5
Jul 13

BLUR – “Country House”

FT + Popular186 comments • 11,851 views

#725, 26th August 1995

Blur-Country-House-54546 BOXING?

A “heavyweight battle”, the NME cover-billed it. And if “Country House” vs Oasis’ “Roll With It” was a title bout, the music press were desperate to play Frank Warren.

Perhaps they had most at stake. It was, in a way, their last great fight. Many other moments define Oasis. Blur are best remembered for different songs. Britpop itself? Well, this was the high tide – probably the main reason Oasis even count – and the rivalry became an ongoing, rather tiresome, pop storyline for years after. But even then the battle is just one of a scrapbook of memories: Britpop had to be a thing already for this tussle to even matter.

The press, though – this is the climax of its 80s and 90s story, its turn away from other music to keep the indie flame burning, and how it saw its favourites gradually win over first the radio establishment, then a wider public. And look – here they are! Top of the charts, ma! Whoever wins, we won, is the NME’s message, but in that final ridiculous week the story had outgrown them. After Britpop, readers dwindled, and no new story emerged: the price of ‘we won’ turned out to be that there wasn’t a “we” anymore.

FOOTBALL?

The run-in, as I recall it. Oasis, releasing their second album, were a coronation away from being the biggest band in the country. Blur, veterans on their fourth, were returning conquerors, Parklife having defined them (and their genre) in the record-buying eye. Singles release dates at first didn’t sync, then did. Alan McGee at Creation refused to blink. The nation held its breath – or ignored all this entirely.

But just as Cup Finals and Playoffs can be disappointing, cagey affairs, so the Battle Of Britpop played out more warily than it might have. Oasis, it would become apparent, had left commercially far stronger singles than “Roll With It” on the bench – the track doesn’t even show up on their Noel-picked Greatest Hits. Blur didn’t – there are better songs on The Great Escape than this, but “Country House” is one of the few that gets in your face enough to do this job.

WRESTLING?

It’s also a honking, parping pantomime. Both bands played up to their image: if you’d written the whole thing as a TV drama and had to fake up convincing singles, you might have ended up with songs rather like “Country House” and “Roll With It”. Blur could be tough to pin down, but “Country House” gave the public more of what they’d already rewarded from the group – uptempo, brash songs with a bit of satire on top. It’s a bustling, dense song – fun-packed and glassy-eyed, with desperation never far away: that niggling two-note phrase cycling under the final choruses, for instance. It pushes catchiness into exhaustion, mirroring the breakdown of its lead character. My first thought is it’s trying too hard, then I realise that’s the point, then I think it’s trying too hard to make that the point. Then I want it to stop. Then I end up playing it again. The grotesque, much pilloried video only adds to the headaches. Modern life is, as they say, rubbish. But were Blur – was this whole stunt? – criticising it, reflecting it, or making it worse?

ADVERTISING?

In the context of The Great Escape, Country House fits nicely: the album is full of brittle people, awful lives, and melancholy just under the skin. It’s an honest taster – as is “Roll With It”: Oasis at this point met expectations, good and bad. These singles were advertising more than just their LPs, though. To the new establishment at Radio 1 – who grabbed the Britpop battle baton enthusiastically from the NME et al – they were a vindication of controller Matthew Bannister’s brutal repositioning.

Bannister inherited a station listened to by about 20 million people, but the audience skewed too old – his vision, backed up by multiple moody, black-and-white promo vids, was of a station where credible presenters would play credible music to a credible audience. It’s a vision that’s endured ever since – shifting Radio 1’s role away from mirror of pop and towards its mentor. In 1995, though, with ratings collapsed and tabloids circling, Bannister needed a win: the Britpop battle gave him one, putting the spotlight on exactly the music his ideal audience segment loved.

In a sense he was lucky, but the showdown couldn’t even have happened a few years prior. “Chart battles” – we’ll see a fair few more – were a creature of the new age of first-week sales spikes: the winner was guaranteed a number one. If this was, as some said, the first time in ages the charts had mattered, they were mattering in quite new ways.

SEALED KNOT HISTORICAL RE-ENACTMENT?

The retro angle is something of a red herring in the music, too. Blur had influences, as obvious as their rivals’ – the “Country House” lytic is Kinksy, there’s plenty of Langer and Winstanley’s 80s sound in the horns, other tracks on the album nodded to Numan and XTC – but neither they or Oasis ever really sounded like anyone but themselves. As with Oasis, the voice played a huge part: Albarn’s distinctive, stylised singing could flip from naughty choirboy to music-hall rabble rouser with ease, but whoever he played you could spot him immediately (“..inna cun-TREE” could be nobody else). Most of his styles, to be honest, set my teeth on edge: there’s an ironic, above-it-all veneer to his vocals which seemed to begin as strategy on their early records and settle into habit. If I often end up buying Albarn’s melancholy anyway, it’s because he can be a great melodist, not really because of his singing or delivery.

PLAYGROUND SCRAP? CLASS WAR?

On “Country House”, Albarn’s not really trying to be sensitive – it’s one of his occasional character songs, indulging a taste for social observation. It’s about a guy retreating to the country because he’s going through some kind of crisis and either having or faking a breakdown – but the music does a much better job of capturing this chap than the words. Take, for instance, the Balzac/Prozac bit. It was approvingly quoted, apparently evidence Blur were The Clever Ones in this schoolyard swots v jocks fight – but it feels very rhyme-first, with “Woah, it’s the century’s remedy” clunking in to hammer home how zeitgeisty Blur are being. An unfair comparison perhaps, but on “Sunny Afternoon” Ray Davies becomes his character and the music becomes his world, and so the listener gets inside it too. The geezer in “Country House” is caricature – the one stab at any kind of inner life that mocking “I am so sad, I don’t know why” refrain.

(Meanwhile, over on the other channel, Noel’s “I think I’m gonna take me away and hide / I’m thinking things that I just can’t abide” is a good summary of depressive self-hatred. Liam then sings it in the same surly monotone the rest of “Roll With It” stews in.)

So there’s no empathy in “Country House”, just observation, and bald observation at that. Just as on “Parklife” and much of “Girls And Boys”, Albarn does comic journalism, not storytelling: he’s the Peter York of pop, the songwriting equivalent of jokey pen-portraits of “social tribes” in a Sunday supplement. If the bands’ backgrounds made it easier to overlay unhelpful North v South, Working v Middle Class conflicts on Oasis v Blur, this kind of thing helped the charges linger.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC, MAN?

Both singles are rescued by their guitarists. Where on “Some Might Say”, Liam bossed the song, he’s flatter on “Roll With It” and the wall of sound has to put in serious work to stop the song becoming a complete trudge. On “Country House”, meanwhile, Graham Coxon puts down a delightful Christ-Are-Pavement-Hiring? guitar solo that’s as endearing as the rest of the track put together.

BALD MAN COMBFIGHT?

The standard anti-Britpop line – the what about Goldie argument, you might call it – hardened quickly during 1995. Why were we paying attention to this charade when there was so much more interesting things happening? How could these throwbacks represent the real, multicultural Britain? I subscribed to this thinking myself, and the “Battle” fuelled it – on paper the idea of Britain’s indie bands straining muscle and sinew to create amazing pop singles was seductive, but if these two weakling, just-about-OK records were the result, the idea was a bust.

Since then I’ve softened. For one thing both “Country House” and “Roll With It” sound a bit better than they did. But also the effects on British indie music, let alone British pop, weren’t nearly as deadening as they seemed at the time. This isn’t as good as Britpop got, but it was as big as Britpop got as a pop event. The noise died down and the charts went on their merry – and increasingly diverse – way.

POSTERITY?

So who won? Oasis won the war and conquered the country. The NME won a last chance to set the agenda. Radio 1 won time to finish its credibility revolution. Graham Coxon, as it later turned out, won a musical argument. And Blur won the Battle of Britpop. Which was just about fair, because of all the records by all the big Britpop bands, none strained so hard to sound like Britpop as “Country House”.

6

Comments

  1. 1
    punctum on 5 Jul 2013 #

    No word from me about this until TPL comes round to the whole fandango. An 8 from me for this, however, because quite often for pop to matter there has to be The Moment, however it is engineered into being.

  2. 2
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    This might be the longest Popular entry. And it’s about bloody Blur. Oh well!

  3. 3
    Mark G on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Damon’s caricature songs seemed to have ended with “Stereotypes”, that one where the verses describe a ‘typical suburban sex comedy’ and the chorus admonishes the writer for falling in to a too-familiar writing pattern purely to create another song.

    “Ernold Same” and “Charmless Man” were more of the same, but it’s possible these were written before, or in the case of “Ernold” casually tossed off because Ken Livingstone had visited the studio and Damon wanted to write something to use him in.

  4. 4
    punctum on 5 Jul 2013 #

    not actually what happened

  5. 5
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    “Stereotypes” I actually like, it seems like quite a loving tribute to XTC’s “Respectable Street”.

  6. 6
    thefatgit on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I’ll keep my powder dry until I re-compare these 2 after work…

  7. 7
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Data point: my kids were 2-0 to Oasis. “How did that other song get to No.1?” said my baffled eldest after hearing the majesty of “Roll With It”.

    (RWI would get a 5, incidentally. Maybe a 4 if the sun wasn’t shining.)

  8. 8
    Doctor Casino on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Great read and a nice glimpse into this ‘battle’ which, as an American, I heard about later but didn’t really follow or understand. Blur had an even lower profile over here than Oasis and are effectively understood as one-hit wonders (the still-oft-heard “Song 2”). Probably never heard this one until around three years ago, at which point I played it over and over for a week. It’s good, much more fun to sing along to than “Roll With It” and most of “Some Might Say” for that matter – though I agree that the distancing smugness is a bit much. If it were any less peppier its sanctimony would sink the song (see Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” for an extreme case).

    Probably the key moment is the “in the COUNTRY-Y!” before the goofy little solo – where it’s made clear that Blur are having fun and not just making fun. Still, I wonder if this lyric would be improved by rewriting in the first person; c.f. “Paperback Writer” (which also benefits from being faster and having, to be fair, a much more skilled group of musicians).

    Somewhere around 5 is right for this I think. 4 if I have a headache, 6 if I’m in the mood.

  9. 9
    Mark G on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Actually, 2-1 would be a true reflection of the count of CD formats which was the main single format of the time.

  10. 10
    Doctor Casino on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Tom, I’m staggered at your charity towards “Roll With It!”

  11. 11
    James BC on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I was all set to say how weird it was that Oasis put up the second worst track on Morning Glory as their entry into this contest, but I listened again and was surprised how good Roll With It was. There’s not much to the lyrics or the tune, but the overall sound of it is great – propulsive, exciting, stirring. It sets a mood. If electronic acts are allowed to make mood-based tracks without much of a song to them I don’t see why Oasis shouldn’t be.

    Country House is OK but some of the lyrics are annoying. How is it like an Animal Farm?

  12. 12
    flahr on 5 Jul 2013 #

    In the context of The Great Escape, Country House fits nicely: the album is full of brittle people, awful lives, and melancholy just under the skin.

    This, I think, is the key observation – and not only because it allows me to plug my own essay on the album, one of my occasional and dismally unsuccessful attempts at punctumosity – but because it highlights something rather odd about “Country House” and the album: viz., on an album which is very explicit about its concept, the two songs it begins with are actually these which seem furthest away from it – an album about trapped people desperate to escape begins with two songs about people who have succeeded in escaping. And even if as Tom says Damon is laying out his hand by calling the first one “Stereotypes”, it’s remarkably affectionate, at least far more so than “Country House” is (and given the comfortably middle-class tangents that Blur’s, especially Alex James’s, lives have followed since that point, “Country House” codes now less as sneering at the stupids and more as the sort of self-hatred “Dan Abnormal” trafficked in – perhaps I hold this view because of how explicit John Harris’ “The Last Party” is about how nasty it was being in Blur at around this time).

    I like the album, not so much for it being brilliant but for it being so unified and forceful and sincere (much the same thing as I think about The Final Cut, come to think of it), and it’s certainly true that “Country House” (6 seems right to me) isn’t the best thing on it; for my money it’d be “Yuko and Hiro”, I think. I was going to say something facetious about it being J-pop, although come to think of it the keyboards are not a million miles away from Laugh & Peace's work on the Vib-Ribbon soundtrack (how’s that for an obscure reference!)

  13. 13
    flahr on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Oh, and I don’t like “Roll With It” all that much but its existence is vital for the purposes of that joke about serving Noel Gallagher soup at a restaurant.

  14. 14
    punctum on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Interesting how nobody has yet said anything about the actual subject of “Country House,” i.e. Blur manager/record label owner/ex-Exploding Teardrop Dave Balfe.

  15. 15
    flahr on 5 Jul 2013 #

    It’s a fair cop, he paid me not to mention him.

  16. 16
    leveret on 5 Jul 2013 #

    My 15 year old self couldn’t really see at the time what was particularly wrong with the ‘city dwella/successful fella’ taking off to a country retreat for a quieter life and wondered why Albarn found him worthy of such mockery. I possibly misunderstood the phenomenon the character was supposed to represent (something not a million miles from the latter-day Alex James?). On the other hand, while on holiday with my parents a couple of years previously we were subjected to a solipsistic monologue by a boastful pub-bore who was eerily like the character described in ‘Charmless Man’ and so that song was much easier for me to identify with on a literal level.

    On the musical side of things – possibly the most unorthodox guitar solo ever to feature on a UK number one single?

  17. 17
    weej on 5 Jul 2013 #

    How about that “blow blow me out I am so sad I don’t know why”?
    Does it belong there? The bitter, britpop-hating Albarn of the early 00s said that this was the kernel of honesty he should have built the song around. I don’t know if he’s changed his mind, post-reunion, but he seems to have embraced the song again, as Pulp have Mis-Shapes.

  18. 18
    Chelovek na lune on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I was in the UK for two days of that week, en route from Bucharest to Moscow, so I did catch a little of the hype. And I think the better single, at least, won. Which it is not to say it is a great single…

    I think the lack of “character depth” attributed to yer country house dwelling man portrays here underlies a sort of cynicism/callousness found elsewhere – in fact almost all too commonly – in some other Blur lyrics too. (“Girls and Boys” being a glaring example. “Should always be someone you really love” sounded intensely insincere.) Damon’s unsympathetic sneer gets rather grating. – and it really is not simpatico at all.

    And the song is all a bit too cartoonesque for my liking. Not quite (Danish 1997 bunny) levels of cartoonesquery, but almost. Even without the video. Knowing sneers, too clever-clever references. Another Blur characteristic (the whole bloody Parklife thing, anything involving mockneyisms-a-go-go), apart from when they were at their very best: which was when they ditched the irony (or the excessive nodding towards mid 70s-Bowie-by-way-of-Suede) and dared to be sincere. Which on occasion they were: both in West London paintings (“For Tomorrow”: now that would have been a cracker of a no 1: “To The End” was, even, languid, and delightfully so), or ethnic diversions later on.

    A 5 or a 6 from me. Roll With It at best a 3.

  19. 19
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #14 I’d forgotten the Balfe thing. I’m pretty sure Julian Cope wrote a couple about him too, probably less charitable.

    #17 The problem with it as a kernel of honesty is that, in context, it sounds like a pisstake.

  20. 20
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jul 2013 #

    The question of when Damon’s sneer is unsympathetic and when it’s a bluff would be a matter of Humour, and by the grand unified theory of same, the values across all possible readings will be unique to the reader. Which is another way of saying that I always took that line in Girls and Boys as the truth.

  21. 21
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jul 2013 #

    kernel of honesty is exactly right – I was considering ‘a pearl in the sharpened oyster’.

  22. 22
    Mark G on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #11, because an Animal Farm is full of rural charm, animals, activity, that sort of thing. Whereas an Arable farm is just harvesting corn, etc. and is not full of rural charm. It has some, just not as much. Not full, you might say. So, his country house is full of things that might relate, similiarly, to things on an Animal farm.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #13….

    You know what, check out Radiohead’s “Lucky”, as previewed on the WarChild comp. The first few lines I actually wrote, independently of Thom, as a sort of pastiche/step-forward from this song.

    “I’m on a roll (with it), I’m on a roll (with it) this time
    I feel my luck will change….”

  24. 24
    swanstep on 5 Jul 2013 #

    The video’s grotesque? Really? I think it’s a pretty nifty effort at not taking oneself too seriously while also clearly affiliating the song with the whole tradition of Beatles/Kinks/10cc/XTC UK pop clever-clogsiness. Honestly, I find it much easier to hear the song’s parts with all the visual cues in place. By way of contrast, I don’t find, say, ‘Girls and Boys’ (let alone any of Blur’s slower melodic gems) hard at all to aurally parse without its vid., so this may say something bad about ‘Country House’. Indeed, now I think about it, CH is really a slightly-too-arch-for-its-own-good, less-melodically-distinguished rehash of Park Life’s ‘End of a Century’. So, if CH the song is taken by itself I reckon that Tom’s score is right, but vid. included this is a full-service-pop-stars:
    7 (could go 8 on the right, sunny Wimbledon day)

  25. 25
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #21 I think in the song it’s telegraphing it as honest – the whole song stops, hanging a big fucking lampshade on that as the ‘serious part’. But the telegraphing is exactly what makes it seem insincere to me, like Mr Country House has gone so far down a rabbit-hole of self-regard that even his moments of quiet honesty feel like part of a script. If the whole thing’s set in a country house, that break is your host cornering at you at 2AM to unburden himself.

  26. 26
    Andrew Farrell on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Ah no no I meant in Girls & Boys, sorry. Not lampshading it also helps in taking it seriously, though Blur always were one to play with all the effects – if they were putting on a play then every lighting effect in the rig would get its time to shine.

  27. 27
    JLucas on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I hate this record. Absolutely loath every smug, unpleasant second of it. I can appreciate that Blur had some fantastic songs and were by far the braver and more ambitious of the two groups, but this and Parklife just made it impossible for me to enjoy them.

    Vile, an easy 0.

  28. 28
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I think Girls And Boys is horrible and sneery and their best song by a mile, BTW.

  29. 29
    Auntie Beryl on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Format watch:
    Blur CD1, CD2 (live), 7″
    Oasis CD, TC, 7″

    Price watch:
    Blur £1.99 (EMI offered the single to shops on a “one for one” deal – we ordered thirty and got thirty free, thus enabling a tarriff half of the standard £3.99)
    Oasis £2.99 (two for one deal from Creation’s sales force 3MV)

    One aspect of the chart week I rarely see referenced: Creation managed to balls up the barcode on the Oasis CD single and the first batch had to have a replacement on a label applied. The single arrived into stores a day late (Saturday rather than Friday) and it’s conceivable some stored may have had to wait until Monday for delivery, at the mercy of when the Securicor van went past.

    On hearing of this I left the shop and stuck a tenner on Blur to win. They weren’t favourites in the betting at this stage.

  30. 30
    MikeMCSG on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #14 You beat me to it Marcello. My reaction to this song (and pretty much anything Albarn does apart from the keyboards on Elastica’s “Waking Up” ) is “when you write a song that’s one hundredth as good as “Reward” then you can sneer you Southern art school wanker”. You may have guessed I don’t like this group much. Not that fond of Oasis either so the whole thing left me cold

    I seem to recall that Cope sacked Balfe and Gill for writing the hit single that had eluded him.

    Grudgingly the Bannister point is a fair one. I can’t stand the bloke and think a lot of his animus against the old DJs came from being patronised by them when his lunchtime “Newsbeat” slot finished and he had to hand back to Paul Burnett or whoever in the 70s. I liked the old style Radio One where bands were expected to hone their craft and produce something commercial enough for the daytime playlist rather than instant access to high chart placings. That sort of influence was waning before Bannister came along though.

  31. 31
    thefatgit on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Sneer works if the object of this song: “city dweller/successful fella” is a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. And in 1995, the Tories were mired in sleaze, so a pretty easy target. I’m not sure of Balfe’s politics,let alone Noel’s or Damon’s and it probably isn’t even relevant to either Blur or Oasis in terms of any of their output, but it can become relevant if the listener perceives it that way. Sneer isn’t necessarily a good thing to build your pop career around, but it’s useful to dip into from time to time. Ask Roger Waters. Ask Andy Partridge. Ask Graham Gouldman. Taken to its extreme and pointed inwards, then you enter Hotel California territory. And to a lesser degree, I think there’s an element of low self-regard running beneath both songs. The caricature in the Country House could easily be the disaffected pop star.

    So what makes either of these songs desirable? It wasn’t just their respective fanbases buying these records. Did the punters just get sucked up in the whirlwind of hype? I perhaps was too young to appreciate the finer aspects of a Bolan/Bowie rivalry and definitely too young for the Beatles/Stones rivalry, so this was quite amusing to me. Neither song was perfect and if Roll With It had been released without a Country House to challenge it, would it have sailed into the top 5? And vice-versa? They needed each other, like a yin-yang arrangement. That’s how I saw it anyway.

    Country House looks back to The Kinks, that’s the obvious bit. Where does the whirly, discordant guitar solo come from? It’s perhaps the most enjoyable part of the song. To me it sounds like Johnny Marr’s melody from This Charming Man left out in the midday heat to bend and warp out of shape.

    In comparison, Oasis just stick to a lift I first heard on Cozy Powell’s Dance With The Devil many moons ago.

    Has anyone mentioned what was at #3?

  32. 32
    lonepilgrim on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I didn’t like this at the time – put off by what seemed to me like cheap cynicism and a rancid arrangement. I wasn’t that familiar with Blur’s music apart from a superficial awareness the well known hits and so took this and ‘Park Life’ as indicative of a lazy laddish mentality.
    Listening to it now I’m more positively inclined towards it. Now I hear Damon’s apparent cynicism as being just as insincere as the brief interlude of ‘concern’ which (to my ears at least) makes the song more interestingly uncentered and ambivalent.

  33. 33
    jsd on 5 Jul 2013 #

    As an American I was only vaguely aware of the whole Blur vs Oasis thing, and I discovered Blur long after they were a going concern even. It was the XTC connection that got me to check them out (I’m a big XTC fan from way back). For my money, “Country House” is a prime slice of melodic guitar pop with clever lyrics and a fun arrangement. It’s interesting that you could find so much to say about it other than “it’s a fun song”. I like it, I still listen to it a lot.

  34. 34
    hardtogethits on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Yeah, I’m with #33. There’s a lot going on here, and all of it is really good. The only disappointment is that the rug is pulled from under one’s feet when the artist speaks ill of their own work – and although I’ve not heard / read anything specific, I gather Albarn in particular has done so here. But it is witty, tuneful and structured, and sounds great today.

    #31. I wrote an essay at the time declaring that the Blur-Oasis battle saved the UK from the “inevitable mathematical alternative” that I Luv U Baby by The Original would be number one. And that’s true. I quite liked the idea that these little piggies had personality and charisma, whereas the number 3 record had none.

  35. 35
    23 Daves on 5 Jul 2013 #

    Whenever I hear these character sketch Blur songs these days, I get really embarrassed. A friend of mine said to me recently: “You can’t be embarrassed about MUSIC. You’re obviously only embarrassed because of something in your past it reminds you of”.

    And my Freudy friend may not be far wrong. There’s something about Blur that ties up with my life far better than any other band. My parents left the suburbs of East London when I was about ten years old to bring me up in Essex. I hated growing up in Essex. I didn’t find any appeal in what I was surrounded by – to be another blank commuter, a City Boy, heading towards Liverpool Street. I wanted to be a Writer or a Musician which I deemed to be grander callings than any on Earth. I joined bands and wrote fairly horrible short stories and poetry in my spare time, many of which were crude little bits of satire which weren’t at all good. I listened to XTC and The Kinks a lot (XTC were my favourite band from the age of about eleven). I also behaved in a very arrogant way to mask my insecurities. Frankly, given that this actually sounds like Damon Albarn circa 1995, the fact I wasn’t a colossal fan of Blur is incredibly surprising.

    But I’m embarrassed at all those aspects of my personality now, and whenever they do a revival tour or crop up on the radio, Blur remind me of my awkward past in the way that Pulp or Oasis never could. They also occasionally remind me of what I can be like when I’m at my most stressed out or judgemental, and that horrible part of my personality rears its head again.

    I’m only making this huge and possibly ill-advised public confession because any comments I make about Blur are bound to be coloured by my own background. To be frank, though, of all their records I find it a tiny bit more bearable to know that this is allegedly about one particular person – David Balfe, the ex-Teardrop Explode member and Blur’s manager. Once I’d read Julian Cope’s “Head On” and had plenty of insights into Balfe’s personality, and read other interviews with Strawberry Switchblade which highlighted his rather Thatcherite attitudes, the song did become slightly more comedic. True, it speaks volumes about the size of the chip on Albarn’s shoulder that he felt the need to write and release the damn thing, and as Julian Cope later said “Just because the lyrics are true, it doesn’t make it a good record”… but it gives it more purpose and venom somehow. At least you know for a fact that Damon is picking on a viable target, not (as my Dad once said of Blur) “taunting the poor sods with ordinary jobs in the Home Counties”.

    Musically it’s also a lot more interesting than superficial early listens reveal. Due to the top melody line it’s almost tempting to write it off as an early Madness or Chas & Dave cast-off (and people did) but they obviously did try to pack a lot of detail into a rather clownish sounding track. And the jauntiness of the rest of it does contrast beautifully with the “blow me out” segment, which sounds like the kernal of truth in the whole record – otherwise “Country House” is, as Jarvis Cocker would say on an unrelated matter “The sound of someone making out they’re OK when they’re not” with its jerky, robotic swing. This probably would scrape a 7 if I was in the right mood for all those reasons… otherwise I’m broadly in agreement with Tom.

  36. 36
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I am also a big XTC fan, so I’m a bit surprised when other XTC fans love Blur so much, as when they do sound like XTC they sound like them with a great deal less heart and generosity, and with the genuine eccentricities swapped out for gimlet-eyed style-hopping.

    I mean yes, a good band to try and be like, and I’d love to hear the scrapped Andy Partridge sessions, but I also can’t help feel that Partridge and Moulding are the kind of people Blur would write a nasty song about, too.

  37. 37
    23 Daves on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #30 – but Balfe had pretty much nothing to do with “Reward”. It was a Cope/Gill co-writing effort. Balfe did try to write more songs for the Teardrop Explodes around the point of their “Everyone Wants to Shag…” album, but they’re easily among the worst of the group’s output.

    Even then, the only late period Teardrop tune Balfe wrote completely by himself without Cope’s help was this one, which is… OK. But that’s the most you can say about it. http://youtu.be/jRVABaLOVig His main concern was how much Cope was picking up in songwriting royalties, apparently.

    Oh, and #37 – they’re online now! Here’s one of them, the Partridge produced “Sunday Sunday’. http://youtu.be/mPVjWHFpgLA In this format, it reminds me more of XTC’s “Everyday Story of Smalltown”.

  38. 38
    Tom on 5 Jul 2013 #

    I love some of the Everybody Wants To Shag… material – “Ouch Monkeys” is one of my very favourite Teardrops songs, “Strange House In The Snow” not far behind (though that was an earlier B-Side), “You Disappear From View” has aged well too. Dunno if Balfe did any of those though.

  39. 39
    23 Daves on 5 Jul 2013 #

    #38 “Ouch Monkeys” and “Strange House” are Balfe/Cope, whereas “You Disappear From View” is very much Cope’s own work, though he apparently hated the way it turned out. I struggle with “Shag” largely due to the clinical production. The two tracks that escaped that session and made their way on to “World Shut Your Mouth” (“Sex (Pussyface)” and “Metranil Vavin”) sound far superior in that guise, though “Matranil Vavin” admittedly seemed to have undergone numerous rewrites by the time it got to that point.

    Incidentally, your point about XTC vs Blur is a familiar argument in my house. My wife hates XTC for their “artschool pomposity” and loves Blur, which I find hard to take. But the criticism Coxon has made of Partridge is that he “over thinks things” and Blur “swing more”. I’d say the reverse is true, particularly if you spin back to the likes of “Black Sea” – there’s an energy, rhythm and force to that record Blur have never even come close to. But hey ho.

  40. 40
    fivelongdays on 5 Jul 2013 #

    13-year-old me took the somewhat diplomatic stance – shared by a great many of my contemporaries – that both Blur AND Oasis were ace, but ‘Country House’ is a better single.

    I read somewhere that TBoB saw the two bands release their two weakest singles to date at the same time. While I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that (Hello, ‘Bang!’), whoever said it had a point. CH is a good track, but not one of Blur’s best. They’re a band who’ve had a few songs that would have got a 10 if they made it all the way but, because I’m feeling charitable, I’ll let it squeeze a seven.

    I’ll write more about this when I get the time.

  41. 41
    Auntie Beryl on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #34 I’m fairly sure I’m not the only person on this board who wouldn’t have minded “I Luv U Baby” getting to number one.

    Princesque title aside, there were a load of record buyers who couldn’t give two fucks about Blur vs Oasis but wanted to buy The Original single.

    I’d have thought it was one of the better selling number threes of the nineties.

  42. 42
    Auntie Beryl on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Plus, the kerning on the sleeve is horrific. Stylorouge, you did a terrible, lazy job there.

  43. 43
    mapman132 on 6 Jul 2013 #

    As was already stated above, the Battle of Britpop was wholly ignored in the US. Neither song charted or got any airplay that I was aware of. Oasis of course briefly acheived mainstream US success with their next single, but Blur never quite did. I wouldn’t quite call them a one hit wonder though, as they had a habit of popping into modern rock consciousness every couple years: “There’s No Other Way” in 1991, “Girls and Boys” in 1994, and of course, what most Americans would refer to as the ‘woo hoo song’ in 1997.
    I like “Country House”, but I can see why it never hit in the US – it just doesn’t culturally resonate here. 7 for me however.

  44. 44
    Doctor Casino on 6 Jul 2013 #

    23 Daves @ #35 – wonderful post, thank you for sharing. You’ve put your finger exactly on my relationship to a lot of the music that I loved as an adolescent – I liked it, but I also liked it because it fit into an idea I had of myself and my position vs. my peers that I cringe at now.

  45. 45
    Alfred on 6 Jul 2013 #

    In a lifetime of record collecting I haven’t loved and discarded an album as quickly as TGE. Twenty-one in 1995, I liked “Country House” because it rewarded the listener’s education: I could titter over the Balzac/Prozac couplet because I’d read a few Balzac novels (but knew no one on Prozac, of course — yet). I needed the next two Blur albums to see this phase clearly.

  46. 46
    Lena on 6 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t think I was aware of this battle at all in Canada, though I was already leaning towards preferring Blur to Oasis in general. I’ll be writing about this whole thing in time of course, so I can’t say too much here, but that Elastica were part of Lolla in ’95 and I think they sold more in North America than either Blur or Oasis did, can anyone confirm this? (At the time itself I was interested far more in Pavement and Juliana Hatfield than even Blur – and my beloved Sloan, of course.)

  47. 47
    swanstep on 6 Jul 2013 #

    @23Daves, 35. Is music that embarrasses you akin at all to music that you just, you know, hate? I ask this because your comment reminded me a little of (not the Beach Boy) Carl Wilson’s recent Why I hate the National article in Slate. The money quote:

    ‘[S]ome of my impatience with The National or Radiohead is that they enact what I fear it would be like if I—as a fellow vocationally thinky type—led a rock band.
    My band might diligently compose intelligent songs of verifiable pedigree and substance, layering in jokes about our own limitations, and then, anxious whether we were hitting home, say, “Right, and at the end there, let’s lean in and get a little wild.” While never venturing into any genuine wilderness. These bands remind me of myself in earnest-dude mode, thinking I can win someone over if I go on stacking point upon point instead of exposing my unreliable heart.
    So maybe I hate this goddamn band because I hate my goddamn self, and I should get some goddamn therapy instead of taking it out on the goddamn National. But perhaps my reaction to the National is a healthy form of self-suspicion. It might be cathartic to reject over-familiar pictures of the world, when the artists seem like they’re getting close to the bone but never truly scrape it.’

  48. 48
    Rory on 6 Jul 2013 #

    And so the story begins…

    Somewhere among my CD singles is a copy of “Popscene” picked up in Woolworths for 10p not long after it flopped. Leisure had been one of the albums of my student year in England, but that neglected single signified something new, although I didn’t fully realise it at the time. Who put trumpets on indie songs in 1992? With Modern Life is Rubbish it became clear that Blur had legs – one each of David Bowie’s and Ray Davies’ – which they used to sprint home on Parklife. By the time news of the Battle of Britpop reached Australian shores, I was doubtful whether anything could possibly top “Girls and Boys”. But Blur’s steady upward curve left me hopeful.

    The clanking sound at the start of “Country House” could only be that of the band throwing the kitchen sink at the mixing desk. This had everything: a sweeping singalong chorus, an infectious descending bassline, Balzac and Prozak, Albarn’s withering “mor… talluh-tee”, Neuschwanstein on the cover, Coxon’s deliciously mad guitar solo… there was just so much to enjoy. The lyrics skewering the nouveau riche excesses of the Thatcher years (and the Blair years before they even happened) made it a counterpoint to Madness’s celebration of working-class life in “Our House”, to which its horn stabs seemed to allude. And underneath all that exuberance, hiding beneath the second chorus before moving to centre stage: I am so sad, I don’t know why.

    The result felt like the summation of everything Blur were attempting in their three-album run up to The Great Escape, and even though that album is marginally my least favourite of the three, “Country House” is definitely one of my favourite tracks of their Britpop era. That it won its notorious chart battle is the antimacassar on the Chippendale. 9.

  49. 49
    Rory on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Greetings from the ferry to Shetland, just arrived in Lerwick.

  50. 50
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jul 2013 #

    # 37

    You’ve sent me scurrying to my singles box to check if advanced senility is creeping in but no the credit on the 7″ is “Gill and Balfe”.

  51. 51
    will on 6 Jul 2013 #

    My perspective at the time, as someone who had followed the charts since 1976 – I loved loved loved the whole damn thing. People talking about the charts, people having an opinion about what’s in the charts, pop music being talked about on the 6 o’clock news (!!), this is what it was all about. And I loved it all the more for the fact that I knew it would never be like this ever again.

    For the record at the time I thought both records were fairly mediocre, but the passing of time has meant I now regard them both with affection, aural mementoes of that golden summer. 8 for both records, 10 for the ‘moment’.

  52. 52
    Mark G on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #50 That’s how I remember it too, the big disagreement was Copey’s opening line “Bless my cotton socks I’m in the news” but I guess they decided it didn’t warrant a co-credit..

  53. 53
    wichita lineman on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Re 50/52: It makes you wonder how Balfe and Cope split the workload. The third album/You Disappear Fom View EP was almost all down to Balfe. Like Tom I love Ouch Monkeys. Even though posthumously it seems the Teardrop Expoldes are regarded as little more than Cope’s plaything, they were a real group, and I don’t think he’s ever been quite as good on his own (much as I love bits of Fried, and China Doll). Here’s a piece I wrote on Wilder: http://croydonmunicipal.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/the-teardrop-explodes-wilder-revisited.html

    What is the sleeve for Country House meant to be? As Auntie Beryl says, the kerning is horrible. I assume its based on something?

    Has anyone mentioned Blur’s ‘Quo’ jibes against Roll With It yet? Even in 1995 I think people held Down Down and Paper Plane in fairly high esteem, at least among my friends, so that seemed quite lame.

    As for the ‘battle’, Blur’s chav-bashing mindset was ahead of its time, I’ll give them that.

  54. 54

    It looks like a fvckton of early desktop publishing — books and magazines with covers laid out by non-designers, with access to a mac. Whether it’s “meant to be” this or just IS this I couldn’t say. The first two Teardrop Explodes LPs are two of my all-time favourites: I’ve never had much interest in solo Cope.

  55. 55

    I’d just started subbing at Sight and Sound, being trained in computer layout by a crusty old South African revolutionary socialist whose name I no longer recall. I remember him discussing the battle with immense scorn: I was still — post exit from Wire mag — too burnt out on music to care either way (in retrospect a weird kind of blessing, as I come at this entire overdetermined and overmediated period reasonably fresh). Aside from the Woohoo song, I mainly find Blur a bore.

    (Curious dancefloor anecdata from a party last night: when the Woohoo song came on — at the architects’ firm’s summer bash that I’d been coaxed into crashing by the chief architects’ sister — everyone started jumping about; when Pulp’s “Common People” followed it, everyone stood still again.)

  56. 56
    23 Daves on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #50 That’s interesting! I’ve lost my seven inch copy, so I got up to check against my CD copy of “Floored Genius”, and it definitely gives the track a “Cope/Gill” credit. So what happened there? Was there some kind of legal tussle or private agreement which resulted in the credits being changed by the time “Floored Genius” was issued, or is it just a misprint? (I know credits aren’t always reliable, I’ve got a copy of “The Snake” which credits the Northern Soul classic to John Fogerty).

    #47 I think Carl Wilson makes a few similar points there, yes – that feels very familiar. Interestingly, I outright hate much less music now than I did in my early twenties, but embarrassment is almost always tied up with personal involvement or attachment, or the sense that this is something I might conceivably have produced myself in another dimension. A dimension where I had considerably more musical talent, of course.

    Finally got hold of a copy of “Q” today which has a special Britpop section. It didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, except the little detail that Damon Albarn apparently only owned three albums when he met Justine, “one of which was by Janis Joplin”. Which leads me to wonder whether Albarn would be written off as a stage-school chancer if his career were launched these days, with Coxon being seen as the one who did the heavy spadework. I think Albarn has subsequently proved himself to be an able musician and songwriter, but I find that fact a little shocking, really, and wonder if it’s been exaggerated. I’ve met brilliant musicians whose record collections have been quite slender, but three albums?!

  57. 57
    Tom on 6 Jul 2013 #

    It would explain his magpie enthusiasm for different styles (and the lack of depth of his engagement with them) if he was someone discovering music at the same time as making it.

    #55 It was ever thus. Around the time this was out Isabel and I were at a wedding and there was great dancefloor enthusiasm for Blur, and Oasis, and then a shuffle to the sides for “Common People”. Was it ever an indie disco favourite? “Babies” was, but CP isn’t a particular floorfiller.

  58. 58
    Mark M on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Re 37/50/etc: In Head-On, Cope suggests it was primarily the work of Alan Gill, the whole band turned it from a sketch to a full song, and implies that he, Cope, wrote the words (‘I said I’d finish the lyrics in time for the Peel session’).
    That’s just his version of events, obv.

  59. 59
    Mark M on 6 Jul 2013 #

    As for Country House, I never liked Blur in satirical mode (the only bit of the song I can stand is the “blow, blow me out” section – it pops into my head sometimes, purely on its own, totally detached from its context. I often struggle to remember which song it actually comes from). As correctly pinpointed by various people, it’s a sneery thing, powered by neo-adolescent contempt rather than either genuine anger or the sheer joy of pricking pomposity.

    Although The Kinks are an obvious reference for the song’s subject matter, its indigestible combination of musical elements remind me that Blur were massive fans of latter-day progists Cardiacs.

    There are a number of Blur songs that I still enjoy, but Albarn, though clearly as full of curiosity as the Gallaghers aren’t, has a host of horrible vocal habits and ways of singing phrases that I find tremendously off-putting. Then there’s the effortlessly dislikable Alex James… (the other two seem fine).

    I was definitely in the a-curse-on-both-their-houses camp on the battle, although reasonably interested in it as a media event.

  60. 60
    Andrew Farrell on 6 Jul 2013 #

    I have to admit I wasn’t expect that to be the first time the word camp’s come up so far!

  61. 61
    Alan not logged in on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Was CP an indie disco floor filler? It did for Popstarz back in the day, though miss-shapes was the clarion call

  62. 62
    Izzy on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Surprised to find I had little to say in the abstract. One thing is that the battle of the bands thing was really quite exciting on first pass, then subject to hilariously diminishing returns when you get to something like Mel C and Geri slugging it out to fill the nos.7 and 9 slots in some chart a few years hence. The other is that in terms of quality this was a big disappointment, having been iirc initially partly sold as akin to a Rubber Soul – Pet Sounds – Sgt Pepper – bust thing, until someone twigged that the only thing that brings big coverage is a scrap. Had it been Wonderwall vs The Universal, well…

    But, having listened, as a pair of records these have a fair bit to commend them. Roll With It has splendid verses and a nice coda, but a weak chorus and typically doesn’t develop much.

    Country House is a much more interesting record, there are ideas crammed in everywhere. A few things that stand out:
    • Damon’s verses are spliced from multiple takes; I don’t think he sings consecutive lines once (in the second verse certainly) until the chorus. Interesting because they don’t quite have to be that way – the lines almost overlap but not quite – but I imagine deliberate because of the theme, and also because of;
    • the backing vocals are absolutely manic, there’s no letting up, they keep greeting at you, all different moods, all different thoughts. The same goes for the lead vocal, Damon’s expressions shift constantly – the comment at 56 about his staginess is perceptive I think;
    • I hate Blur’s horns, they’re so funkless and oompah. This goes for pretty much everything they’d done until this point; I’d say ‘ever’, but I have a nagging feeling there’re others on The Great Escape that do better. They’re better in the coda here in fairness;
    • but for all that, it’s ultimately unlikeable. There’s no feeling there, just some observations. Yet I know a good record when I hear it. (8)

  63. 63
    Hugh on 6 Jul 2013 #

    This was the first single i bought. I got a radio with tape player for my 11th birthday a month earlier and all Chris Evans talked about on his brand new breakfast show was the Blur Oasis fight (might be relevant that it helped Evans mark his new territory by hyping it too, as well as new R1 controller), felt cool to be identify with a particular group how lame that might seem now.

    The B-side was called One Born Every Minute. In my attempt to start building my own musical identity vs. older siblings and their mountains of tapes records and CDs, it also got a lot of play. It’s really really rubbish.

  64. 64
    DanH on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Another Yankee here who completely missed out…we were too busy with Hootie and the Blowfish mania here at this exact moment to care about the Britpop battle. My more hip older brother got into Blur first, and natch, my initial reaction was “the guys who did the ‘woo hoo!’ song? sheesh.” Country House slowwwwwly growed on me this year finally, but still is way too on-the-nose to be favorite of mine, and it didn’t deserve to make #1. Now their next #1 (hey-o, bunny), I can get behind that one.

  65. 65
    swanstep on 6 Jul 2013 #

    Had it been Wonderwall vs The Universal, well…
    So, did the chart battle fever continue for this next pair of singles or was Oasis’s chart supremacy so obvious at that point that no one saw any point in continuing? Anyhow, I agree that that’s a pretty mighty pair of singles; if Oasis and Blur were ever going to be convince as Beatles/Beach Boys/Kinks-style dueling pop titans that was definitely the moment.

  66. 66
    Ed on 6 Jul 2013 #

    “Oasis won the war”. Did they, though?

    OK, I know What’s The Story sold kajillions more than TGE, and Oasis became “The Biggest Band In Britain” (TM). But if Oasis won the war, you could say they lost the peace.

    Within two years of the Battle of Britpop, the first stirrings of the Oasis backlash were beginning, and their creative bankruptcy would soon be obvious to everyone apart from the most hard-core fans. Whereas Blur – well, Damon Albarn, anyway – would go on from strength ttrength. My favourite Blur singles are from 1999, and Albarn’s post-Blur career has been both more fun and more serious than anything the Gallaghers have done since 1996. There is a bunnied monster coming up (so to speak), which on the right day is my favourite single of the 2000s.

    So in hindsight, Oasis’ defeat here looks more significant than it did at the time. RWI was a harbinger of Noel’s exhausted inspiration, a reminder of all the flaws that Oasis had so far managed to overcome by dint of their charisma, energy, and Noel’s finite burst of brilliance.

  67. 67
    Tom on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #67 Very good point about losing the peace (though I can’t even remember how the ‘bunnied monster’ goes!). I’ll keep my thoughts on later Blur dry for now though. Yes, “won the war” was a judgement on the immediate future for the two bands.

    #65 I never quite got the adulation for “The Universal”, it’s good but among Blur’s big Britpop-era ballads I’d take “To The End” and especially “This Is A Low” over it in an instant. In fact, I remember being a bit surprised they’d picked that as a single and not “Best Days” which seemed just as touching and more, er, universal.

  68. 68
    John on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #62 – Good point about the overlapping lead vocal lines. In hindsight – and maybe this is a stretch – it seems like Albarn’s first foray into hip-hop phrasing and rhythm (the drums begin in the same syncopated manner but become less so as the song moves beyond the first 2 verses). You can also hear the same thing happening in “Mr. Robinson’s Quango” from TGE (terrible song though), as well as “On Your Own” from the self-titled album, which is basically proto-Gorillaz.

  69. 69
    Mark G on 6 Jul 2013 #

    #67 it goes vvh dun dun dun, vvh dun dun dun

  70. 70
    pink chamaple on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I find the idea that Blur have never done anything 100th as good as Reward (a 6/10 80s disco staple on a bar with echo beach, surely?) slightly ludicrous – I’d figure them as one of the very greatest British singles bands, maybe not quite up there with Madness and the Pet Shops Boys, but definitley in the medals positions with the Specials and Girls Aloud. And so Country House is a solid 8 from me, slightly hateable I realise, but also great in all kinds of ways – quintessential Blur in other words.
    i’m kind of fascinated by the thing about Damon having only three albums (which is also mentioned in the John Harris book) – does this just mean he’s a talented professional doing a job he’s good at but not emotionally invested in? I dunno, maybe it’s sort of good if so – like a footballer who don’t actually like football (Gary Lineker, has apparently never kicked a ball since retiring- “what’d be the point?”). Lord knows there are more than enough enthusiatic incompetents around.

  71. 71
    Pink champale on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Oh, and is the morning glory reference in the lyrics pure coincidence? I’ve never heard anything to suggest not, but it does seem slightly odd – it’s not /that/ common a phrase

  72. 72
    Ed on 7 Jul 2013 #

    @70 Echo Beach is an 80s disco staple 10/10!

    Reward probably gets dix points, too, helped by a certain amount of guilt about the terrible treatment TTE suffered at the hands of my fellow Queen fans at the Milton Keynes bowl in 1982.

  73. 73
    mr.raffles on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Reward is wonderful, but Cope has done much much better.

    Anyway…
    Clearly, Blur copied his idiosyncratic pop bits and, more effectively, his mournful oboe balladry to great effect on Modern Life is Rubbish and a few b-sides.

    CH always teeters near greatness for me. After seeing them grow so much, this just didn’t seem as much of a move on as I’d have liked. Still totally a good time, but it suggested a plateau had been reached.
    Which is always kind of a shitty feeling.

    Good song though. And they did rally at times after this.

  74. 74
    Billy Hicks on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I wrote a short play involving the Battle of Britpop last year, and it got performed at the Drayton Theatre in South Kensington in February. In short, it was set on the Sunday this got to #1 and featured two 25 year old flatmates, Patsy and Justine (do you see?) one Northern and loud, the other Southern and more reserved. A big decision involving their lives is reached in the climax of the play, and is solved by them turning on the radio – if Oasis are #1, it happens, if Blur are #1 it doesn’t. It got an awesome reaction perhaps because it’s tapping in to something of a 1990s revival that’s slowly starting to begin, and I’m currently expanding it into a full piece that will span most of the 1990s and the rise and fall of both the genre and their friendship/lives.

    Otherwise this was *THE ONLY* Britpop song I remember that as a six year old I could genuinely say I liked. Something as simple as “He lives in a house, a very big house in the country” was easy for my infant mind to comprehend and the video was funny too, so while I don’t have many memories of the battle itself I definitely remember both songs and preferred this one. It also means from now on I start to remember most of the #1s right up to present day, hurrah!

  75. 75
    Billy Hicks on 7 Jul 2013 #

    *Clarification to the above – today there’s a huge amount of Britpop classics I adore, but this is one of the few I liked back in 1995 itself. Today give me something like The Universal or Tender over this any day though…

  76. 76
    Chris on 7 Jul 2013 #

    #65 – this is what I didn’t understand at the time.

    I was at Oasis’ Glastonbury gig that June, and when Liam strode out and announced “this is our new single”, we were all agog with anticipation. Four and a half minutes later the bloke in front of me turned round and said, “Well, what a radical departure THAT was”. The disappointment was palpable (in fact the whole gig was a damp squib).

    Then, as Tom says, the NME announced the release date for Roll With It in the news section; at the bottom of the article, just one line, was confirmation that the Blur single would be on the same date – the hullabaloo didn’t seem to come until a few weeks later.

    When both started getting airplay, I was so disappointed at the ordinariness of them. As #62 says, Country House is by far the more interesting record musically, but it lacks serious soul.

    My best memory of that whole week is busking both songs on Granby St, Leicester, and making a ton of cash as a result (although I could only manage the chorus of CH, the rest was too tricky!).

    But as #65 says – there were a lot better songs on both WTS(MG) and TGE – so why put these two 4-5/10 efforts forward? Were they both actually afraid?

  77. 77

    No one knew if this was going to be a one-off or a long-running ding-dong: if the latter — was that a remotely plausible idea? — you don’t want to have blown yr wad on the very first exchange. My memory of the various Pop World Cups is that you husband your troops somewhat, and play quite strategically even when you know that one slip could send you home, with your absolute corker still unplayed.

    (I have zero idea if this is relevant: but I can imagine both bands going for “the song that is most US” over “the song we think is best” — for not dissimilar reasons).

  78. 78
    Tom on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I doubt the strategic thinking was about the ‘battle’ more the album campaigns. Not uncommon to save your best song for a later release, to win over the people who won’t buy the LP automatically – so that explains Blur. Oasis is trickier – they had Womderwall, why not release it? Not a summer song I guess – is there anything else on WTSMG which would have made a strong upbeat replacement for RWI?

  79. 79
    xyzzzz__ on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I’m struggling to remember whether I cared (as someone who was just noticing music for the first time) about any of this. I certainly wouldn’t re-listen to Country House though. What I remember of it seems horrible enough. The great thing about Britpop is that I never get to hear it when I’m at the shops, or having a haircut, I don’t know if its in the nostalgia pop hit radio station yet, which is weird given how it tries to re-creat British pop dreck. Maybe I’ve been lucky?

    Teardrop discussion is great, now listening to their records for the first time. Love ‘Reward’ but was never inclined to check them out despite all of the work Julian has done on propping up my beloved Japanese psychedelia.

    Also re-listening to ths old XTC singles collection. Don’t really know why the latter ever get compared to Blur, on a song-by-song basis the XTC I know (from ’80 – ’83) is miles better than the blur from ‘Parklife’ and so on.

    How did Graham win the musical argument? By getting Blur to sound like a shitty US hardcore band?

  80. 80
    thefatgit on 7 Jul 2013 #

    #78 The only song that might have fared better than RWI was maybe “She’s Electric”. It’s got that childish charm that may have exposed CH’s shortcomings more ably than RWI could manage. It’s perhaps a little more laid back than upbeat though.

  81. 81
    flahr on 7 Jul 2013 #

    #71 – I’m pretty sure I’ve read multiple things explicitly denying that it is anything other than coincidence – among other things, Oasis hadn’t actually finished recording Morning Glory at this time.

  82. 82
    Mark G on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Nobody’s mentioned the reference to “Morning Glory” in “Country House”, so I shall.

  83. 83
    Patrick Mexico on 7 Jul 2013 #

    I did not buy this, or Roll With It, but WTS (MG) was the first album I ever bought, aged 10, a swaggering delight.

    The rule of thumb’s that Blur won the battle, but Oasis won the war…

    Anyway…

    A hook-filled, witty, quirky number that somehow, somewhere lacks a certain “je ne sais quoi.” (Pardon my French.. but the video for the admittedly charming “To the End” was a take on alleged “most pretentious film ever made” Last Year at Marienbad – now that’s how to live up to your own stereotype.) Been listening to the Great Escape (and the B-sides) a lot this week and lyrically and musically – on broody, introspective fare like He Thought of Cars – Damon is relentlessly stoking the fire with a determination to do something very British and very iconic. Unfortunately, as we’ll see with future Albarn projects, there’s plenty of nagging downsides to this potentially brilliant work:

    a) The lack of empathy everyone else seems to mention
    b) The farting-at-a-funeral innuendo and forced sub-Cardiacs/second wave ska “English eccentricity”
    c) Those unneccessary high pitched wailing noises and “la-la-la-la” refrains. Something jarring about such childish tropes when juxtaposed with songs about executives screwing secretaries and videos with women in “kinky” outfits (hardly the last time on Popular the latter might overshadow the music)

    It’s strange, as Modern Life is Rubbish was a shot in the arm for indie rock as shoegazing and grunge became gangrenous, and Girls and Boys on TOTP 1994 was the three minutes that excited me about anything vaguely “guitar music.” Yet though this is a decent song from a decent album with a thoroughly alright and decent band, we can see Blur’s traditional formula being stretched to Inbetweeners Movie breaking point and it’s clear that the pendulum of influence would soon swing back from Damon “wanting to make music our grandmothers like” to Coxon wanting to make anything but. It works as a Great British Institution during a Great British Summerzzz so I’ll give it a 6/10.

    As for Roll With It, I don’t understand the savaging it receives. OK, it’s a formulaic take on the Beatles turned up to 11 but which Oasis single isn’t? Again, it would fit Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories (them again!) like a glove. You’d be making love to it if it was by them, the Replacements or any other bunch of (admittedly great) smelly lutefisk-munchers*.

    There’s a conflict between traditional Manc defiance – “don’t ever stand aside, don’t ever be denied” and genuine desperation of the classic British underdog – “I think I’ve got a feeling I’ve lost it inside”/”Cause it’s all too much for me to take.” It’s more heartfelt and genuine than CH – I’d give it a 7.9. Plus, if RWI had gone number 1, it would have paved the way for Oasis to burn out sooner, in their prime.. everyone (would be) a winner.

    * Sorry.. it’s a Blur-Oasis thread so any excuse for regional stereotypes.. by way of King of the Hill. Butthole Surfers are a bunch of (admittedly great) smelly Frito Pie-botherers.

  84. 84
    Izzy on 7 Jul 2013 #

    Something that just occurred about chart battles and new entries and when-things-changed: it was a foregone conclusion that the winner here was getting no.1, but Girls & Boys entering at no.5 (iirc) absolutely staggered me. Big indie occasionally scored a top ten entry, and occasionally higher if a really big comeback was on (cf New Order and The Stone Roses), but with G&B I had no idea that was in the offing. Only a subsequent Bluetones no.2 ever seemed so unlikely.

  85. 85
    Ed on 7 Jul 2013 #

    @28 “Girls and Boys is horrible and sneery and the best thing they did by a mile.”

    It *is* the best thing they did, edging out the gloomy 1999 singles I mentioned earlier. But the sneering there feels entirely different from Country House and some of the other Albarn piss-takes. (Even The Universal has those annoying lines about karaoke.)

    In G&B, the difference is partly that Blur belong to the culture they are mocking, rather than being sardonic, superior outsiders.

    Mostly, though, it’s the music, which is performed with such gusto – especially that magnificent bassline – that it overwhelms the mean-spiritedness of the lyrics. What is ostensibly a critique turns into a celebration.

    It’s the ‘Born in the USA’ effect.

    Certainly my limited experience of Mediterranean holiday discos in the nineties suggests it was received by its targets – who were also its target audience – in exactly that spirit.

  86. 86
    ace inhibitor on 7 Jul 2013 #

    much as I’ve enjoyed the extended Teardrop Explodes discussion I dislike the insider-knowledge notion that the ‘real meaning’ of CH lies in its reference to someone that very few of its listeners/purchasers can have heard of (surely)

  87. 87
    mintness on 8 Jul 2013 #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFRMxcCRhFk

  88. 88
    anto on 8 Jul 2013 #

    I’m glad that this very comprehensive review acknowledges that there were better songs on “The Great Escape”. Although I could never call them outright favourites Blur were one of the first contemporary bands I ever took an interest in. I’d been impressed by “Parklife” and was initially very taken with its follow-up – an album which the group themselves quickly grew to resent. Admittedly “The Great Escape” was flawed, like a lot of Blurs albums there were too many tracks on it some of which had a seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time feel (although in the case of that one narrated by Ken Livingstone I doubt it even seemed like such a good idea later that same afternoon) also the arrangements were overdone and yes, just two years after the suburban reveries of “Modern Life is Rubbish” the lyrics often seemed rhyming dictionary standard.
    However listening to it now I can still locate a fondness for “The Great Esacape “. It appeared to be aiming for a tone of British darkness thinly disguised as lightness. The sort of thing previously found in “Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be”, “Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James”, “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin”, “Abagails Party”, “Making Plans For Nigel”, The Specials at their most bathetic or even some of Martin Parrs photographs. I agree with Tom that Damons characterisations became too broad so the album falls short of what it could have been. Even so I would single out the last three tracks (“Dan Abnormal”, “Entertain Me”, “Yuko and Hiro”) as examples of where it goes right. The first two of those songs take issue with the “new lad” tendency with Albarn recoiling from Blurs implicit part in all of it, while on “Yuko and Hiro” the cockiness slips all together. One of Blurs most moving songs.

    I was never overly keen on “Country House” however. When it was first played on Radio 1 on one of those balmy nights in summer 1995 it sounded glutinous. The knees-up Mother Brown stylings had worked brilliantly on “Sunday Sunday” but at this stage Blur had taken it too far. Not the ideal first number one for the band, but then Blur always were a bit frustrating.

  89. 89
    Brendan F on 8 Jul 2013 #

    #84 – I think the first instance of this may be Morrissey’s first single ‘Suedehead’. The Smiths never got higher than #10 in their lifetime so Suedehad going straight in at #6 seemed a big deal. Of course he was with EMI now so I guess that must have helped and, indeed, it was Morrissey’s disgruntlement with Rough Trade seeming to give them such a disadvantage in terms of achieving commercial success that had drove him to sign with EMI in the first place. The next big commercial success for indie came with the Madchester explosion when Stone Roses and Happy Mondays had several big hits and, in turn, so did many other indie bands at that time such as Ride and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin who would have previously been confined to the ‘ghetto’ of John Peel and the other late night radio shows.

  90. 90
    Tom on 8 Jul 2013 #

    #86 Yes!

    #84/89 Oddly enough I got a similar feeling with Disclosure’s “White Noise” just this year – it just hadn’t occurred to me that strain of dance music had got nearly as big again as it had. (No reason for me to know, of course, with my age/lifestyle….)

  91. 91
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Jul 2013 #

    #89 A slight aside, but I have a feeling that “Suedehead” may have been the final EMI single distributed by Woolworths for quite some time afterwards – there was some dispute between the two companies, I can’t recall the details, but which meant that for the rest of 88, and I think 89, and I think later still, any singles on EMI labels were missing from the otherwise excellently comprehensive Top 75 singles racks sold in most branches. (All of things very much in the past now…)

  92. 92
    MichaelH on 8 Jul 2013 #

    Really, my thoughts on this are just an addendum to the Some Might Say debate. The record itself left me rather cold (as did most of The Great Escape; one thing I couldn’t abide on that record, and which most irritated me about Blur’s first few records, was the sneery, patronising attitude to its subjects. Albarn – like Weller and Davies and great swathes of “classic London rock songwriters” – seemed duty bound to portray any white collar commuters as wretches trapped in their pathetic lives. Hang on, pal, that’s my dad you’re talking about).

    But Country House v Roll With It was the hubris moment for “indie” (already by now a meaningless term) or “alternative music”. Here was the confirmation that it needn’t just be big business, it could be the biggest business of all. And here was born, perhaps, the logic of throwing “indie” bands at the wall with the promise they would be the biggest bands in Britain, and when that wasn’t achieved within 10 minutes they were dropped unceremoniously 10 minutes later (in a sense, that – rather than the awful music – was Viva Brother’s truest homage to Britpop’s Met Bar phase).

  93. 93
    Patrick Mexico on 8 Jul 2013 #

    With the misanthropists of British pop, it’s always the Londoners – or to be exact, the South Easterners isn’t it? In fact, Albarn and Weller apparently grew up themselves in “commuterville” (others’ words, not mine, I’d never judge anywhere without visiting – Colchester, Woking or Nagorno-Karabakh) and couldn’t wait to get out. I have little time for North v South, barmcakes versus jellied eels tedium – I come from Lancashire (the proper, rural part with witch trials and other quirky tedium) and there are great pros and cons like everywhere else, but it’s not somewhere I ever could write a defiant “Sweet Home Alabama” anthem about.

    I used to think the above “cruel” songwriting happened down South more because of social trends from the pace of the Industrial Revolution, which meant Northerners and (industrialised) Midlanders met and interacted with scores of people on a daily basis in the mills, factories and mines – whereas in-migration to London happened earlier from the rural South (and back outwards again into the Home Counties throughout the 20th century, i.e. Albarn’s family uprooted from bohemian London to almost rural Essex) – and “non-Southerners” were better equipped to work out how to use humour and “banter” reciprocally and know the line between “banter” and bullying or bigotry.

    But that’s probably a load of rose-tinted cobblers. Plus, though Stuart Maconie, pointed out (rightly) there’s something wrong when London celebrates Jack the Ripper or the Kray twins more than the
    Cable Street anti-fascist marchers or Bryant and May match girls, he’s one of very, very few professional Northerners I actually like – can’t stand all that sentimental Tetley Tea Folk/Philomena Cunk image.

    As someone too young to remember them in their “prime”, did Swindon’s favourite sons XTC win the charm offensive – i.e. were they seen as more charming or offensive? Were they seen as celebrating small towns, suburbia, rural England, etcetera in a friendly, knowing way or being similarly “cruel” to Damon Albarn?

  94. 94
    Tom on 8 Jul 2013 #

    XTC had some really venomous songs about suburbia – there’s no character song in the Blur catalogue as angry as “No Thugs In Our House” – but no, I don’t think they were ever cruel, and if they never quite warmed to the commuter belt they were often positively fond of ordinary lives and towns – “Red Brick Dream” is particularly lovely, and by the end of his songwriting career Colin Moulding seemed to sing about little but sheds.

    Blur’s digs at commuters are particularly vexing when you listen to “Yuko And Hiro” – once Damon exoticises the white-collar worker and make him a salaryman then OF COURSE he deserves a tender treatment.

  95. 95
    Tom on 8 Jul 2013 #

    Not that I think, as a white-collar worker myself, that we are the hidden heroes of history, deserving of sung immortality – as MichaelH says the issue is the automatic assumption they must be living lives of secret agony, hidden perversion, “quiet desperation” et al. Sometimes a hobbit-hole is just a hobbit-hole.

  96. 96
    Auntie Beryl once more on 8 Jul 2013 #

    There was a theory that “Yuko and Hiro” was about Damon and Justine. It’s plausible given timescales.

  97. 97
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jul 2013 #

    No doubt there are people in London who celebrate the Krays and the Ripper more than they do Cable Street or the Matchgirls — but vice versa also, actually, and it’s not as if the former have blue plaques on their houses or official parades dedicated to them. It’s less than a hundred years since London was the largest city in the world: it’s still in the top 25. It really does contain multitudes, for good or bad. It also contains a very very large number of people who aren’t actually Londoners (I’ve lived here 30 years and I’m not sure I’m one yet). So I’m not really sure what “London celebrates such-and-such” actually means.

    I heart Mark E. Smith but I think he’s crueller than anyone we’ve mentioned on this thread.

  98. 98
    Ed on 9 Jul 2013 #

    @92 Never listened to Jam lyrics very closely, but I think Patrick put his finger on it @93 with his point about commuterville. Weller’s not sneering at life “in the city”: it’s a place for drama and excitement.

    And on Ray Davies, MichaelH, you are just dead wrong. ‘Waterloo Sunset’ makes London office workers going out on Friday night sound like the most glamorous and romantic people in the world. Which they are.

  99. 99
    wichita lineman on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Re 97: MES, at his peak anyway, got away with it because he was sharp, didn’t use broad brush strokes, and was funnier than Albarn, Partridge, Davies or Weller. Which doesn’t mean he’s a better songwriter, but it’s why I think his put downs on, say, English Scheme don’t come across as sneery, patronising or defensive.

    And yes, of course you’re right about Londoners. I notice the Richardsons’ pub in St Helier has been demolished and is now houses – I’m glad this can’t have been much of a news story.

  100. 100
    punctum on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #98: Expressions like “you are just dead wrong” when applied to someone else’s subjective opinion are unhelpful. Please try to move forward, beyond “right” and “wrong.”

    “Waterloo Sunset” is really about the protagonist. That’s what makes it such a worrying song.

  101. 101
    lex on 9 Jul 2013 #

    I missed this debate at the time, maybe for the best. Loathed both bands already at the time and these songs are dreadful even by their rock bottom standards. Tom is being rather charitable attributing it to playing up to the pantomime, it’s just self-parody with no self-awareness (or not enough). Damon Albarn’s sneery vowels set my teeth on edge, Liam Gallagher’s neanderthal whine sets my teeth on edge, I don’t think I can think of a pair of pop vocalists more punchable.

    The pantomime itself was grotesque. I don’t buy that it’s a net positive when the charts get into the national conversation. I feel a bit like I do when I see everyone talking about Wimbledon, it’s like you know this stuff happens ALL YEAR and is often a lot better? If the national conversation only pays attention to the charts when it’s sodding Blur vs Oasis why would I place any import on the national conversation?

    Zero out of ten to both these songs and everything associated with them and with Britpop. Worthless cultural scum.

  102. 102
    Ed on 9 Jul 2013 #

    @100 – I agree it’s about the protagonist, but that is part of what is so lovely and generous about it. He’s distant, and alone, but he can still share the vision of heaven that is Friday night for Terry and Julie and the rest of them.

    It always reminds me of this, possibly also in the protagonist’s line of sight, the morning after:

    Earth has not anything to show more fair:
    Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
    A sight so touching in its majesty:
    This City now doth like a garment wear

    The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
    Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
    Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
    All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

    Never did sun more beautifully steep
    In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
    Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

    The river glideth at his own sweet will:
    Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
    And all that mighty heart is lying still!

  103. 103
    punctum on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Ah, Wordsworth. Afraid I incline more towards Blake’s visions of Westminster Bridge.

    But the song is still disturbing. Why is he there and why he is alone – why, indeed, does he “need no friends”? Did they all get killed in one war or another?

  104. 104
    Garry on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Britpop was the first thing I was aware of – and definitely the first Indie sounds I knew. Whereas I understood the boy bands and soul/r’n’b of the early Nineties were a movement of sorts, it was BritPop starting with Parklife which was on my TV in country New South Wales. And Oasis was the only other band I knew were BritPop – I’d never heard Suede and the rest.

    As other have mentioned, Blur’s ability to reinvent themselves several times, and Albarn’s musical wanderings gave them a better subsequent career by a mile. All I heard of Oasis after Roll With It was a track the local radio called Bonking In The Bushes, a couple of dry later albums, their love of Manchester City (apparently) and their sibling rivaly.

    If there was a war which they won it was Gallagher v Gallagher rather than Albarn v Coxon. For me this is because Coxon was given front and centre of the next blur album, had his own solo experimental (and eventually pop indie) career, plus a sad story of his personal circumstances/addictions. And finally the mostly Coxon-less Thinktank is a bloody good album. In retrospect it was proven Coxon and Albarn didn’t need each other even if they worked wonderfully together for many years.

    Whereas Gallagher v Gallagher was treated as more of a soapie drama, at least how it was reported in Australia. This is what Oasis became remembered for later, not the music. So I agree Oasis won the immediate war but couldn’t follow it up. Blur’s Song 2 meanwhile appeared everywhere… (And didn’t us announcers use it endlessly to time up to the news on our student radio station. What fun days.)

  105. 105
    Ed on 9 Jul 2013 #

    @103 – You sent me googling for the Blake:

    I wander through each chartered street,
        Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
    A mark in every face I meet,
        Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

    In every cry of every man,
        In every infant’s cry of fear,
    In every voice, in every ban,
        The mind-forged manacles I hear:

    How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
        Every blackening church appals,
    And the hapless soldier’s sigh
        Runs in blood down palace-walls.

    But most, through midnight streets I hear
        How the youthful harlot’s curse
    Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
        And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.

    Now I really can’t imagine Ray Davies singing that.

    Nick Cave, maybe….

  106. 106
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Yes, a hundred years *before* London was the largest city in the world, Blake could still write “the fields of Islington and Marybone”

  107. 107
    Tom on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #105 Richard Ashcroft actually DID sing bits of it – he nicked the opening lines for The Verve’s “History” (one of the only songs of theirs I like)

  108. 108
    Cumbrian on 9 Jul 2013 #

    “I am not going to tell you the real reason why because there are other people involved in the real reason why we fell out so, sort of, publicly.” Damon Albarn speaking on “Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop” – 2003.

    I have always found the above quote intriguing, particularly given that the way that Damon actually says the words in the documentary is farily vehement. I don’t think I have seen anything denying the story that Noel has produced on numerous occasions, about how Blur moved their single date to clash with Oasis and how Oasis decided not to budge (indeed, in the same documentary, Noel ascribes the whole thing as a fit up between Blur and the NME, so that the latter could sell more papers covering the “Battle of Britpop” – probably just paranoia, I’d say but I am sure that there are people on this site who would have a lot more insight on that than me). Liam had made typically un-pc comments about Justine Frischmann (Justine of course could stand up for herself, and did so in print). Did Damon decide to give Oasis a bloody nose as a result of this? I guess it’s perfectly possible – but without digging into the above quote with Damon, I don’t know whether it’s possible to get to the truth of the motivations behind this little incident in chart history. Clearly something had gone on between the two bands though – it would be only a few short weeks after this #1 that Noel gave the most horrific interview to Miranda Sawyer – wishing AIDS on both Damon and Alex.

    Country House is, marginally, the better of the two songs to my ears, probably because of the sense of difference between sections (bringing in the big brass at the end, the blow me out section, etc), rather than grinding away in the same fashion a la Roll With It. The video is pretty horrible though – but I think it might be intended to be. It’s a throwback to a load of 70s tropes by the looks of things (playing board games – not computer games, Benny Hill being the height of comedy – despite the depressingly misogynist view of women, even the “blow, blow me out section” is a rip off of the Bohemian Rhapsody video) and it might well be a subtle reminder from Blur and Damien Hirst that the past was not always all that glorious, despite the fetish for all things retro that was taking hold.

    Damon has said that TGE was a bad album. I was of a similar view until I went back and listened to it all the way through recently. I don’t think I agree with him but I can see why he might think that. The overwhelming feeling I had listening to it is one of unease. It’s all a bit queasy, particularly on Best Days and Fade Away. Even Stereotypes, Charmless Man and Country House – they strike me as being about there being something not quite right under the perfect exterior. Basically, I think TGE is a good marker of where Damon was at the time and is perhaps not as bad as he might think (maybe it’s his On The Beach). Not particularly enjoying himself, but trapped into giving the public another Parklife. The idea that Graham Coxon seized control of the band after this might be accurate in some senses, but it doesn’t half sound like Damon is ready for something different.

  109. 109
    Steve Williams on 9 Jul 2013 #

    The mention of this getting on The Six O’Clock News earlier in these comments is an important one because it certainly seemed very important at the time. In fact Stuart Maconie later said that Cool Britannia and Britpop’s pomp began at 6pm on Monday 14th August 1995 with that news report and ended at 10pm on Wednesday 26th June 1996 when Gareth Southgate missed his penalty.

    That was also the week, on the Wednesday, of Britpop Now, the BBC2 special featuring performances from The Four Main Indie Bands, as Harry Hill had it, minus Oasis, and a bunch of less familiar faces like Marion and Salad. That also seemed very exciting at the time but given it was at 7pm on BBC2 on an August Wednesday in one of the hottest summers ever, I doubt it made much of an impact among the general public.

    Oasis’ non-appearance on Britpop Now, together with the fact Blur did Country House on Top of the Pops first, led to someone writing into the Radio Times to complain about the BBC being biased, as if it were a General Election.

  110. 110
    James BC on 9 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t know early Blur very well. Was the theme of escaping always present, or did it start with Parklife (Tracy Jacks, Magic America) and then Country House and the rest of the Great Escape?

    I remember Britpop Now. Damon in tweed, Gene failing to stand out as usual and Jarvis taking flight and managing to stay in shot while the camera panned around the room. How did he do that?

  111. 111
    Ed on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #109 – I was a minor functionary in BBC News at the time, and I remember days of agonised debate about whether it was a story we should be covering or not. The DG may have been consulted.

    It was for that story, or another piece on Britpop around that time, that I was dispatched to interview Alan McGee for clips to be cut into a package. My attempted icebreaker was to tell him how excited I was to meet him, because I was a huge My Bloody Valentine fan. The interview did not go well.

  112. 112
    anto on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #110 – There were themes of discontent and escape already present on “Modern Life is Rubbish”. The first three songs on that album all refer to a need to break from routine in some way, then there is a track like “Star-Shaped” where the narrator is an alcoholic going through the denial phase. “Chemical World” actually refers to escaping to the country as well.
    I’ve come to think of “Modern Life..” as their best album really. I don’t know if it seemed novel in 1993, but it was certainly contrary.

  113. 113
    Tom on 9 Jul 2013 #

    In 1993 I loved the idea of MLIR, really liked “For Tomorrow”, my friends and I all bought copies (and recreated the inner sleeve in a photo on a trip down to London) but I ended up playing it a lot less than I hoped I would, and in my memory it sits as something of a disappointment – and when they came back with another great first single I didn’t buy the album, for fear of being conned again. Obviously I ended up hearing it everywhere anyway.

  114. 114
    weej on 9 Jul 2013 #

    The discontent and lust for escape came to a head on St Louis – a b-side to Charmless Man b-side where you can almost physically feel the group are about to shatter into fragments from disillusionment and sheer fatigue from being on the road too long. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFNojHXtPK8

    #112 – agreed that MLIR is their best album, it has this sense of longing and sadness that was increasingly papered over in later LPs. Remember also that it was recorded when Balfe rejected their already recorded second LP for lacking singles – you can hear what it would’ve sounded like from the surviving tracks – Oily Water and Miss America – and various other b-sides.

  115. 115
    MichaelH on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #111 McGee, though clean by this point, could be a very contrary interviewee. I did him for the New Statesman in the summer of 96, and began by asking about the Legend! and the Bodines, which tickled him no end. “It’s been fucking years since anyone even mentioned the Bodines to me!” Calling out to his PR person – “Hey! Andy! You were right! He remembers the fucking Bodines!” He then proceeded to talk very frankly about his own – and everyone else on Creation’s – drug problems. A few days later, Sam Taylor of Esquire was thrown out of the Creation offices for asking about the drugs. I think his behaviour towards interviewers was almost on a whim.

  116. 116
    Conrad on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Remember reading Damon was having panic attacks a lot at the time, and wonder whether that affected the writing on Great Escape. Country House sounds like an aural interpretation of a panic attack to me. I was having a few at the time too, so took more of an interest than normal in Albarn’s interviews.

    The very 60s descending bassline is pure These Boots… and the Stones’ 19th Nervous Breakdown.

    Can’t agree that MLIR is Blur’s best album. I find it a monumental bore, For Tomorrow apart – and even that goes on far too long.

    And yes Girls in Boys is Blur’s best single, by some distance.

  117. 117
    James BC on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #105 You can sing that to the tune of Jerusalem. He must’ve liked the meter.

  118. 118
    Izzy on 9 Jul 2013 #

    Parklife is clearly their best album – mostly good songs, a few classics, great look and it created and captured a moment. The Great Escape is pretty good and the others have their moments, but as a whole they don’t really come close.

  119. 119
    23 Daves on 9 Jul 2013 #

    #108 – Hmmm. I remember a piece of Popbitch gossip years ago suggesting that it had something to do with a lady who *wasn’t* Justine who both Liam and Damon had an interest in, but like all pieces of vague Popbitch gossip that shouldn’t necessarily be taken seriously. But as the groupie-shagging habits of both were extremely well known at the time, I suppose it’s plausible they had mutual female acquaintances who created some kind of jealousy along the way.

    Whatever, the actual truth of the matter has obviously never fully come to light, and I have to wonder if it ever will. For both Liam and Damon to keep their traps shut about it for over fifteen years, it must be a bit complicated. Or perhaps it really was as simple as Liam screeching “NUMBER ONE!” in Damon’s face in some pub and him deciding to get the upper hand.

  120. 120
    pink chamaple on 9 Jul 2013 #

    I read an interview with Damon a few years ago where he claimed that he and Liam had actually always got on quite well, and all the problems had been with Noel. Not sure how true that is though.

  121. 121
    Kinitawowi on 10 Jul 2013 #

    Roll With It was shit. The end.

  122. 122
    tm on 10 Jul 2013 #

    Kinitawowi, I would have agreed with you till last weekend when I heard it played at pretty low volume as background music at a party: something about the snarling belligerence of the wall of noise cut through and raised the energy in the room despite it being, as someone mentioned way upthread, a bit of a non-tune.

    I remember at the time that, although I liked it, thinking most of Britpop wasn’t really very good music, too lumpy and goofy and for the most part too slow and ploddy but perhaps this is me retrospectively crediting myself with more refined taste than I really had.

  123. 123
    Cumbrian on 10 Jul 2013 #

    Isn’t the fact that it cut through the hubbub of a party evidence that, rather than it being a good song, that the “brick wall”/”loudness war” bit of Oasis’ aesthetic is effective? I guess the question is – did it sound better than any other Oasis song that came on at the same party (given that they would similarly have been similarly produced)?

    From memory, I think Owen Morris has said he wanted Oasis to cut through on pub jukeboxes so that people would hear it, whereas they didn’t hear other tunes that didn’t use the sledgehammer of the square waveform.

  124. 124
    Tom on 10 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t think you can separate the song from the aesthetic, nor should you. The loudness war is a tragedy of the commons type situation – once everyone does this thing, it becomes ruinous – but those situations demand that the first movers DO benefit, and Oasis certainly did: their records really did sound bigger than anyone else’s, and just because we all know how the trick is done doesn’t make it a stupid trick.

  125. 125
    Cumbrian on 10 Jul 2013 #

    124: I’m still trying to wrap my head around this – I think it links, to an extent, to the current conversation about standards on the Dreamer thread. There, people are dealing with songs and aesthetics and separating the two to say, this is a good song but I prefer this version of it (I think that’s what’s going on anyway). Or are you saying that RWI in particular shouldn’t be separated from its aesthetic rather than it being a rule of thumb?

    I would agree that just because we know what they’ve done doesn’t make it a stupid trick. What makes it a stupid trick is that it compromises the objective quality of the sound that enters your ears (clipping being the most obvious example of this). I am not an audiophile and have no time to be one either, but if an amateur like me can hear the tearing at the edge of the recording, I would stick my neck out and call that pretty bad. Surely musicians want their records to sound good. That said, maybe they do sound good when listened to through a South American blizzard and that’s how we ended up with Oasis doing this.

  126. 126

    Case in point — to drag it a little away from Oasis (or possibly not): Sam Peckinpah began filming violence in slow motion because he wanted film-goers to be forced to think about and feel what was happening when someone was wounded or killed by gunfire. He thought — correctly — that quick-draw deaths in Westerns had become just so much throwaway trope, more decor than emotional or political content. And for a year or so this was startling and challenging: it really did take you deep into his explorations of types of damaged masculinity.

    Except it was also popular — because it was viscerally exciting — and soon every cheap-thrill hack was at it, and we were back at throwaway trope, with a device that had dug under it for a while turned into a device that merely affirmed it, and Peckinpah’s films likely tainted by all the copycat churn that they inspired.

    :(

  127. 127
    Tom on 10 Jul 2013 #

    McLuhan has a line about how every innovation becomes an anti-innovation (I only know this bcz I read it on an MARKETING BLOG though).

    #124 my hunch is that treating the “song” as separate when discussing a record is as useful as reading the lyrics on a page, i.e. a bit, but the act of separation can lead you down what seem to me foolish critical pathways (on the one hand, subjecting lyrics to the same kind of criticism as poetry; on the other, asking the fatal question ‘would it sound good on an acoustic guitar’). That isn’t to say people don’t have an enormous appetite for those ideas – we live in an era of Rap Genius and YouTube covers after all – but I still don’t think they’re good ideas for critics.

  128. 128
    tm on 11 Jul 2013 #

    It’s a symbiosis of “song” and record I’d say: Oasis used the same production ‘trick’ (Hardly a trick, more a crude applicaation of brute force!) countless times to far lesser effect as we’ll see in numerous dissapointing future appearances (although it will be interesting to listen again and try to judge how much of that is due to over familiarity and how much is due to Noel G’s songwriting prowess waning)

    I agree that separating “song” and record is probably a futile task for critics but an interesting excercise for artists which can lead to cover versions as glorious at The Slits’ Grapevine and as wretched as Arctic Monkeys’ Love Machine

  129. 129
    tm on 11 Jul 2013 #

    Actually Love Machine is a bad choice as I don’t think it’s really an attempt to decouple “song” (source material) from record, more a deliberatly crude attempt to replicate the original record in the vein of some of The Fall’s cover versions (but much more irritating: I am particularly poisoned against AM’s Love Machine as the guy on after me in me Edinburgh Fringe venue years ago used it as his intro song so I was subjected to it every day for a month)

  130. 130
    Cumbrian on 11 Jul 2013 #

    I always thought AM’s LM was done in the style of George Formby.

  131. 131
    Mark G on 11 Jul 2013 #

    Did Frank Sidebottom do “Love Machine” ?

  132. 132
    tm on 11 Jul 2013 #

    You could imagine Formby singing the ‘what will the neighbours say?’ line with a cheeky wink to the audience…

  133. 133
    James BC on 11 Jul 2013 #

    I always thought Fluorescent Adolescent was a bit George Formby as well. Deliberately, I mean.

  134. 134
    Patrick Mexico on 12 Jul 2013 #

    Essential to Blur’s appeal (and Britpop’s explosion) was that Damon Albarn was a rare breed for music of the time: a Southern, middle-class leftie who was also an uninhibited braggart. But a loveable braggart. Perhaps after a few years of “we only make music for ourselves, and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus” types like Ride and MBV, it was a loveable kick up the arse. (OK, this was very much Blur’s audience back in 1991, but the video for There’s No Other Way could be a situationist parody of the shoegaze types’ polite anti-rockism, with its crude psychedelic SFX jarring with a Middle England does “Leave it to Beaver” Sunday teatime. You get a feeling they had something a bit more exciting in mind..)

    The best part of Country House is when he yells “In the country.. in the country.. IN THE COUNTRYY–HY!!” It’s a fist-pumping attempt to ram the central hook home, like Springsteen pepping up a packed baseball stadium. And herein lies the contradiction, and the problem – Albarn has something of Nigel Farage about him – an ability to win many fans through combining enviable drive and smooth talking, but ruined for many others with slightly paranoid xenophobia.. though in this case towards the US, not the EU.

    “I’m getting rid of grunge?”… and (on the excellent Britpop Now*) [sneeringly] “Everywhere it’s Nirvana, Nirvana, Nirvana.” Well.. Nirvana were brilliant but one of those bands who would have many pretenders to their throne (did anyone ever say “Ooh, I’d love to hear some Stone Temple Pilots, they’re my favourite?”) weaker musically and ideologically, clogging up the airwaves in their wake (and still do with poor Nickelback – a band who often have to clarify their name isn’t prefixed with “Fucking.”) He also spoilt his stance by saying the plaid shirt army were both “stooped like hippies” and “listening to Black Sabbath.” Er, you do know even Black Sabbath’s name was a statement against flower-power?

    I understand why the “naff early 90s Americana” suburban Britain took to its heart – Baywatch, Saved By the Bell, Gladiators, WWF – would fill Blur with a very British rage, and make them dig out the mod/skinhead/rudeboy gear for the MLIR sleeve, but the meatheaded, rigidly gender-roled US mainstream is exactly the thing Cobain studiously avoided himself (i.e. In Bloom.) It would soon come back to haunt Blur, as the fact a mass audience were now singing THEIR pretty songs nearly drove the band apart in the next 12 months.

    * An excellent show, despite a slightly weak Common People. Particularly enjoyed Marion and Powder – I’ve always been a fan of the ramshackle, sarcastic, slightly obscure side of Britpop.. Lush’s Ladykillers (the Lush era you lot LOVE to hate!) might well be the ultimate pop song, even though it’s disturbingly close to crossing the line from “feminism” into “all men are bastards.”

  135. 135
    Fivelongdays on 12 Jul 2013 #

    Of course, the received wisdom that Britpop killed Grunge is,at best, laughably parochial. Do critics honestly think St Kurt of Smack shot himself because he heard ‘Girls & Boys and knew the game was up? That Layne Staley did nothing but take heroin because Of ‘Common People’? That Soundgarden split (probably the actual, proper, final death of Grunge) because they heard Kula Shaker and knew they could never compete?

    Do me a favour – the Britpop/Grunge rivalry is a bit like the Orient/Spurs one – only one side gives a toss.

  136. 136
    Cumbrian on 12 Jul 2013 #

    #135 Indeed. It’s mentioned in Live Forever (by Jon Savage from memory) that there is a constant push and pull between American and British influences in rock music – but only in the the UK. The USA mostly doesn’t give a toss what the UK rock scene is up to and hasn’t since, what, maybe the mid-80s?

  137. 137
    Kylie on 12 Jul 2013 #

    I agree with the comment @ #66; it’s funny how people usually say “Oasis won the war” when it comes to be Britpop rivalry, but really in the long-term Blur and by extension Damon has come better off and is more respected nowadays as he’s evolved and continued doing more interesting musical projects over the years to much critical acclaim, whereas Oasis just plodded along getting gradually worse and worse in terms of music quality which is a trend that their worthless spin-offs have continued doing, and have essentially devolved into nothing but caricatures.

    #36 Funny you say that, I started getting into XTC because they were frequently cited as an influence on Blur’s Britpop-era sound (I became a big fan of Blur in my teens)

  138. 138
    Izzy on 12 Jul 2013 #

    135: what that means, though, is that britpop killed grunge in Britain. Which is true to a large extent, it completely overwhelmed it in sales and media presence. While I suspect US acts’ sales here probably actually remained fairly constant, that’s not much of a story when britpop types were suddenly shifting ten times that, or more. And certainly this nation’s youth didn’t spend the next few years looking to, say, Billy Corgan.

    136: quite rightly, the US could’ve cared less. The thing is that Oasis actually could’ve been the big exception, and maybe even have changed the game a little more widely, but they bottled it. In which respect they’re quintessentially British indie culture; play a handful of gigs and come home moaning, milking it for a little extra publicity in the NME (or the six o’clock news) – completely insular. Between U2 and Coldplay, not many gave the place a proper go.

    It’s still slightly surprising that Oasis didn’t try, given the ambition, charisma, Noel’s work ethic and apparent love of being huge. He must’ve just burnt out so fast, the simple explanation is all I can think of.

  139. 139
    MichaelH on 13 Jul 2013 #

    #134 Damon and Blur’s voluble opposition to American cultural imperialism came two or three years after another middle-class home counties guitar band with a lippy lead singer had done exactly the same. I wonder if Damon had read interviews with Thousand Yard Stare and thought they were on to something aesthetically, if not musically.

    For me, TYS’s public disdain for anything American was rather weakened by the fact that their singer, Stephen Barnes, worked in Slough Boots with me a year or two before their brief bloom of success, and he went to MacDonald’s for lunch every day.

  140. 140
    Tom on 13 Jul 2013 #

    Re. America’s impression of British indie – the Rhino Records “Brit Box” is an instructive listen here – an entire disc lovingly devoted to shoegaze, over and done with in 6 months in the UK press but the only thing ‘we’ did all decade that American alternative bands really seemed to care about (God help them).

    (Some general thoughts on the pop, er, special relationship can be found in my piece on Britpop for my Pitchfork column http://pitchfork.com/features/poptimist/7865-poptimist-33/ )

  141. 141
    Izzy on 13 Jul 2013 #

    Shoegaze was something new though, sonically (and therefore something which might translate). Britpop occasionally came up with an innovative sound (A Northern Soul, Dog Man Star) but as a movement its newness was largely meta. No reason why Tracy Jacks should strike a chord beyond these shores.

  142. 142
    Tom on 13 Jul 2013 #

    Oh, totally. There was nothing more embarrassing in 90s indie than Britpop bands announcing their intention to ‘break’ America and coming up with lame post-rationalisations of why it hadn’t worked.

    (Actually Britpop gets a decent shout on the Brit Box too. Baggy is the big “did not translate” British indie movement, I think – the barriers between the styles it was, however clumsily, fusing were much greater at that point in the USA: it just didn’t make a lot of sense.)

  143. 143
    Izzy on 13 Jul 2013 #

    The more puzzling why Oasis, the one band who might’ve succeeded, self-sabotaged so stupidly. Actually The Verve might’ve had a shot too, but at least their implosion was a real one.

    (I don’t think I’m making this up? As I recall it they had a lot of airplay and allround momentum around Morning Glory and Wonderwall (Scott McCloud being in that video, despite spending all of five minutes in the band, reflecting Guigsy’s troubles – but that was only Guigsy), then blew off their US tour because Noel & Liam weren’t getting on. I mean maybe there’s more to it, I never really tried to find out; but if that was it, you’d think they could’ve worked it out, given the stakes.)

  144. 144
    MichaelH on 13 Jul 2013 #

    #142 I think it’s hard to overestimate how big the barriers between genres could be in the US. I spent six months in Washington DC in 1988, and lots of the people I met at the university I was based at had never even heard of hip-hop, let alone knew anything about it. And when our group of Brits would go out to Go-Go shows, the Americans just looked at us with blank incomprehension.

  145. 145
    swanstep on 14 Jul 2013 #

    @izzy, 141, 143. In the US both Oasis and the Verve had their moment, especially the former, you’re right. But neither developed a good rep as a live act (compare with Radiohead who opened for REM in 1995 and blew people away), and both blew their follow up to their US breakthrough album (whereas Radiohead followed up their live persuasiveness with OK Computer and Kid A). End of story.

    As for Britpop as a ‘movement’ itself having little impact, well, that’s the price of being broadly retro. When your schtick is warmed over Kinks and Beatles and Stones and a little Wire then you are redundant as far as subsequent bands are concerned. (See also fondly thought of bands such as Green Day and The Strokes – there’s no point in being seriously influenced by them, just cut to the Buzzcocks, VU, Tom Petty, etc. chase.) Movements as various as goth and shoegaze and grunge and trip-hop inherently have more staying power and potential influence precisely because they’re not nearly as smoothly reducible to prior formations.

    One thing to keep in mind is that US has its own unlamented relatively unoriginal, relatively shit bands. Third Eye Blind had one pretty strong album (which sold 6 million copies in the US – twice as much as Oasis, six times as much as The Verve), clearly thought a lot of themselves and had very big mouths (so rubbed a lot of people the wrong way even when they were selling millions), were dodgy live, internally fractious, and then, ha ha, had no ability to follow up. End of story.

    Think also of Alanis – although it’s hard to remember this, her breakthrough ‘You oughta know’ persona was as kind of a grunge-lite gal. She sold berserker amount of records in that peak Britpop period, quickly became very irritating, and wasn’t able to follow up Jagged Little Pill in any convincing way. Although she starts from a higher peak, her sales trajectory in the US resembles Oasis’s, but nobody sits around musing why that happened. There’s a lot of luck involved in hitting it mega-big the way Alanis did everywhere and Oasis did in the UK, but once the artists have everyone’s attention like that then it’s largely up to them – how ready they are, how talented – where they go from there. If Be Here Now had been brilliant, if Alanis had had PJ Harvey’s or even Fiona Apple’s talent….

  146. 146
    Tom on 14 Jul 2013 #

    Alanis is still going, of course – last year’s album went top ten or to No.1 in a few places, and has probably sold as much worldwide as Let England Shake, if not rather more (the immense and deserved acclaim for LES will have shifted it out of PJ Harvey’s usual sales range). It was – not that these things count for much any more – a Top 5 US album (LES hit 32).

    So suddenly bringing in PJ and Fiona Apple (who have never hit Alanis’ commercial heights in the first place) seems a bit arbitrary: “If Alanis has had PJ Harvey’s talent…. she’d have ended up in roughly the same place by album #8, probably.”

    Most of this stuff is something like reversion to the mean, it seems to me – acts get lucky, hit a peak of popularity which then gives them license and record label patience to live out the (statistically?) inevitable commercial downward slope thereafter. The problem is that this commercial decline always shapes their critical and artistic narrative – it’s almost certainly better to be a critical darling and sell within a smaller range, so that your story can (if you’re lucky) be one of artistic growth rather than decline.

  147. 147
    Tom on 14 Jul 2013 #

    As for copycats not being influential – sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. I doubt many people took their cues from Showaddywaddy rather than Jerry Lee Lewis, but your Green Day example feels way off – pop punk is an enormous, perpetual US scene and I doubt the Buzzcocks have much to do with it. Similarly, third-wave ska in California was inspired by new wave ska acts more than it was by Prince Buster et al.

    My suspicion is it’s still too soon to know whether Britpop will inspire a copycat wave. 90s interest is still climbing, possibly peaking, and there’s plenty of room in the next few years for Britpop style bands to break through. We’ll revive the thread in 2018 and see what happened :)

  148. 148
    Mark G on 14 Jul 2013 #

    Does the ‘influential’ tag mean more than “look at *that* band, we could do that”. ?

  149. 149

    DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE I-WORD MARK G!!?

  150. 150
    swanstep on 15 Jul 2013 #

    @147, Tom. Maybe my Buzzcocks ref wasn’t well-chosen (they’re just who Green Day reminded me of when they emerged), but I’d say that the pop-punk scene you mention is still going to be much more driven by Ramones, Clash Who, Fugazi/Minor Threat, Rollins, Dead Kennedies, than by Green Day. (I don’t mean to beat up on Green Day by saying this, it’s just a consequence of their musical profile that they’re going to be mainly a gateway drug for new acts). I think you;re right that ’90s interest has probably yet to peak, but in Oasis’s case in particular their retro-ness and unoriginality limits the musical dimension of subsequent interest in them. As we move further away from them their hey-day we’re like people looking back from a ship moving away from land: Oasis are pressed down into the landscape while the real peaks rear up behind them. The less immitative Jarvis/Pulp, Albarn/Blur, and others stand taller and are less pressed down into the now distant landscape.

    @148, Mark G. I think so. There is a lot of first-order imitation of whatever’s in the charts and on trend at a given time. Maybe a Duran or an Oasis maximizes that, but that doesn’t come close to settling their status in the musical landscape which will determine how their deeper influence is felt. Highly, relatively original acts (say, your Kraftwerks, Chics, Kate Bushs, MBVs, etc.) rear up and tower over everything around at their times and they’re what subsequent acts steer by, while most inspirers of widespread first order imitative activity are lost in the froth of history.

  151. 151
    MichaelH on 15 Jul 2013 #

    #147 #150 I think Tom’s probably right about Green Day. In Kerrang! world they are written about as if they are the Beatles. I bet there are scores of pop-punk bands for whom Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid and so on on are the real originals of punk rock. And you can see that when you watch MTV Rocks or Scuzz on one of their pop-punk specials – as I did this weekend – and see dozens of bands who look and sound just like Green Day, but not like the Buzzcocks. And certainly not like Fugazi and Minor Threat or Rollins or DKs – the punk bit of the pop-punk equation is in amny cases minimal (Green Day are unusual in that they did come out of the punk underground).

  152. 152
    punctum on 15 Jul 2013 #

    For a certain generation, Green Day ARE their Beatles. That they are not “our” generation is irrelevant.

    Oh and by the way it’s “Buzzcocks”; no definite article.

  153. 153
    Mark M on 15 Jul 2013 #

    Re 150 (etc): As he’s already warned, Sinker is going to stomp everyone for discussing ‘influence’. But anyhow, I’m extremely sceptical about your argument. If you’re a kid in Omaha and you see Green Day on MTV and think ‘this rocks’, there is absolutely nothing that obliges you to undertake an art history project to see where they came from before you form a band yourself. They’ve also shifted an awful lot more units than everybody on your list bar maybe The Who.

    I can’t tell you the number of bands who’ve said to me, ‘People say we sound like The Velvets/The Only Ones/Can/The Go-Betweens/Captain Beefheart/critical touchstone of choice, but we’d never heard them until after we made the album.’ Sometimes they are lying, mostly I’m convinced they’re not.

    Also, if someone gets a playlist in 2013 that contains The Clash and Green Day, I don’t think they are necessarily going to think ‘x precedes y’. There is no obligatory reason, equally, why they should like x if they like y, despite what Amazon or Last.fm tell you. I’m sure lots of people like Green Day and don’t like The Clash, just as there were always people who liked The Jesus And Mary Chain but had heard and didn’t like The Velvet Underground or The Crystals.

    Or to take it to another medium, I am completely aware that Eric Rohmer’s yappy French films were in Richard Linklater’s mind when he thought of Before Sunrise, but that in no way stops me from loving Linklater’s trilogy and hating Rohmer’s stuff – they are films made by very different people in a very different time/place. If someone was to give me a million dollars and say you have to make a movie and it ended up as a lousy imitation of Dazed And Confused, would you still insist I was essentially stealing from Rohmer because he is the originator?

  154. 154
    punctum on 15 Jul 2013 #

    Well, there are, ahem, issues with Rohmer’s work. Claire’s Knee; I’ll say no more.

    Otherwise, very well put.

  155. 155
    James BC on 15 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t believe the Buzzcocks have the right to decree whether they get the definite article or not.

    I’m going to carry on using it if I want to – that’s the punk rock thing to do.

  156. 156
    Mark G on 15 Jul 2013 #

    But that way lies The Madness..

  157. 157
    punctum on 15 Jul 2013 #

    I pronounce “you.”

  158. 158
    Alan not logged in on 15 Jul 2013 #

    Some Buzzcocks

  159. 159
    Izzy on 15 Jul 2013 #

    The The The

  160. 160
    ciaran on 18 Jul 2013 #

    Oasis were the clear favourite of both acts in my Irish secondary school.That may be because of the gallagher’s Irish connections but Blur didnt endear themselves to me when they performed this on TOTP.Damon hamming it up put me off it staright away.One of my brothers mates though worshipped Blur , right down to dressing like him aswell which wasnt the obvious thing to do back then with our faith in Oasis heads down no nonsense rock and roll.Of course by the mid-noughties that seemed like an inspired choice but thats not for here obviously.

    I have grown to love Blur over the years but this has little appeal to me.

    CH seems to sum up the quirky side of Britpop.It takes on a life of its own. Compared to the rest of Blur’s material it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than in the red corner of the battle of the bands.Didnt like RWI either so the August showdown in hindsight is a letdown now.

    4.

    If only the next singles of both bands had got to Number 1.

  161. 161
    Kinitawowi on 19 Jul 2013 #

    #123 (yeah, I was away for a while): Imperfect Sound Forever noted exactly that quality, that WTS(MG)’s brickwalling made it the perfect car / pub / party album that could cut through everything else and stand out, and goes on to accuse the album of being the shark jump moment for maxed-out music. Which may be a tad unfair (it was going to happen some day, and Oasis just got there first).

    I stand by my original assertion, though. Blur didn’t win this battle, Oasis lost it; this was one of those times when you really needed a track that could capture the imagination, and Roll With It simply wasn’t it.

  162. 162
    weej on 19 Jul 2013 #

    #159 – There’s already Duran, Duran Duran and Duran Duran Duran (surely a contender for best album cover of the 00s). Sheffield’s Artery were originally called ‘The’, and of course there’s The The, and I’m happy to find out there’s even a The The The out there.

  163. 163
    Tom on 3 Oct 2013 #

    Kevin Shields has an opinion about Britpop. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/03/kevin-shields-britpop-pushed-by-government?CMP=twt_gu

  164. 164
    pink champale on 3 Oct 2013 #

    He seems to have borrowed that opinion from an idiot. (There is a clue specifically which one in the article)

  165. 165
    tm on 5 Oct 2013 #

    Re 161 (I’ve been away longer…) Oasis often seemed to have wonky singles choice: who else would use songs like Acquiesce, Fade Away and Alive as B sides while putting something as throwaway as Shaker maker out as their second single?

  166. 166
    Ed on 5 Oct 2013 #

    @163, 164 – Maybe it’s because I’ve just seen the Adam Curtis / Massive Attack thing, but the idea that the government pushed Britpop seems entirely uncontroversial to me. Governments, plural, in fact, because both John Major’s Conservatives and Tony Blair’s Labour government tried very hard to associate themselves with it.

    In part the motives were political: both sides wanted to freshen themselves up with the whiff of Cool Britannia, and wanted to define its meaning on their own terms. With that notorious party at Number 10, Blair seemed to be setting himself up quite explicitly as the Harold Wilson to the Gallaghers’ Lennon and McCartney, or Lennon and Ringo perhaps. (The early, hip Wilson of the mid-60s, that would be.)

    But there was also a strong economic motive. There was a lot of talk in those days about pop’s contribution to the balance of payments, and a sense that as Britain didn’t make anything any more, we had to think about something we could do that the world would want to buy. In that context, the feeble commercial performance of UK acts generally, and in particular the lack of any 90s equivalent to the two great British Invasions of the US, were deeply worrying.

    There were specific corporate interests, too. EMI became a standalone company in 1996, in what were the last great years for the record industry, and saw direct financial benefits from the increased popularity of British music.

    Just like Select magazine, British industry and the British economy had an interest in rejecting Grunge and its American successors, and establishing a home-grown alternative.

    Whether all this amounts to a “conspiracy” or not is a matter of taste, I guess, and whether MI5 was actually involved I have no idea. More likely it would have been Alistair Campbell and some mid-level officials at the DTI.

    But is Kevin Shields’ opinion crazy? Not at all.

  167. 167
    Ed on 5 Oct 2013 #

    @166- Pop, the cash nexus and the ruling class, 2012 style:
    http://www.bpi.co.uk/media-centre/prime-minister-celebrates-global-growth-of-british-music.aspx

  168. 168
    tm on 5 Oct 2013 #

    In the live forever docu, Damon claims he received a letter from Peter Mandleson, bollocking him after he criticized Tony Blair for sending his kids to private school, so, if that’s true and not just self-agrandizement, then there was an attempt to bring pop music in-house as a sort of youth wing of New Labour: and what better way than through Brit pop: populist enough to reach da kidz (or at least, student types who might turn out to vote Labour) but ‘clever’ enough to justify the association and most New Labour types could probably actually bear to listen to the music.

    The question would be: what did Brit pop get out of it: it’s not like Blur or Oasis needed the publicity or the credibility and once New Labour got in, Oasis were quick to distance themselves (Blur having already got cold feet). Presumably they were eager to help send the Tories on their way but of course no one wants to find themselves the house band of the government!

  169. 169
    Mark M on 5 Oct 2013 #

    Re 168: Here are words I never thought I’d write: in fairness to Tony Blair…
    he didn’t send his kids to private school – he sent them to a posh state-funded Catholic school in a part of London that he did not live in, thus seeming to contradict the ethos of local comprehensive education that Labour was still associated with at that point, but as it happens in line with where Blairite education policy would end up going anyway…

  170. 170
    Patrick Mexico on 6 Oct 2013 #

    Tony Blair was politics’ answer to a drunken uncle at a wedding commandeering the Space Shuttle. More later.

  171. 171
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Nov 2013 #

    Re 135: Well, before Nirvana’s legendary Bristol Bierkeller gig in 1991, the interviewer asked Cobain if he’d heard any good music recently. Apparently he half-sang half-mumbled There’s No Other Way, quite cheerfully.

    Indeed, Kurt hated militaristic, Republican-voting hicks just as much as Damon Albarn does any time the US threatens military sanctions. Blur (and Oasis) picked a fight with the wrong America. Though they more than redeemed themselves with their self-titled album!

  172. 173
    pink champale on 14 Jan 2014 #

    Ed @166 Sorry, I’m *really* not buying your Government plot thesis.

    for “pushing Britpop” to have become Govt policy in the mid 90s it would have required either Michael Hestletine to suddenly decide that the answer to the balance of payments was an increase in sales of chirpy british guitar pop, or for one of his mid ranking officials to decide this and persuade both his senior management and then his DTI Minister and then the Treasury and No 10 that this was the way to go. And that it had to be kept secret. This does not seem very likely

    And even if it did happen, what was the mechanism for achieving this?
    the Government told EMI/Creation/Island what bands to sign? They established editorial control over Select magazine? They provided secret tax breaks for vintage adidas? They fixed the charts?*

    Obviously New Labour tried to associate themselves with Britpop – and did give a (possibly illusory) musicians exemption from JSA conditionality – but that was very much after the fact ambulance chasing. The Tories were too knackered and dysfunctional by that point to even bother claiming credit for the thing that was happening on their watch iirc.

    *though i do still sort of half believe the GSTQ conspiracy theories

  173. 174
    Ed on 16 Jan 2014 #

    @173 – In the December Uncut, I think it was, Kevin Shields clarified his position. “I’m not saying MI6 invented Sleeper” was roughly how he put it. “More like they went easy on Liam Gallagher.”

    That sounds about right to me.

    Anyone read this?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Britpop-Britannia-Spectacular-Demise-English/dp/030681367X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1389828606&sr=8-2&keywords=Britpop+john+harris

    I would trust John Harris on this stuff more than anyone else.

  174. 175
    Mark G on 16 Jan 2014 #

    I did, when it was called “The Last Party” and it implied it was more about Blair than Liam..

    It’s ok

  175. 176
    flahr on 16 Jan 2014 #

    Good book, tries to enforce a narrative on the period slightly too rigidly, but there’s interviews with plenty of people who give good word. He is very unfair on Menswe@r though :(

  176. 177
    Ed on 16 Jan 2014 #

    And what’s his take on the role of MI5 – or possibly MI6 – in Britpop?

  177. 178
    Tom on 28 Apr 2014 #

    Taylor Parkes goes in on Blur and Britpop http://thequietus.com/articles/15092-blur-parklife-anniversary-review

    (This reminds me that I have been shamefully sitting on Weej’s excellent Britpop Nuggets compilation efforts since he sent me them – I will email about that!)

    I admit the last month or two of 20th anniversary ra-ra-ra has been depressing – it seems a bit naive now that I imagined we might end up with a more nuanced picture of the 90s with hindsight, rather than one in which Britpop was the only interesting thing that happened.

  178. 179
    weej on 28 Apr 2014 #

    “Britpop is almost unique among those musical trends which lasted half a decade or more, in that you couldn’t fill a Nuggets-type compilation with genuinely good tracks.” – Ha! Sounds like a challenge (though I’m not sure the compilation – which had slipped my mind too – will change his mind)

    That was quite an enjoyable read, and I agree with let’s say 85% of it, though I still sort of love Britpop all the same. The odd thing is that I *do* hate what he hates, I just think there was something else going on from the side of the 14-15-year-old living in the sticks. Something undoubtedly went wrong – seriously wrong – at the tail-end and indie music never really recovered, but there’s no sense in blaming that on Powder or the Bluetones. Indie music ran out of ideas, it was moribund, it died, no use mourning it. The longer-term impact of lad culture, the rise of the anti-political-alternative, the establishment using pop culture as a toy to be wheeled out for good old harmless nostalgic British fun – yes, all very bad things, and yes, some britpop acts were on the wrong side of the fence here (as were many journalists) but these are much wider shifts in the culture, and it’s hard to blame Britpop for all of this when some groups were actively opposed and most were too small for it to matter what they thought.

    The BBC 20-years coverage has been a mix of repeats (some good) and analysis (most dispiritingly terrible) which is leading me to the feeling that the mid-90s have been lost to reductive nostalgia, and very little can be done to save them. Even the John Harris book, supposedly a definitive take on the topic, is just a load of showbiz anecdotes followed by a hackneyed attempt to tie it to the rise of Tony Blair. A successful history of the britpop years would have to begin with the premises that (1) it was a small scene, with little importance in the long run and (2) the media getting carried away in its coverage killed any spark it had. Unfortunately the saturation coverage by the BBC and websites like britpopnews.com (if you thought the BBC coverage was bad then you haven’t seen that) means that any interesting coverage will just get lost in all the noise. RIP Britpop.

  179. 180
    flahr on 28 Apr 2014 #

    “which is leading me to the feeling that the mid-90s have been lost to reductive nostalgia”

    Whoa! You’re saying that a time when most of the mass media’s 40-something movers and shakers were in their early twenties may be being remembered by the mass media with uncritical fondness? Say it ain’t so ;-)

  180. 181
    anto on 29 Apr 2014 #

    #173: Coincidentally my Dad was working in a finance office where Michael Heseltine was technically his boss at that very time. I’ll ask him if he remembers bumping into Bonehead or the bass player from Shed 7 in the corridor at any point.

  181. 182
    hectorthebat on 20 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    New Musical Express (UK) – Classic Singles (magazine feature 2006-2007)
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 27
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 12
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year 35
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 22
    Select (UK) – Singles of the Year 4
    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year 36

  182. 183
    Girl with Curious Hair on 18 Nov 2016 #

    I think The Great Escape is one of the most underrated albums of the 90s. Some of the criticisms it receives are pretty valid – the sneering and lack of empathy in the lyrics, and the mindless oompah-oompah ladrock it occasionally lapses into – but I think there’s a depth and pathos in those weaker moments that gets overlooked.

    Country House is actually one of my least favourite songs on the album, because it’s one of the songs that best encapsulates those criticisms, but I think it’s a more interesting song than it gets credit for…

    Now, I don’t know Damon Albarn personally, and I realise there’s a list of fallacies as long as my arm when it comes to making judgments about a person’s character based on their art. But I think there’s enough evidence in his work to take a stab at assessing who he “is” as a songwriter (or more accurately, who he was during the Britpop years) and I think the authorial character he presents in these songs exhibits a pretty depressive mindset.

    He gets portrayed as this arrogant and sarcastic lyricist, casting his amused eye over a cast of lowlifes and inviting us to laugh at them – and it’s not a completely unfair assessment. Empathy isn’t his thing as a songwriter. But that’s what depression can do to people: it can force them inwards. On the Great Escape, Albarns mostly keeps his distance and sings about caricatures, but it’s quite a lonely distance. I feel like he can’t quite fathom what’s making these people do the strange things they do; and they all seem to be fairly unhappy people too, just doing those things to get themselves through the night.

    (For a literary version of depression turning a person inward, have a look at David Foster Wallace’s The Depressed Person – literally just *look* at it, at the way paragraphs tower like prison walls and the way the footnotes gradually smother the main text as the story progresses – it’s very design is claustrophobic and a little scary.)

    As for Country Hourse, despite all the good-times horn work, and the singy-song chorus, and the bloody Benny Hill video with dolly birds being chased around by Matt Lucas in a milkfloat: despite all those things, it really does nail that building desperation underneath everything. And the way that desperation erupts – everything drops out abruptly at the end of the solo, leaving Damon to wonder why exactly he’s so sad – seems to mirror a certain kind of depression too. You think you’re doing fine, or you’re doing a reasonably good job of convincing yourself that you think you’re doing fine, and then you realise you’re not. And the matter-of-factness with which you realise that is kinda unsettling in itself. But before you can expand on that thought, the horns have started up again and the girls in their bras are running around and giggling. No, you were right first time. You’re doing fine.

    Incidentally, there are a few songs on TGE when he does seem to get inside his characters, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the songs with lyrics in the second person tend to be, if not the best, then the most poignant: I’m thinking The Universal, Yuko and Hiro, Best Days. (THe latter being one of his finest songs for me, one of the few where he completely drops the smirking Cockney wideboy look-at-these-mugs thing and bares his loneliness. It’s also one of the few songs on TGE that offers some kind of hope.)

    I’m not going to expand on this because I’ve already rambled on waaaay too much on a review people stopped talking about years ago; but I see something of 1980s Martin Amis in Albarn too. Not Amis’s gift for language, obviously, or Amis’s fairly preposterous views on pretty much everything that’s happened since about 1998 – but I see a tiny through-line in there. They’re both satirists of a certain type of London grotesque they can’t ever really get inside. John Self and Nicola Six were so sad but never really knew why.

    Blimey, this turned into an essay…

  183. 184
    Matthew K on 18 Nov 2016 #

    Great words GWCH – it’s thoughtfulness like this which keeps me coming back to Popular. I don’t doubt you are correct in viewing this record as an expression of loneliness, but I also think the Olympian perspective on Everyman which characterised the mainstays of Britpop is also a bit of a cocaine mindset. The combination of self-belief and self-loathing must have been pretty electric.

  184. 185
    Girl with Curious Hair on 18 Nov 2016 #

    Thanks Matthew! And I suspect you’re absolutely right, and cocaine played a bigger part in all this stuff than I might have alluded to… there’s definitely a coke vibe to the album, just as much as Be Here Now arguably, except it’s very much on the other side of the high. The brittle arrogance, the sudden bursts of melancholy… it’s like they saw the end of the Britpop party before it had even reached its peak.

  185. 186
    DanusJonus on 18 Jan 2017 #

    I need to stop spending 6 months on safari in Kenya, coming back to this site and finding something really interesting that I want to comment on.

    In relation to #183-185, I really think the depressive mindset theory is quite an interesting one. Cocaine did feature in their lives at this point, I think that’s an open secret, in-fact I’m sure I recall reading that he visited a health professional around this point and such was his anxiety, he knocked it on the head. Although County House was supposedly about Dave Balfe, I always got the impression that Damon in some way wished he could ‘exit stage left’, get his Prozac ‘script and vacate the Camden/Good Mixer scene for good. For me, there’s a balance between the mocking sentiment and the yearning for answers.

    I believe that the song itself was originally written as a more melancholy affair, with the tempo and mood more akin to the ‘Blow, blow me out…’ middle eight section. Whether it was oom pahed up for commercial reasons or to confuse the contradictions with, I’m not sure. In this context, how you interpret the song shifts massively. Like Entertain Me on The Great Escape, there’s a palpable sense of desolation and feeling lost.

    As a side note, I always found it interesting that Damon’s personality altered dramatically after this period. Watch interviews from ’95 and their TGE Jools appearances, the smug conceit is still evident along with the hyperactive tendencies (there’s a part on Jools where he confidently and correctly answers a question about a classical composer, the kind of thing he wouldn’t dream of doing two years later). The fact this change coincides with his dabbling in heroin (along with half the rest of the Britpop Alumni) is key I feel. I always presumed he realised he couldn’t take the world on, the insults and criticism hurt and he went into a chemically aided shell. In this sense, he found his answers and heroin (for a very very short while) became the metaphorical Country House.

    Finally, I agree with GWCH, TGE was and possibly is very underrated. From memory, the initial reviews were fawning and full of superlatives, with the ‘What’s the Story…’ ones being mediocre at best. Somehow things were then re-written, opinions reversed and TGE sunk without a trace (I exaggerate, but only slightly). For a proper examination of ‘The other side of the high’ as GWCH puts it, you only have to look at This Is Hardcore by Pulp and songs like The Fear, which for me describe in haunting detail the reality of getting what you always want, being surrounded by adulation but feeling completely alone.

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