Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s
It was one of those stardust radio moments, the kind the thing was invented for: in my kitchen, 1994, and the room filling up with the most dynamic pop I’d ever heard, the hammering music finely balanced between suavity and thuggery, the voice a cocktail of croon and gurgle. Roxy Music – “Virginia Plain“, 22 years old by then, and I remember thinking: why couldn’t I hear something new with that vibrancy, invention and callous cleverness? And then twenty minutes later, I did.
Blur were a band I spent the decade hating, because when they were bad, they were horrid, their faults so glaring I could never see through to the handful of world-class songs they’d recorded. The problem was never that they sounded like other bands, you just got the impression that they thought that being like the Kinks (or XTC or Madness or Pavement) would lead automatically to them meaning as much as those bands had. It says something unpleasant about the 90s that they were probably right. Damon Albarn’s much-pilloried character songs, snarky pen-portraits of unfortunate individuals not as well-off or handsome or sensitive or clued-up as him, were of a piece with the musical magpie-ism: Blur, and the decade that begat them, are about curatorship, the considered deployment of styles, characters, attitudes. The people in Blur songs are specimens, the moods tried on for size. Damon’s good at his job: they mostly fit.
But sometimes his beady sociologist’s eye works a charm. You’d have to be quite the ideologue to claim the holiday hedonism of “Girls And Boys” was condescending and not just plain accurate. And even if Damon’s being patronising, the band aren’t. “Girls And Boys” rampages from speaker to speaker – it’s ugly, thumping, blaring, thrilling disco-pop with every instrument put to the service of the beat, the beat, the beat. Short of actually covering “Celebrate” or “Agadoo“, it’s hard to see how Blur could have got any more aggressively, synthetically stupid or made any more sense. Even Damon’s art-urchin bleat fits into the song’s glassy, fun-at-any-cost clangour. The last great New Wave hit: the best thing they ever did.