1995 I decided I needed to learn to play the guitar. From my dad’s dusty bookshelves I grabbed a book of chords, and from my own CD-rack the booklets from the Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife albums. “End Of A Century” didn’t sound too difficult. It was. “No problem”, I thought, and tried “Advert”, which only had a few easy chords. Dreadful. Frustrated I began strumming away some random chords, and before I knew it I was playing “She’s So High”, the band’s first single from 1990. I imagine that’s kind of how the band came up with the song, and the lyrics.

Still, it may not have been “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but something was undeniably catchy so it was decided that this should be the song to introduce Blur to the children of the world. Alas, hardly anyone bought it at the time (least of all the children of the world who were in thrall of New Kids On The Block and Milli Vanilli), something not even a small riot caused by feminists over the supposedly sexist imagery on the sleeve could do anything about. Maybe they should’ve brought their boyfriends along.

Apart from being the band’s first official release, “She’s So High” also functioned as the opening track of Leisure, and several alternate (live) takes have been released over time, amongst them an excellent session version recorded at the BBC in 1990 and available on one of the “Music Is My Radar” CD-singles.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 10:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Coffee & TV

“Y’know, one time coffee was believed to be the drink of the devil. When Pope Vincent III heard about this, he decided to taste the drink before banning it. In fact, he enjoyed coffee so much, he wound up baptising it, stating ‘coffee is so delicious, it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it’. I also feel that way about coffee. And about TV. And … about Blur.”
– Bob Dylan, introducing “Coffee & TV” on his radioshow (2006)

The most popular of three Coxon-sung Blursongs, “Coffee & TV” is yet another in a long line of I-gotta-get-out-of-here songs. The lyrics, penned by Graham, describe someone longing for a more quiet existance after partying and abusing themselves for long enough. Someone who isn’t actually fit for living an rockstar life, because on the one hand his social skills aren’t up to scratch and on the other he’s immune to the bullshit that comes with it: “your ears are full but you’re empty”. He wants to retreat, possibly to the country with a wife, but is aware that there he’ll have to deal with stereotypes. He is, after all, famous for being one of them party people.

This musically irresistable song, with the same light gallop that would later balance out the lyrically sad Manic Street Preachers’ “Ocean Spray”, was released as a single in July ’99 when it stalled just outside the UK top 10. It was accompanied by a simply fantastic video, in which a milk carton goes looking for the missing Graham. Equal parts funny, sweet, sad and downright terrifying, it deserved every award that it got, and anyone that sees it will be treating their milk cartons with a bit more respect. As they should.

Published in: on August 22, 2007 at 10:02 am  Comments (3)  

Bugman

… aka the song with the billion remixes.

To prevent first time listeners thinking 13 was going to be a picnic, the lovely “Tender” is followed immediately by one of the scariest songs Blur have ever done. From a lyrical view point it appears to be about someone that’s been locked away being allowed back into society. His time out hasn’t much improved him however, and he’s shouting out warning that people should “watch out for the bugman”. For now he can “stay away from the bugs”, the bugs pressumably being a sort of MacGuffin for whatever the man’s after, but who knows how long? The chainsaw solo about halfway through the song does little to take away the sense that a bloodbath is only around the corner.

At one point “Bugman” was considered as a single. Artwork (which can now be seen in the booklet accompanying the anniversary box) was prepared and each band member did a remix; “Metal Hip Slop” (by Graham) and “Coyote” (by Dave) are nothing to phone home about, while “X-Offender” (by Damon/Control Freak) has some interesting ideas, but still sounds like a Gorillaz outtake. Alex’s “Trade Stylee” is the pick of the bunch: a fun Underworld-esque dance stomper that doesn’t apologise for its lack of subtlety. All of these remixes appeared as extra tracks on various formats of “Coffee + TV”.

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 10:55 am  Comments (2)  

Sub Species Of An American Day

As far as albums built from demo’s go, Democrazy, isn’t quite up there with Nebraska. Recorded while Blur was touring in support of Think Tank, here were a bunch of songs that were just a bit too unfinished, but the fact that the release was limited to 5,000 vinyl copies suggests that its creator understood how big the album’s importance in the grand scheme of things is.

One of these songs, “Sub Species Of An American Day” appears to have been develloped into a bona fide Blur song when the band reunited towards the end of 2005. It remains a guess if the result sounds anything like the demo, as Damon’s described the music during those sessions as punky and brash, while the 2003 effort sounds only a few steps short of a Gorillaz song. Having said that, it’s easy to imagine the last twenty seconds, with its increasing of both speed and volume, would make excellent cacaphony if assisted by guitars, bass and drums.

Published in: on August 21, 2007 at 10:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Girls & Boys

Sonja: Sex without love is an empty experience!
Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go, it’s one of the best.  
(from Woody Allen’s Love and Death)

While this probably has more to do with both being influenced by Chic, the first thing that comes to mind whenever I hear “Girls & Boys” is how much this sounds like an early Duran Duran. The leaping bassline is pure John Taylor, while the guitars (probably less intentionally so) sound like they were flown in straight out of “Friends Of Mine”. Add to that a firm discobeat, and we’re ready to party like it’s 1981.

Except by 1994 everybody, and not just middle class boys in funny suits with silly haircuts, could save up their money and go on a sex and drugs and rock n roll (ok, eurodisco) holiday in Ibiza or on Mykonos. Sex in particular is high on the menu, and it doesn’t matter who or what you do, girls, boys, or anything in between. What makes “Girls & Boys” so great lyrically, though, is that it’s full of ambiguities. Is Damon taking the piss out of the herd or does he show admiration? If there’s no work available, there’s no need to avoid it, is there? Is he implying they’re all a lazy bunch of girls who are boys who like boys to be girls? The line about everything being reproduced followed by something about getting nasty blisters, in the meantime, seems to point towards the holiday crowd needing to visit their doctors and gyneacologists as soon as they get back since with mass distribution of bodyfluids come conditions Morrissey could only dream of on “Frankly Mr Shankly”. And what’s up with these mentions of love? Are you kidding me, Albarn, or are the holiday crowd trying to fool everyone, including themselves and eachother?

Suede had been there a year before, but “Girls & Boys” breaking into the singles charts’ Top 10 is probably the moment Britpop hit the mainstream for the first time. Coupled with a tiny handful of excellent b-sides and a cheap but iconic video, it was nothing if not a classic single. With the possible exception of “Song 2”, it’s also the band’s song that even people who think they’ve never heard a Blursong have heard.

There have been a few good cover versions, including a hilarious take by Idlewild recorded for Radio 1, and one by the Pet Shop Boys that, not surprisingly, stuck close to the Boys’ remix of “Girls & Boys”. If that’s not enough madness I can also recommend the version on Live At The Budokan, which has some very interesting guest vocals by selected audience members.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 11:42 am  Comments (2)