Thursday, 12 April 2012

It's All Coming Back To Me Now - Blur

by Jo Michelmore

It seems appropriate after writing about Oasis last week, we feature the anti-Oasis this week; Blur. You see, music in the UK in the ‘90’s was interesting and hilarious, for many reasons, as it so often is, but in the ‘90’s it was all about the Britpop and mostly, the Oasis vs. the Blur. Although it’s probably not close to reality, I do like to have visions of the little members of Blur and the fellas of Oasis sitting in a conservatory on a sunny day having cups of tea and intellectual discussions about something…intellectual, laughing about what fun they had back in the day. This is probably not the case, maybe they did hate each other and would just throw the scalding tea at each other, which would also be slightly amusing, but I do suspect both bands had amazing marketing teams and feeding off each other’s incredible success fuelled the sales. Oh how the Oasis vs. Blur fight provided much entertainment for a little while.

Blur were awesome for five minutes or so there. Ok, that’s unfair. Like Oasis, they were awesome for a large chunk of the ‘90’s. Emerging from generic London, Blur were part of the British reaction to what was happening in the US at the time, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, you know the names, etc.etc. Blur were poster boys of the Britpop sound and they were fun. Heaps of fun. Although they released their debut album in 1991 and then faced a bit of a backlash and drama with their second album ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ in 1993 (personally one of my favourite album titles of all time), it wasn’t until ‘Parklife’ in ‘94 that things got really good. They had a sound that was dance pop and mod rock and punk pop and a teeny, tiny bit grungy and just a whole bunch of great. It was essentially just a simple look at the average, of English life at its most boring and its best.

The first song on ‘Parklife’ was ‘Girls And Boys’ and is still some of British pop music’s finest. “Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys” are some of the best lyrics of the era (and also some of the most difficult to remember and sing along to, try them at karaoke after a few beverages and get back to me). It was such a great song even the low-budget-super-bad film clip didn’t matter; it became an anthem for millions of fans all over the world. Although Damon Albarn was clearly the pretty boy face of Blur, Graham Coxon, the guitarist, was one of the best Britain had to offer at the time and yet completely underrated, he was the type of musician I kind of love; suspicious of the general mass media and music industry, quiet and unfortunately alcoholic, it was his riffs that made some of Blur’s songs as catchy as they were. The title track ‘Parklife’ was the other single that helped propel Blur into the realm of superstardom. The clip was awesome, the opposite to the dodgy ‘Girls And Boys’ clip, it was humorous and incredibly witty and it really was a celebration of the mundane, a satire of English suburbia, spoken verses and a catchy chorus. It was the one you wanted to see live and sway along with the crowd to. You could dance to it, you could bounce to it, you could relate to it.

They followed up with their next album reasonably quickly, ‘The Great Escape’ released in late ‘95. This was where things got good in the Oasis/Blur battle. Both bands decided to release singles on the same day; Blur releasing ‘Country House’ and Oasis releasing ‘Roll With It’. Blur won this little battle for sales in the UK at least, with ‘Country House’ outselling Oasis and becoming Blur’s first UK number one, but I kind of think Oasis won the comedic word war with Damon saying “….Oasis are very nice boys” but Liam Gallagher quoted as saying “…my left testicle has more charisma than Damon”. Good one Liam. (It has to be said Oasis won the sales war this time though, their album ‘Morning Glory’ outselling ‘The Great Escape’ and rightly so in my humble opinion, it was a better album.) Besides all of that, Blur were making pure Britpop at its very best. Almost paying tribute to a 60’s mod sound ‘Country House’ had a strange German oompah band wind instrument sound at the end and Damon Albarn’s vocals are backed by a weird falsetto chanting, which created a rich sound for a simple song. Apparently Blur themselves eventually hated the song, refusing to play it live, but what would they know? They only wrote it.

The one that everyone knows though, probably their most famous song, was titled simply ‘Song 2’ from their self-titled album of ’97. It was simple, it was catchy, it was really, really easy to sing along to and especially great for singing really loudly in the pub after a pint or two or three (hundred). It starts with the drums, a simple guitar riff and then the magical “woo-hoo”; what an awesome song. The verses stripped back, the choruses loud and brash, even 15 years later it’s still two minutes of brilliance and after being featured in loads of marketing campaigns and a complete over saturation of the market, it insured the four members of Blur could retire early and happy. Pop genius.

Although they’ve yet to officially split, the albums they released after ‘Blur’ had nowhere near the same commercial success of the three greats of the 90’s. Damon Albarn has been doing his own thing since 2000 with the Gorillaz, Graham Coxon releases his own solo work (note to self: must check out), drummer Dave Rountree has dabbled in politics and bass player Alex Jones; well, his claim to fame more recently is cheese maker (yes, cheese maker, maker of cheese. How fabulously interesting, I think.)

As for the great Britpop battle? Who can say who won? Oasis sold more records than Blur. Is that winning though? Damon Albarn seems to have managed to maintain more relevance in the music industry through the last decade with the ground breaking Gorillaz and I’ve never tasted Alex Jones’ cheese (?!); it could be delicious and I’d never mock a delicious fromage. Blur will play a gig to close the London Olympics ceremony this year (Damon saying it’s their last) but Noel is rumoured to play at the opening ceremony. Who wins? Although Liam and Noel are continually equally hilarious, maybe it’s Blur who won, after all, maybe it was one of the Gallaghers they were referencing when they came up with the lyrics “…when you put it all together there's the model of a charmless man."

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