Saturday, August 22, 2009

Forgotten Classic Video(s) of the Week (12" Extended Dance Remix)

No, I'm not posting the video for a dance hall classic. The title actually refers to the length of this post. I'm in an obsessive mood, so settle in for some rhapsodical waxing.

You know those artists who sort of lie at the outskirts of your musical mind? The ones you're vaguely aware of and seem to enjoy whenever you hear one of their songs, but some unknown force (e.g., laziness, forgetfulness, lack of resources) always keeps you from finding out more about them? Usually, there is some point when you finally decide that you ARE going to investigate, and one of three things happens: (1) You decide they suck and it wasn't worth the effort, (2) You discover a few more good songs for your collection, or (3) You fall completely in love and curse yourself and those unknown forces for cheating you out of that music for so long.

I've recently gone all #3 over Blur.

Blur (l-r): Graham Coxon (guitar), Damon Albarn (vocals/keyboards), Dave Rowntree (drums), Alex James (bass)

The easiest scapegoat on which to blame my Blur-deficient existence is American radio. I suppose that, in the early- to mid-'90s, grunge ruled the radio (and, as a Pearl Jam fan, I'm not really complaining), leaving absolutely no room for Britpop. As that name implies, Britpop bands were SO British. More British than Queen Elizabeth playing footy in her knickers whilst eating a scone. The only band that broke through big in America was Oasis. Probably because they were all about big guitars and rude attitudes, a combination that was much easier for all our disaffected, angsty youth to digest than Supergrass's proclamations that being young is actually pretty awesome ("Alright") or the slick, artsy stick figures in Suede purporting to be "Trash."

Blur were probably the most overtly British of all. Streams of British slang flowed from the cockney mouth of lead singer Damon Albarn, who complained about the Americanization of England ("Parklife") and satirized the "Girls Gone Wild" party-centric culture of the '90s to a Eurotrashy disco beat ("Girls & Boys"). I recently read that, after being torn apart and shunned on one of their early American tours, Albarn returned to England with the intention of "destroying grunge." I should probably hate him for that, but I can't, for two good reasons: (1) He's brilliant, and (2) He's one of the most beautiful men I've ever seen. (Hey, this is all about the music, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the superficial cherry on top.)

My rediscovery of Blur started a couple of months ago, when their video for "Country House" popped up on VH1 Classic's 120 Minutes. That song was one in a small handful of Blur songs that I knew, but I hadn't heard it in years (probably since it was first released in 1995), and I'd never seen the video. The song was at the heart of the "Battle of Britpop," the infamous UK chart battle between Blur and Oasis that even most Yanks knew about. Apparently, the song was ready to go weeks before but Albarn (supposedly at the suggestion of NME) moved the release date back to coincide with Oasis's release of "Roll With It." When "Country House" outsold the Oasis single, Blur won the battle but Oasis ultimately won the war by becoming an international sensation. (Though Blur would never find success in the U.S., Albarn finally broke through on his own, as the creator and only full-time member of animated hip-hop band Gorillaz.)

The video got me to thinking about this whole "battle" nonsense (after rekindling my old crush on Damon, who appears in the bathtub in that vid) and how, even though I liked Oasis, I much preferred the few Blur songs I knew to anything in Oasis's catalog. It was then that I stopped being lazy and finally delivered on my recurring promise to myself to find out more about Blur. Of course, it's much easier now than it was back in the '90s. If I haven't said it on this blog enough, YOUTUBE IS THE GREATEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO THE WORLD.

So, all of this babbling brings me to the first forgotten classic this week - one of those few songs of Blur's that I actually DID know (and probably my favorite) before fully immersing myself in discovery and obsession - "Charmless Man." Like "Country House," it was a song that I remember hearing and liking back in the day (both singles were from 1995's The Great Escape), but lack of any radio or MTV play caused it to be purged from my memory. Also like "Country House," I don't remember ever having seen the video, but it's a good one. It actually reminds me a bit of that Twilight Zone episode, "The Hitch-Hiker," in that the lead character can't seem to shake the unwanted person(s) on their trail. Of course, if Damon Albarn was following me around all day, showing up in my bathroom and breathing down my neck, I would certainly not be unhappy.

And now, to help you all along on your own path to discovering Blur, I'd like to give you a little video primer: one gem from each of their other studio albums. (You can also click the links throughout this post to see some of the ones I didn't embed.)

"Bang," from Leisure (1991)
Ahhhh, young Damon. This is actually kind of a dumb song (and apparently the band hates it), but the title gives me impure thoughts.

"Chemical World," from Modern Life is Rubbish (1993)

"To The End," from Parklife (1994)
Kind of a weird vid, meant to be an homage to some obscure French film. But Damon looks delicious as always. And the song...oh, the song just makes me want to cry. It's so sadly beautiful.

"Beetlebum," from Blur (1997)
Even though this record's "Song 2" was Blur's only true hit in the U.S., I think this song is so much better. I can't figure out why American radio wouldn't have embraced it, especially since we were all falling in love with Radiohead around that time and this has a bit of their vibe.

"Coffee and TV," from 13 (1999)
BEST.VIDEO.EVER! Well, okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. But Milky is the cutest thing I've seen in quite a while. (Note: Guitarist Graham Coxon sings lead on this one.) And what a wonderful melody.

"Out of Time," from Think Tank (2003)
Just a gorgeous song. The video is actually a live performance from Last Call with Carson Daly. I guess all that time I spent making fun of Carson Daly's show, I should have been watching it, eh? The official video doesn't feature the band, but centers on a female maintenance technician on an aircraft carrier.

Blur never officially broke up, but after Graham Coxon left in 2003, they refused to replace him and stopped making records. They reunited this year and played several gigs in the UK. Although Albarn has claimed that they wouldn't do any more shows, Coxon recently reported that they are talking about not only touring more, but also about recording some new music. I hope this is all true, and that a "tour" includes North America! I'm so angry that I missed out on Blur the first time around, and I would love a chance to see them live.

I hope you've enjoyed this blurry trip through musical history today! If I've made even one of you appreciate this incredible band, then my job is done.

Oh, and if anyone has Damon Albarn's phone number, please email me. Yes, he's missing a front tooth these days (and wears a goofy gold-plated one) but he is still hotter than most men with all 32.

Now, to close this post properly, here is a bonus vid for the song "This is a Low," a Parklife track that was never released as a single, but one that is rightfully a fan and band favorite, and one that they have often used to close their shows. It's a gorgeous, haunting song inspired by the Shipping Forecast, of all (British) things. But I think it's really about loneliness. Whatever it's about, it makes lovely Damon a wee bit emotional, as evidenced by that single tear at the end.


The Imaginary Reviewer said...

I'm actually interrupting my honeymoon/Hawaiian vacation to thank you for bringing Blur to more people's minds. They were a great band, one that I've only recently come to truly appreciate, given that I was on the Oasis side of the fence in 1996.

I look forward to seeing more mid-90s British bands here in future, like Kenickie, Sleeper and Elastica. I won't hold my breath though.

Okay, back to the pool I go!

Gifted Typist said...

Always liked Blur better than Oasis. Funny how they didn't get the same play in America.

Funny how Grunge sounds so retro now.

Soda and Candy said...

Blur *was* better, because they weren't a literal Beatles derivative.

Oooooh, I just totally burned early 90's Oasis. I'm sure they give a fuck now.

; )

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

I used to play a lot of Blur on my weekly radio show in college.

And by "a lot", I mean two songs a night.

Ian said...

Your story of discovering Blur sounds like my recent story of discovering the band Jellyfish. I second your feelings about YouTube.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You'll be pleased to know that I was always on the Blur side of the equation. The only thing I have ever liked about Oasis was the ridiculous things that come out of the mouths of the brothers Gallagher.

Nice Blur homage, yo!

Candy's daily Dandy said...

With a ROUSTING recommendation like that, how could I not love them!

words...words...words... said...

I barely knew anything about Blur other than "Song 2" (which I love), and would have chosen Oasis because I'm a musical troglodyte that can always be seduced with giant guitars and bluster. But these songs are pretty good.

And to echo Ian, I encourage everyone to seek out Jellyfish. Today.

Grant Miller said...

Two of my top 500 bands of all time. Blur grew into being a great band. Oasis started as a great band a nosedived. Somewhere along the line both bands battled for Anglo-coolness.

And I know it's easy to paint Oasis as a Beatles rip-off, but who better to rip off? Besides, Blur stole a lot from the Kinks - another great band to rip off.

Oasis' first two albums - both nearly perfect. The rest of their catalogue scores maybe a c-.

Blur's first album or two scores a solid C+. After that, they hit their stride and scored a good B+ or A.

Penny said...

I am only familiar with Song Number Two and Gorrillaz stuff. I can't see youtube stuff at work but I do love Brit music of all sorts. I will def. take a listen and download some stuff this evening :)

Thanks for the information. I love finding new and new/old music that is so worth the while!

Mathdude said...

I don't do videos. I'm not trying to be a jerk here. How about some download links, then I can check them out during the countless hours I spend listening to music. Seriously. I do the "mydatabus" thing Beth used to do, but I understand there's many more out there. How about it?

cube said...

Oy, now my eyes are all blurry.

Evil Genius said...

Coffee and TV is a personal anthem of mine. And the milk carton finding the lost guy is a corny idea executed to near perfection.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, I was sure I commented on this because I was all hyped up after I read it because I DESPISE BLUR with all my heart. I don't know what it was about them but URGH. The "Country House" song was the worst. I wanted to stab myself in the ears when that came out.

Oasis were 100 times more obnoxious and stupid but had much better songs. They might be retarded but they can write a good melody. I always thought Blur were too busy being posh and worrying about being cool.

Of course if I had to have a beer with one of them I'd choose Blur as I don't think I could stand ten seconds in the company of Oasis.

Blur vs. Oasis? I was always in the Oasis camp.

bearockr said...

Blur's really a great band, and I too loved those videos you have posted above ... I really kind of forgot this band actually too, though earlier it was one of my faves


Who Does This Broad Think She Is?

My photo
I am a winsome muse who was sent to Earth to inspire an artist to turn a vacant building into the world's coolest disco roller rink. We fell in love along the way, and I foolishly gave up my immortality. When the disco craze ended and all the roller rinks were shut down, that lazy bum wouldn't get a job. We broke up and I was stuck on Earth with nothing to do and no one to inspire. So, now I write a blog.

What Do Others Think of BeckEye?

"You're like an idiot savant of terrible garbage entertainment." - Falwless

"You're my hero." - Candy

"Get yourself a life. Better yet.....eff off." - Ann Onymous

"There's no one like you." - Klaus Meine