7
Feb 14

BLUR – “Beetlebum”

Popular95 comments • 5,387 views

#758, 1st February 1997

Beetlebum The question “what happens after Britpop?” wasn’t just an urgent one for the music press and the new bands courting it. It was also fairly pressing for the Britpop bands themselves, Blur in particular. Whoever’s idea it had been, the marketing triumph of Summer ’95 had a lingering and unexpected consequence: once conjured, the Blur/Oasis rivalry could not be easily controlled. The two bands were now bound together as if by some dreadful oath – each liable to be measured on the other’s latest achievements, however irrelevant the comparison.

In 1996 this had done Blur no favours. Sales of The Great Escape would have stood solidly alongside any contemporary LP – except the only one it would actually be compared to. The band, once fawned-over, found themselves exposed to less generous readings from critics – their Britpop-era work a trilogy that had dragged on too long and failed to stick the landing.

“Beetlebum”, when it first appeared, was pressed into this storyline too. Taking some faint clue from the harmonies (and, to be fair, the title) I remember some critics positioning it as a landgrab on White Album-era Beatles: the knotty, raw, arty part of the Beatle legacy that Oasis would never touch. Sense prevailed when the LP came out, and it became more obvious that the band were playing greedy catch-up with all the ideas that had come out of American indie rock in the 90s. They came to bury Britpop, not to extend it.

From this point, the Oasis link began to work in their favour, even as they played it down. Nobody would deny that in the fallout of Britpop, Damon Albarn embraced his magpie side and started hopping across projects and genres with liberated abandon. But because the band most easily linked with Blur became such a byword for bloody-minded non-invention, Albarn’s experimentation within that band was cast in a particularly friendly light. If the most readily-recalled alternative was a shambolic living museum, it’s easy to look at experimenting with indie rock, post-rock or gospel as good things by definition, rather than ask “OK, what does he actually do with them?”

So, on “Beetlebum”, what does he do with his inspirations? On a structural level, it’s rather good: Blur are writing a song using standard post-Nirvana dynamics, with surly, choppy verses that ought to flare into rage on the chorus, but instead bloom into sleepy, burnt-out neo-psychedelic harmonies. Two different parts of the alt.rock landscape, brought together on a Number One hit. It’s admirable and effective, but I also find “Beetlebum” extremely hard to like.

My problem with it is Albarn himself. As well as the social observation songs, and the character songs, he’s always built tracks around ennui and exhaustion, and often they’re his best (“To The End” and “This Is A Low” for instance). As his songwriting seemed to get more personal later in the 90s, though, I found less of a way into these songs. Perhaps because he’d been an effective observer, or perhaps just because he’d been a callous one, I could never get invested in hearing Damon Albarn bare his soul. “Beetlebum” is supposedly written to capture Albarn’s experiences with heroin, which might justify its sullen, self-enclosed feel, but even given that unpromising topic there’s no rock junkie whose drug memories I’d be less interested in. As I said on the “Country House” thread, empathy was never his strong suit – and that goes for eliciting it as well as feeling it.

However unusually-crafted “Beetlebum” is, or however odd seeing it at No.1 was (odd, though not unexpected – this is a fanbase record in an era friendly to them), I find listening to it a cold, unrewarding experience. Or I would, if not for one thing: Graham Coxon’s aggressive guitar work. Competing with Albarn’s listless vocal for too much of the song, he still gives “Beetlebum” its two highpoints. There’s that purposefully ugly, stabbing intro, his guitar scraping at a fixed point like a compass into wood. And there’s the coda, where his plaintive closing riff struggles to keep its bearings on a tide of hostile, skronky overdubs. These parts are thrilling where the rest of the song is sulky, and point to a way out of the Britpop trap that’s spurred by invention, not hurt pride.

5

Comments

  1. 1
    Matt DC on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I hate Graham Coxon’s lumbering guitar riffs AND Damon Albarn’s weary old man voice and this is a particularly egregious example of both. They were such a clumsy band when they weren’t making pop music, a 5 is too generous.

  2. 2
    zeus on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I’m a huge fan of Blur, and was even bigger fan when this song came out, though never really liked this song for some reason. But you have good points. 6/10 for me.

  3. 3
    Weej on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Just to prove there are a varety of viewpoints out there, this is one of my favourite Blur singles, capturing the best of both Graham’s strung out discordant guitar-work and Damon’s wistful lust for oblivion (bettered perhaps in Clover Over Dover, though that’s a weaker song overall).

  4. 4
    Steve Williams on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Ardal O’Hanlon introduced Top of the Pops the week after this was number one and during the Top 10 he announced “and at number two with Beetlebum it’s… Pavement!”

    I love this review and I think Tom’s right to suggest that Blur’s post-Britpop eclecticism was something that fans tended to wear on their sleeves a bit. 1997 was probably the acme of Oasis’ imperial phase in the media, we’ll discuss later just how much of an event their album release was this year, and because I was still just about under the misapprehension this was some kind of competition I would always quickly jump up and go but, but, but, look at how eclectic and innovative Blur are, that used to be Exhibit A whenever I felt the need to argue a defence for them (given I was in the sixth form at the time, that was something I’d do more than your average person, I think).

    I certainly think Blur are a more interesting band from this period onwards, although that might be because I can’t listen to The Great Escape anymore, I think it’s an album that’s so much of its time – with endless references to the lottery and so on – that it’s sometimes like trying to comprehend a repeat of Have I Got News For You a decade on, and some of the lyrics just completely irritate me (although a lot of Britpop has been marred for me because it reminds me of my hapless sixth form years when I forever used my interest in particular bands and records to strike up conversation with kooky indie girls, a ploy that was thankfully a consistent failure if only because had it succeeded we would have had something like Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe by Whale as “our song”).

    But I don’t remember playing this a great deal after I’d bought it, to be honest. I think it probably appealed to people like me as a statement – the New Blur – than it did a record.

  5. 5
    James BC on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Totally agree with every point of the review, though I would score the song a bit lower. The best I can say is that it’s nice to see songs this odd at number 1 occasionally; in its own way it’s at least as odd as the White Town track.

    The Blur album was praised to the moon when it came out and sounded great in theory but I didn’t get on with it at all, Song 2 apart. Song 2 should have been number 1 instead of this undanceable dirge.

  6. 6
    Tom on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #4 it seemed to me they were doing what Bobby Gillespie had been laughed from pillar to post for doing (even when he was being praised for it sometimes too) – obviously B Gillespie attracted this reaction for other reasons tho. Everyone loves a Pop Chameleon (TM) I guess.

    Probably any comeback single from Blur would have got to #1, especially at a slow time of year, so in a way it’s nice that they bothered trying something a bit ambitious. It’s a first-single-as-statement record – we’ll see a few more of those in 1997. Was this the point at which they were huffing in the press about not being happy with all their new fans?

    It doesn’t actually sound like Pavement, really. Though a co-worker in the record exchange was promoting a Pavement tour later in 1997, and played the s/t Blur LP to Steven Malkmus on a drive from Edinburgh to Glasgow. “Crying with laughter” was the lo-fi troubadour’s apparent response. (I took this with a pinch of salt, as the teller detested Blur).

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 7 Feb 2014 #

    my memories of this weren’t particularly positive, but listening to this again on headphones I’m impressed by the richness of the music. When I cued it up on Youtube my heart sank to see it ran for over 5 minutes but when listening to it I was kept interested. I like the video too – the subtle blurring of various stimulants and the camera rising and then circling. Musically I’m reminded of early Pink Floyd (Set the controls) and thematically it reminds me of Paint it Black.

  8. 8
    weej on 7 Feb 2014 #

    ‘Blur’ the LP still sort-of-stands-up, though there are a fair few tracks to skip – I thought Song 2 was amazing at the time but now it seems annoyingly tame. I’m Just A Killer For Your Love and Theme From Retro are just completely pointless and should’ve been left off. There were some b-sides which would’ve made good replacements – ‘Dancehall’ from Song 2 and ‘All Your Life‘ from this single, which I’d say is better than anything on the LP.

    And yes, it sounds nothing like Pavement.

  9. 9
    wichitalineman on 7 Feb 2014 #

    My feeling – which I still get having heard it from the first time in years – is very much that it was a Beatles pastiche (except for Coxon’s slacker gtr). There are Sexy Sadie harmonies, “she’s your gun” is Happiness Is a Warm Gun revisited, and the a capella line leading into the chorus is a clear steal from Don’t Let Me Down.

    The point, I assume, being that even if they wanted to debase themselves by doing a Beatles pastiche, they could still do it better than Oasis.

    And, having made THAT point, they could move on and say “Britpop is dead”, as Damon Albarn did in accompanying interviews. Thoroughly unpleasant people. If they really thought pop was a sport and they deserved to win a medal, they should have entered the Eurovision.

    And yet, this is a song on which Damon reins in his yelp, it glides along nicely, and punches in the right places. I certainly prefer it to the self-aware gonzoid sequel which brings me out in hives. 6 for me.

  10. 10
    Tom on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I think the harmonies are more Elephant 6 style – which admittedly is a Beatles debt once-removed, so perhaps it’s nitpicking, but that stuff was terribly hip in late-96: if the band (mostly Coxon I guess) were serious about the “we’re into American stuff now” turn, they’d have been listening to that.

  11. 11
    Tom on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #9 re Oasis disses, if this and Oasis comeback single had come out in the reverse order, the sudden tape-stop at the 5 minute mark just as a wig-out is threatened would have been a really excellent burn.

  12. 12
    23 Daves on 7 Feb 2014 #

    This is one of my favourite Blur singles, and I’m staggered by the criticism it’s been getting so far. Blur were never a perfect band, and I’m not a huge fan – they could be clumsy, cynical and cold and they are responsible for some music I actually feel embarrassed about now. I almost feel as if I should issue an apology from my generation to anyone in their teens or twenties who may be investigating “The Great Escape”.

    But “Beetlebum” is magnificent. It slowly, gradually builds from that sinister, lazy scraping at the start into something that truly soars – Coxon’s overdubs aren’t just inspired, they’re brilliant. The chorus also recalls prime sixties British psychedelia with the gently floating, weary, woozy vocal harmonies. And I’d argue that there are definitely elements of “The White Album” here, certainly in the rougher, rawer parts, but you can also hear the same Blur that recorded “There’s No Other Way” in the psych chorus and the more lo-fi New Blur here. It feels like a crossroads record where all the elements are rolled together, and if half of “Blur” the album had been like this I’d have been over the moon. As a record, it combines so many ideas I find thrilling in isolation, never mind in one place at one time.

    It was always a bit of a divisive single, though, and I know numerous people who don’t enjoy it (my wife included). It’s also a good pub quiz question: “Which two Blur singles made it to number one?” Everyone gets “Country House” correct, but surprising numbers of people give either “Song 2″ or “Tender” as the second one. Among casual record buyers it’s almost completely forgotten, which is very sad as I find it wonderful, if perhaps never an obvious ‘single’. And yes, lovely if very simple video too.

  13. 13
    Izzy on 7 Feb 2014 #

    This is gorgeous. I really like the verse melody, how it takes the staccato three-note title phrase and twists it on the repeats, making something so simple and unpromising beautiful as it unwinds. And it’s so languid when it gets to chorus and that long, aching coda. Very simple structure – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, coda – I’m at a loss how it gets to five minutes tbh.

    And I adore the video; all of it really, especially the pan across East London.

    If it isn’t their best song, it’s close. (9)

  14. 14
    Simon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    From memory, at some point Damon quoted a book each as inspiration for the 3 prior Blur albums: Generation X for Modern Life is Rubbish; London Fields (obnov) for Parklife; Immortality for The Great Escape; and then admitted that not literature but Pavement (band) for Blur.

  15. 15
    Query on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Besides the obvious Beatles pastiche, I’m not hearing Pavement so much as a lightweight version of s/t-era Weezer, without the powerpop influences. Even the aesthetic and slacker antics (and into-the-camera frontman staring!) of the Beetlebum video quite reminds me the video for Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”. Am I hallucinating?

    I’m sure this must have been covered in the comments section at one point in the 1990s, especially given all the Britpop analysis, but it’s interesting how little and how late US college rock (and its alt.rock offspring) broke direclty into the UK pop scene. Weezer is practically a household name in the States – not so here. Did it have something to do with the defiant American-ness of these kinds of bands (cf Michael Stipe’s Georgia twang, Weezer’s “Surf Wax America”, etc.)?

  16. 16
    Simon on 7 Feb 2014 #

    …and (@Tom and @Weej), Song 2 sounds an awful lot like Pavement’s Debris Slide

  17. 17
    Matt DC on 7 Feb 2014 #

    It’s a shame that Tender never got to #1 as I’d have *really* enjoyed ripping into that one.

  18. 18
    Tom on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #17 “Come on come on come on, get through it”. Never a truer word, mate.

  19. 19
    ciaran on 7 Feb 2014 #

    The 14 year old me in 1997 was a bit perplexed with this. Where had the Englishness that defined most of their work gone? I probably took the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ line.

    Blur perhaps knew the perfect timing for their singles better than most. Girls and Boys and Country House for the summer and stuff like the Universal and Beetlebum during the cold winter days. The gloomy sound of Beetlebum fits in my mind perfectly with the cold spell of that time.

    Never copped the american influence before but I’m lukewarm as regards bands like Pavement and I still like it regardless.Not that I hated it or anything buy I’ve grown to enjoy it more than I did then.One of the lesser played Blur hits of the era. Like the video and its zooming out to the map of the world. A post-Britpop message in there?

    Certainly better than what the other lot offered up later in the year. 8

  20. 20
    wichitalineman on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Re 10: I’m sure Blur would have been Elephant 6 fans, yes. Bit of both, probably!

    One way to escape from straitening Britpop was to be as un-British as possible, and Blur plumped for alt US stuff as their new touchstone. Pizzicato 5 and a bunch of Swedish acts (Cardigans, Eggstone, Wannadies) provided another contemporary – and sonically more logical, given their 60s reference points – way forward.

  21. 21
    anto on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I’m speaking in favour of this one, for both Albarn and Coxon’s contributions. The vocal seems to be pitched so as to be misheard in the manner of Michael Stipe circa 1983 (there is at least one phrase that based on vowel sounds could be taken as a request for something obscene, but I won’t elaborate). One of it’s most disturbing moments is it’s most seemingly blissful when Albarn’s voice trips into torpor on ‘I just slip away and I aaaam gone’.
    A song of crawling shadows and a brave choice for a single. On balance though it really does belong to Coxon, his guitar judders, shudders, jolts and halts and then there is that eerie coda that goes on and on seemingly refusing to stop (the last sound you hear is an abrupt drop-out as though, in desperation someone has clicked an off-switch).

    #9 – I agree with you about the follow-up – the ‘We Will Rock You’ of Britpop or post-Britpop?

    #17 – I always think ‘Tender’ sounds like Rod Jane & Freddy attempting a Spiritualized song, which I have a funny feeling I’ve mentioned before.

  22. 22
    Mark G on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Was I the only one who thought of Spike Jones when this single came out?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRgokSbo7c8

  23. 23
    23 Daves on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #21 I was never sold on “Tender” either. It always reminded me of tedious morning assemblies at junior school where the headmaster made us sing “Kum Ba Yah”, though Rod Jane and Freddy singing Spiritualized is a much better description.

    “Song 2″ doesn’t appeal much, either.

    I just find Blur a frustratingly patchy band in general. You could curate a fantastic playlist from Blur tracks, but their actual albums usually contain a lot of sag, and even their run of singles feels imperfect to me. I even find “Modern Life Is Rubbish” deeply samey and therefore dull by the halfway point.

  24. 24
    iconoclast on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Personally, I always prefer Blur when they try to be personal rather than smartarse, and “Parklife” is the only one of their albums I enjoy listening to from beginning to end.

    Anyway, “Beetlebum” is, somewhat ironically, a better Beatles pastiche than Oasis ever manged; and its unmistakable drugginess, which was amusing to see on TOTP, actually works in its favour. The song has a tension throughout between malevolence and wooziness which is very effective and very nearly – but not quite! – sustains interest through all five of its minutes. A bit of variation near the end would have been preferable to the meandering we actually get, which brings the mark down to a high SEVEN.

    (Aside: I have a mere eight of the number ones from the 1990′s in my MP3 collection, including this.)

  25. 25
    Chelovek na lune on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I’ve grown fonder of this over the years than I was at the time: it struck me as fairly insubstantial, and “album track rather than “single.” My sentiments overall seem pretty close to those expressed by 23 Daves at #12; not being a huge Blur fan ( to say the least), but I can think of very much worse than this (either by use pastiche, which unlike the pastiche here – which is not uninspired, that almost fades into a rather second-rate relation of plagiarism – be it of the Stone Roses, earlier on, or of David Bowie by way of Suede a bit later, and…then….various things; or by that awful, hateful, misanthropic sneering cynicism that eats the life out some of the songs that it affects). I’m happy to sing along with the sullenness of this one: and some of the instrumentation is positively inspired.

    Still, I don’t really love this – 6 or 7 max – but, considering some of the fan-base buy, or otherwise just weird one-week no 1s we have to face in the near future, this is almost a classic in comparison. The melancholy aspect counts in its favour: it’s stopped that ghastly man from sneering!

  26. 26
    mapman132 on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Nobody has mentioned this record’s nosedive chart performance (1->7->29->out of the top 40 if I remember correctly). There had been short runs for #1′s before, but nothing this extreme up to this point.

    Blur only ever had sporadic exposure in the US and “Song 2″ is probably their most famous record here. To my knowledge “Beetlebum” never appeared even on the Modern Rock chart, although it must’ve gotten at least some radio and/or MTV play since I do remember hearing it at the time. Clearly Beatles-influenced right down to the name. I’d consider it a good, but not great, record. 6/10.

  27. 27
    thefatgit on 7 Feb 2014 #

    I’ll stick my neck out also and say “Beetlebum” is one of my favourite Blur singles. And post-Great Escape (aka post-britpop) Blur were a much more interesting group to me. The ascendancy of Graham Coxon and the introspection of Damon Albarn changed the dynamic. No longer a band that outdid Ray Davies for cynicism, the boys had matured into men, albeit broken men. But a broken man has always been much more interesting than a man at peace. And Blur had at least 2 broken men in their line-up. Damon had been introduced to heroin by Justine Frischmann. And let us be thankful that Damon lacked the addictive personality of say, an example fresh in my mind: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (RIP), and did not allow himself to be consumed totally by that most notorious of drugs. The other broken man was Graham Coxon. I dunno, he always seemed to shrink under Damon’s shadow, until their eponymous album. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was his belligerence to the way “Country House” was promoted, but he sat uncomfortably in the Blur set up during their “boyband with guitars” phase. The grit in Blur’s oyster, so to speak. But you tend to get a pearl after much internal churning. That pearl was “Coffee And TV” for me.

    As far as the video is concerned, it impressed me at the time. Sophie Muller begins close-in and intimate, but the thing expands to encompass the whole world, as if to place Blur as THE most important band in the world, rather than Oasis. When in fact, neither were. But that didn’t matter anyway. The camera pans over a post-industrial London at the end, as Coxon’s coda battles with disjointed static and ghostly voices. “Beetlebum’s” sleepy and let’s face it, sexy afterglow serves as a negative to “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’s” 35mm starkly lit Berkeleyesque take on heroin addiction by The Dandy Warhols a year later. I know this is coming across as “heroin is sexy” when it’s anything but, however we’ll never really get closer to the dynamic of the Albarn/Frischmann relationship than “Beetlebum”. I’d say it’s worthy of an 8.

    Oh, and if “Song 2″ had managed to get to #1, it would be a “Tufnell” eg. I would be stretching the marking system in a similar way to Marcello’s mark for “Your Woman”.

  28. 28
    thefatgit on 7 Feb 2014 #

    “Tender” at Glastonbury was one of the most emotional live performances I’ve ever witnessed (grown men crying and hugging). That shit stays with you.

  29. 29
    Andrew Farrell on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #23 Modern Life is Rubbish is, well, not quite rubbish, but Blur are a odd-album band: Leisure, Parklife, Blur, and – it’s shame they never made a seventh album.

    I am quite fond of this, from an album when Damon Albarn had nearly but not quite beaten his habit of making great pop songs – definitely better than anything I’ve heard from Pavement.

  30. 30
    Doctor Casino on 7 Feb 2014 #

    Mapman132 @26 – I, too, remember this getting brief and marginal airplay on US alt-rock radio. There was some lag in this; to my recollection, I didn’t hear it until well after “Song 2″ was an established hit. In that setting, “Beetlebum” seemed a momentum-killing left turn into something weird, aimless, and vaguely “British” in a way that made it easy to make fun of. I remember a bit of 10th-grade study hall mockery of the way Albarn sings the title line. I doubt I heard it on the radio more than five times. Now, it sounds pretty decent, but still an odd choice for a single. Pavement or no Pavement, the American bands that were scoring radio hits went a lot more ‘rock’ than this – see, again, “Song 2″ – and so it’s funny to think of it being so influenced by American rock bands. Of course it is – I probably would have had a different impression had I already discovered Elephant Six (and indie rock in general) when this came out.

  31. 31
    Rory on 7 Feb 2014 #

    All this talk of the influence of Pavement on this track, and nobody’s mentioning the influence of Reykjavik? True, there are other tracks on Blur where the influence is a bit more overt (or so it seemed to me at the time), but the album always conjured up Iceland more for me than America, country stylin’s notwithstanding. An imagined Iceland, sparse, cold, glacial, punctuated by hot springs and volcanic eruptions, with occasional (woo-hoo!) Vikings.

    I was totally absorbed by “Beetlebum” at the time; it seemed the best kind of sharp left turn, and a fine new direction. The album was a mixed bag, though; on some tracks it was a 180-degree turn back to some of the sounds of Leisure, on others it just fell flat. Nowadays the only tracks I have much time for are its singles and “Death of a Party”.

    Still, “Beetlebum” sounds good to me, and I think I’d give it the edge on “Song 2″, though as I always listen to them together I never have to choose. I like Albarn’s woozy vocals, I like Coxon’s riffs, I like the synths insinuating themselves into it at the two-minute mark, I like its echoes of raw Beatles, and I love the last two minutes. 9.

  32. 32
    Rory on 7 Feb 2014 #

    #29 “shame they never made a seventh album” – oi!

  33. 33
    AMZ1981 on 8 Feb 2014 #

    I remember reading at the time that when Blur arrived to promote the new album in Israel that country’s cultural minister attacked the band for not being Britpop anymore. I don’t think it was clear at the time that the first wave of Britpop was over and that what worked in 1995/6 wouldn’t work in 1997. I think there were a lot of people whose reaction the album was `what the hell are they doing`.

    Beetlebum is not my favourite Blur song, not is it my least favourite. I prefer it to Song 2 (which I never liked) but my two favourite tracks on the fifth album are Death Of A Party and Strange News From Another Star, both non singles.

    Interesting Blur headed a top 40 that week which featured quite a lot of new entries from British guitar bands. Placebo were in at four with Nancy Boy (perhaps a better indicator of where alternative music was heading) and lower down you had Skunk Anansie (a band I always thought should have been bigger), Gene and the Boo Radleys.

    #26 Beetlebum wasn’t quite the biggest nosedive by a number one single – Iron Maiden went 1-9-32 but did have the buffer of an extra week at number one. Three weeks in the top forty by a number one would not happen again until 2005 and a bigger dive would not occur until 2007.

    And finally, Blur probably wouldn’t have appreciated the comparison but they were not the first band to re-invent themselves at the height of their success in order to avoid becoming a parody of themselves. I don’t want to bunny but next chart topper bar one …

  34. 34
    Billy Hicks on 8 Feb 2014 #

    Nah. Nothing special, nothing to hook me, in general not an Blur era I’m fond of. Even Song 2 was (and continues to be) overplayed so much hearing it now is less like listening to a song and more a two-minute cliche. Either that or an advert soundtrack.

    They bounced back in 1999 with Tender and Coffee & TV though, up there with their best. As mentioned earlier a frustratingly hit and miss band, they go from massively moving me to irritating the hell out of me.

  35. 35
    Elmtree on 8 Feb 2014 #

    For me, a big part of its charm is that it’s not a song obviously crafted to be a megahit. It feels like one of those tracks in the middle of an album that everybody who comes across it loves and wishes was better known (hi, He Thought of Cars) got promoted to lead single: a real demonstration that Blur had confidence in their fanbase and lot of confidence in what they were doing. Or maybe Albarn just wanted it at the top of the release schedule because it was all about him.

    I wonder what Noel thought when he heard it-did he care how smoothly superior it sounded to tracks he still had time to tinker with? Was he too coked up to take it seriously?

  36. 36
    Garry on 8 Feb 2014 #

    In 1997 I joined the student radio station at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW. One of the first things I did was to search for all Blur albums thus released. Unfortunately all albums released between 1994 and 1997 and of any decent quality had been nicked.

    It would take me a few years before hearing an entire album, starting with Parklife and the Great Escape. Even now Blur and 13 are the two albums I am least familiar.

    Of the self-titled album, Beatlebum passed us by. I remember hearing M.O.R. but I mostly remember Song 2. And I mostly played Song 2 – it shared a floppy disc with a bunch of promos for use in the cart machine. It became out default time-out track for those announcers who got their sums wrong and had an odd couple of minutes before the end of their shift.

    I didn’t really register Beatlebum until I saw the clip. My memories are the framing camera shots and Alex James, slouching around, summing up the entire feel of the track. James scared me when I first saw it, while somehow the other three simple didn’t register. There was something uncaring, self-destructive there. No hint of cheese or exquisite bass work from Thinktank.

    The song itself is fine, and strangely distinctive in an era of guitars – I see there are several coming up in the next couple of years. But it’s not one of my favourite Blur tracks. I’m glad Blur got a second number one, but I am surprised to learn it was this.

  37. 37
    swanstep on 8 Feb 2014 #

    For all its timely Beatles and US influences, ‘Beetlebum’ has always struck me, both musically and lyrically, as at bottom a reworking of Blur’s first single ‘She’s So High’ (and I dare say that SSH’s 12″ B-side ‘Sing’ is abstractly paired with ‘Song 2′). And that’s to say that B is a return to Blur’s pre-Brit-pop roots, and a dialing back of their Kinks influence more than the radical left turn it’s sometimes felt to be. More dissolute and sinister than SSH (here the gal’s not just hopelessly high, you are and she’s shooting you up), B is also a lot less catchy than SSH, hence all the remarks that it feels more like an album track than a single. My experience is that B never sounds good when listened to in isolation, but that it sounds better and better when you listen to it either repeatedly or in sequence with lots of other Blur stuff (recreating an album-like context for it). Tom’s score of 5 seems to me about right or even a little generous for the first, radio-style impression that B leaves, whereas a high 7 seems right once I give it a long, album-like ride through headphones. All Blur fans of course follow the latter course with the track, but this seems a little unfair since every other #1 has to make its own bones. It’s a frustrating situation, so I give B a compromise rating:
    6

  38. 38
    23 Daves on 8 Feb 2014 #

    #19 I’d agree with the ‘winter’ feel of the single absolutely. In fact, it brings back some very specific memories for me. Around this point, I lived within walking distance of my place of employment. Well, I say “walking distance” – any reasonable person would have taken the bus rather than traipsed for forty five minutes across London in the winter morning and again in the evening, but I was broke and needed to save money any way I could. During those horribly cold days when my face would go numb, which only felt harsher the closer you got to the Thames, there were incredible amounts of flyposters for “Beetlebum” everywhere. Somebody at EMI had obviously dropped a lot of banknotes into the hands of some shady flyposting organisation. They were in some fairly unlikely places, too, for example under the railway bridges near Clapham Junction on Latchmere Road (in other words, not just Camden or areas near gig venues and record shops).

    On top of that, I think this single had a “99p during its first week of sale” deal going on, so its sudden topple from 1 to 7 in the charts makes total sense. Loads of hype + cheap first week of sale + fan base eager for new material = in-and-out number one hit, of which there would be many more to come in the future from other acts. After all the effort, it probably would have been deeply embarrassing for everyone concerned if this hadn’t knocked White Town off the top. When I heard the chart rundown on Radio One the week after this was number one, I actually thought there had to be a mistake – surely no record could topple from the top that quickly?

    Does anyone else remember Chris Evans’ response the first time he played it on the radio as well? I don’t know if he was otherwise distracted, but there was an awkward bit of silence and then he said “and that was… er… Blur’s new single?” then there was no further comment on the matter. I must admit the first time I heard this I didn’t really ‘get it’ either, it took another couple of listens to really begin to love it. Plus unfortunately, it’s one of those records which doesn’t seem to reveal its potential through a tinny transistor alarm radio, which is surprising given its lo-fi elements.

  39. 39
    Another Pete on 8 Feb 2014 #

    It may of reached number 1 on the 1st February but the coldness as mentioned at #19 and Rory’s imagined Iceland #31 plus that plodding repetitive bass counting down the days to payday makes this sound like the audio equivalent of January. A brave choice for a lead single that paid off especially given how later singles from this album On your own and M.O.R. could be considered more transitional from their last album. I always thought the reason Song 2 wasn’t released as the lead single was to avoid a ‘Madness of King George’ non-existent prequel situation. 7

  40. 40
    leveret on 8 Feb 2014 #

    Oof, (5), that’s harsh! Very harsh. I can’t get my head around that. To me, this was a blessed relief from the gor-blimey, luv-a-duck music hall tendencies of the Great Escape era, although the following album was very patchy. It might not be Blur’s very best single, but it’s certainly the prettiest. So many great elements in this – the chugging intro, the burbling analogue synth that surfaces just before the 2 minute mark, the glide into ‘..and when she lets me slip away’, the melancholic chorus that manages to retain the Kinks influence without the twee elements Blur were sometimes prone to borrow from 60s English pop, the woozy extended outro. A gorgeous record. (9).

  41. 41
    Ed on 8 Feb 2014 #

    @28, @34: I am pleased I am not the only one to have nice things to say about Tender, which is one of my absolute favourite Blur songs, up there with – and the antithesis to – Girls and Boys.

    I have never been a huge Blur fan, but watching Damon Albarn grow up in public has been strangely compelling; partly because we are roughly the same age, I guess. The mournful disillusioned songs are more potent because we’ve heard the bouncy cheery ones that came first, and the early songs are more poignant in retrospect because we know what’s coming next.

    I am sad that we won’t be getting to Tender on Popular – like Beetlebum, it was another bizarre irruption into the charts – although by the sounds of it I should be glad that Tom won’t be giving full rein to his opinion of it. It was kept off the top by a very worthy bunny, though.

  42. 42
    Query on 8 Feb 2014 #

    It should be noted that 60s influences were a common thread in a lot of American indie rock of the early and mid-1990s. The already-mentioned Elephant 6 are a particularly good example – especially The Olivia Tremor Control, of course – and the very influential Dinosaur Jr. are another. Even lo-fi stalwarts like Guided by Voices wore their Kinks love firmly on their sleeves, noticeably so in the classic Bee Thousand (1994). In that sense the Beatles pastiche in ‘Beetlebum,’ whether direct or indirect, is particularly ‘clear’ but not unusual.

  43. 43
    Tom on 8 Feb 2014 #

    #41 I don’t like “Tender” but I don’t hate it as much as Matt DC does – I just couldn’t resist a cheap dig at its chorus. In fact, I think I actually bought it, unheard, just because it was 99p on cassingle and I was interested in what a Blur song called “Tender” would sound like. It struck me at the time as an OK knock-off of Spiritualized, maybe if I went back to it now – having not listened to Spiritualized in years – I’d hear more there, or at least hear how it uses gospel differently (as it doubtless does).

    It’s been interesting on this thread hearing people talk about how they preferred New Blur and found Damon’s journey into maturity compelling or sympathetic – it’s forced me to think a bit harder about why I feel the opposite, or at least, why I don’t give him the benefit of my very large doubts.

    First off there’s a “what do I want from Damon Albarn?” question. I read somewhere – maybe it was a point Bowiesongs made – about the occasional attempts to market Bowie with “now here’s the real Bowie” style moves, the chameleon at last takes off his mask etc etc. And the problem with those is, why do I want to see the real Bowie?, his career has been built on a demonstration that (in his case) artifice and artfulness is more interesting than being ‘personal’. And I get a similar feeling with Albarn – the relative success of Albarn as cynical observer and pastiche merchant makes me care all the less about the Real Damon and his Big Feelings.

    Second, there’s a wider issue, which is that the big feelings of twenty- and thirty-something rock dudes are the most overvalued coin in the music world, at least critically. But I’ll try to leave critical profile out of it. It seems to me, though, that there is a set of tropes associated with the now-see-the-real-me move – slow, self-serious songwriting; more direct and plain-spoken language, a move instrumentally away from ‘mere’ rock or pop, stripping things down and/or borrowing from other music, particularly older and religious traditions. To its credit “Beetlebum” doesn’t do much of this, but “Tender” certainly does. These are tropes I’ve never liked, as a glance at entries for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Imagine” etc shows! – so I know this is a big aesthetic blindspot for me, which a lot of people don’t share.

    (Though actually this makes me realise again what a fantastic record “Like A Prayer” is – it’s a now-for-the-real-me move which slows things down, reaches for gospel, gets serious, and then becomes an amazing disco party anyway.)

    And the third thing is Damon’s voice, which was never my favourite part of Blur anyhow, but becomes really grating for me around this time. 1997 was also when diffident indie singing – which had always been there and will always be there – stopped being something I ignore or listen past and started becoming an actual deal-breaker for a lot of bands. That’s partly down to my own tastes changing, but in the mid-90s indie rock gets infected by a case of the Buckleys which it’s never quite shaken – and high-register singing as a way of conveying quite how sad and serious the vocalist is really comes in.

    (There are big exceptions to all this – no preference is entirely watertight – but thinking about what I like those are the best reasons I can come up with for why post-Great Escape Blur is SUCH a turn off.)

    (“Coffee And TV” is lovely, though.)

  44. 44
    Tom on 8 Feb 2014 #

    (& I get one more chance to come to terms with Damon Albarn on a #1 hit record, so this story might yet have a happy ending…)

  45. 45
    Auntie Beryl on 8 Feb 2014 #

    #44 He’s tenuously connected with another. He’s in the video and made the tea, I think.

  46. 46
    Rory on 9 Feb 2014 #

    Re Swanstep @37, I’ve been conscious in this 95-97 era that some of my ratings are those of a fan, particularly for the Blur and Prodigy tracks; it’s hard not to end up at 9+ when they’re tracks you’d “never tire of hearing” and “certainly own”. But others are no doubt doing similar with their own fan favourites, so I figure it all comes out in the wash – and someone has to represent the fan’s side in the scoring. And why not, for these fan-driven number ones?

    I’m thinking I should expand on my Iceland point: I felt that way at the time because it was a point of note in some reviews that this and the album were recorded in Reykjavik as well as London, which prompted speculation about how the place had influenced the sound. A bit like how Band on the Run is forever linked with Lagos.

  47. 47
    Conrad on 9 Feb 2014 #

    I like this one. Up there with There’s No Other Way and Girls and Boys. I preferred them doing syd barrett, suited Albarn’s English whimsy voice. They got very very boring around this point though, the LP was an unlistenable dredge.

  48. 48
    Conrad on 9 Feb 2014 #

    The Beatles references – the acapella chorus lead-in is mores why don’t we do it in the road, than don’t let me down, although the overall feel is more the latter

  49. 49
    tm on 9 Feb 2014 #

    ” the big feelings of twenty- and thirty-something rock dudes are the most overvalued coin in the music world, at least critically” Christ didn’t we learn this lesson painfully over the 17 years between then and now. That and the one about the high vocals and the slow songs and…the horror, the tepid beige earnest horror…

  50. 50
    Ed on 10 Feb 2014 #

    @49 That’s funny: I was about to say exactly the opposite! I agree that rock dudes’ big feelings were a dominant presence from – when? Bob Dylan, I guess. But it felt like this was precisely the period when they were becoming almost entirely irrelevant.

    Perhaps I can only say that because I have barely listened to any Coldplay – I know the Kraftwerk-y one, and the other one – and I am not sure I even know the name of that group that had the song that was played on the X Factor a lot. Snow Patrol?

    So I am prepared to believe that my impressions are not necesarily an accurate representation of the state of the culture.

    But IIRC, there is some actual data that proves by science that rock’s presence in the charts fell off dramatically after the 90s. I am not saying that made the charts better, or worse, or that it made rock better or worse. But I think it does show that rock’s power as a cultural force was fading fast. More on this coming up very soon….

  51. 51
    Ed on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Here you go. I knew it was here somewhere: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2013/11/pop-science/

  52. 52
    Tom on 10 Feb 2014 #

    I think there HAS been a drop-off – to the extent that the hunt for Big Dude Feelings these days bypasses rock entirely (hi Drake!) which is progress of a sort. But the best-reviewed album of 1997 was OK Computer, and The Boatman’s Call (a classic “time to get personal move” too) wasn’t far behind, not to mention Spiritualized and a bunnied band coming up later this year. It was a pretty good year to be an (alternative) rock dude with feels.

  53. 53
    Tom on 10 Feb 2014 #

    It *is* interesting tho how in the 00s rock dude feels lose their critical respectability to an extent but remain very firmly popular – Travis, Coldplay, Snow Patrol were all huge (Snow Patrol’s big hits are proper chart monsters which we won’t be covering here only because the singles chart got so bad at picking up on drivetime radio slow-burn hits – one of them shows up as a cover, though.)

  54. 54
    Ed on 10 Feb 2014 #

    It is interesting, yes. Hypothesis: men have emotions that traditional models of masculinity make it difficult for them to express, or maybe even understand. So there is a perennial demand – and indeed need – for music to help them deal with those feelings, regardless of critical fashion, or other social and cultural changes.

  55. 55
    Fivelongdays on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Not much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said. I rather like it, and it seemed like they were doing something different. Something as relatively uncommercial as this getting to number one – and just after dear old White Town, too – made 14-year-old me (who was in the grasp of the start of what would be his own personal I’m Alternative, Me era – see my comment on the Stiltskin thread if you really want to know) rather happy. And we all thought the title was a swipe at Oasis. Come on! We were rude provincial teenagers, not a smart, sophisticated urbanite, like wot Damon Albarn was.

    7.

  56. 56
    hardtogethits on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #43, Tom – your fourth paragraph is spot on – there clearly is an emerging core set of “real me” characteristics for the songwriter – and that’s what I was trying to describe in the thread on Forever Love, and the way it took its cues from Jesus To A Child. It seems the plaintive sincerity of JTAC reaches out to many, and fair enough. Furthermore, it clearly satisfies the ‘authenticity’ requirement that many people seek, too. I wonder if, in the case of JTAC, it’s the depth of personal experience* on display which overcomes the “slow, self-serious songwriting; more direct and plain-spoken language, a move instrumentally away from ‘mere’ rock or pop, stripping things down and/or borrowing from other music, particularly older and religious traditions.” – setting it apart from Bridge Over Troubled Water; Imagine etc?

    *is ‘pain’ too simple a word?

  57. 57
    Tom on 10 Feb 2014 #

    George M did his big “real me” move with Listen Without Prejudice years earlier I think – JTAC has the serious subject matter and big feels but it’s a slow jam synth track at heart and (as I tried to get across in the review) what sets it apart is that the music it reaches for is very much earthly – a slow bossa nova I.e a dance tune: that sense of movement is the making of the track musically (keeps it interesting) and thematically (instead of being a move away from pop into feels its the reverse – using a music of the body to begin a process of recovery) (cf my Like A Prayer comments – salvation via pop gets the big Tom scores; running from it into the authentic doesn’t)

  58. 58
    Cumbrian on 10 Feb 2014 #

    One of the great things about coming here to discuss music is that, sometimes, when I’m really struggling to order my words, someone will articulate what I’m feeling better than you ever could. When it comes to Beetlebum (and Blur post TGE) I concur with pretty much everything that thefatgit said at #27 – though I don’t agree about Song 2.

    Also, I thought the dead cut of the (as mentioned elsewhere) brilliant coda sounds more like someone belching.

    As this is it for Blur, as far as #1 singles go, there’s a few other things that I have been wrestling with. I can’t agree with what seems to be the general consensus that the self titled album is patchy at best and rubbish at worst. It’s probably the one of their albums I listen to the most. Essex Dogs (is he taking Jarvis on at his own game here?), Death of a Party, Strange News From Another Star, You’re So Great plus Beetlebum are all excellent in my view. I don’t think the album was well served by its singles but even those are good for giving Graham his due. 13 is even better in some respects but not something that I listen to as frequently – rightly or wrongly, I find that Blur to be easier to start to listen to with some of the more difficult stuff backloaded, so I am warmed up for it. 13 has Tender right up front (but goes on too long) and then is a bit more strange almost straightaway, so I find I need to actually make an effort to sit and listen to it. It does have my favourite Blur track on it though – Trimm Trabb just builds and builds and builds until it rocks out hard at the end and Graham’s guitar sounds like a dying moose.

    In the end, I probably saw Blur 2 or 3 times live. The last was a revelation though. I managed to score a ticket to one of the 5 gigs they played in support of Think Tank at the (dearly departed) Astoria*. Without Graham, and with bunny Simon Tong on guitar, they totally re-ordered the sound from the times I had seen them previously – when they had been quite balanced. Now the guitar was way at the back and Alex was the lead instrumentalist. It was superb, really pushing his basslines up to the front and showcasing how good he could be. About the only guitar band gig I have been to where you actually could have danced to what they were playing.

    I never found Blur easy to love but I don’t regret spending my money on them. Damon’s affectations piss me off a bit sometimes but Graham was always there to counterbalance my disdain with something interesting to listen to.

    Finally, on the discussion about “real man” guitar band feelings. I get where you’re all coming from but aren’t you ignoring the elephant in the room for the likes of Travis and Coldplay and so on. Yes, Buckley was important – and Radiohead to an extent – but without Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger being so enormous, would record companies have invested so much in finding these acts (i.e. they are the bands found by those that were the counterparts to the A&R men who took boisterous, mid-tempo rock, as the Oasis touchstone)? As evidenced by, for instance, Travis ripping Wonderwall off on the lead single from their biggest album.

    *I loved The Astoria and miss it dearly. The right size venue for you to be able to see reasonably clearly even if stood at the back and the acoustics were really good, as far as I can remember. If I ever saw a gig there where, if the band was crap, it was the venue’s fault, I can’t remember it.

  59. 59
    James BC on 10 Feb 2014 #

    For me the Blur album suffers by comparison with Graham Coxon’s solo album Happiness in Magazines, which is similarly noisy and guitar-led (obviously) but simply has much better songs. The lack of Damon’s vocals doesn’t damage the sound at all.

    I’d like to know what a solo Coxon rendition of Song 2 would sound like – does anyone know if he’s ever performed it?

  60. 60
    Cumbrian on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #59: Interesting. Personally, I found Happiness In Magazines to have similar peaks to Blur but the rest of it sort of floated by without making much of an impression. I preferred Love Travels At Illegal Speeds.

    Dovetailing The Astoria and your Graham Coxon/Song 2 point – the last gig I saw at The Astoria was Graham Coxon on the Love Travels… tour. He didn’t play Song 2 then – mind you, that was only one gig. Obviously can’t speak for the rest of his tours.

  61. 61
    James BC on 10 Feb 2014 #

    I went to see him on that tour too, in Cambridge. One of the loudest gigs I have been to and a great deal of fun.

    People Of The Earth from the Happiness album sticks in the memory particularly – what on record was a quite funny comedy song turned into a completely disorientating droning jam in the live show. It was great to see Graham indulging his guitar antihero tendencies to the full.

  62. 62
    Cumbrian on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Happily, I have just (re)discovered that I have the live CD from the night I saw Coxon at the Astoria and have been listening to it again. Your memory of it being bloody loud is pretty spot on. People Of The Earth is gonzo thrash in the chorus but the comedy of the verses remains intact. The cover of That’s When I Reach For My Revolver is another highlight.

  63. 63
    Tommy Mack on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Cumbrian @ 58 – I reckon there’s a subtle different between the Oasis-type acoustic ballads (and those who followed in their wake such as Wigan stadium-indie bunnies coming up soon) “It’s ok for lads to have a sentimental side”, filling the sort of role that November Rain or Springsteen’s post-Born in the USA stuff or The Clash’s Train In Vain (actually pretty much any Mick Jones song) did for previous generations of rock blokes and bands like Travis and Coldplay who were more like “it’s ok to be a wimp and just like the nice songs with acoustic guitars and not bother with the swaggery loud stuff in between” and also, more depressingly “it’s ok to be boring and go onstage in your grey T-shirt and blue jeans as long as your tunes are good enough etc etc.” but I’ll save my bitching for the bleak times (for indie) to come.

    @62 – I’ve always loved Coxon’s cover of TWIRFMR too. I do feel he gets a bit of a critical free pass as the only likeable member of his band (apart from Dave). I suppose this is as good a point as any to boast that I once bought him a coke (the drink) when he saw my university band open up for the fantastic Mower who were signed to his Transcopic label. He had just quit Blur and was very bitchy about Norman Cook and Zoe Ball. I had a number two buzzcut at the time and he said I reminded him of Ian MacKaye which I put on the flyer for our next gig.

  64. 64
    thefatgit on 10 Feb 2014 #

    Much as I enjoyed some Coldplay, Travis or Snow Patrol, I still didn’t feel the “Sad Rock” movement was born out of a tangible backlash against “laddish” Britpop (1st or 2nd wave). Much of what I feel about that stuff will be saved for another time.

    I often find it hard to effectively articulate what I feel about a large number of songs that crop up on Popular, so I greatly appreciate Cumbrian’s kind words @58. I try to find an entry-point, be it a memory from that time, or more often than not, as we progress, how I feel about the song now. It was easier to write about “Beetlebum”, because I was looking forward to it. It’s the unexpected and nondescript #1′s I tend to struggle with. It’s what makes Popular so addictive. And if anyone can help me order my thoughts, it’s usually Tom in his reviews, or Marcello in his comments (when the #1 doesn’t clash with TPL, of course).

  65. 65
    pink champale on 10 Feb 2014 #

    #63 et al. is it just a fact then that absolutely everyone, even blur fans, hates damon albarn (and to a slightly lesser extent alex and his bloody cheese)? as far as i can tell it is and this is quite unusual isn’t it? i mean, lots of people laugh at bono or sting, but they don’s seem to inspire quite the same kind of universal hatred. personally i’ve never quite understood or shared it. clearly DA can be a bit obnoxious, but since when has that been a capital offence in pop? and stuff like his reputed first ever words to graham coxon (‘your shoes are shit, they’re fakes and i’ve got the proper ones’ or something) would be seen as kind of endearing if noel g (or marc bolan) had said them. not particulalry trying to argue anyone out of their animus, but would be good to know what it is that’s so terrible. (one answer i would accept is his pained strumming of that bloody mandolin or whatever it is in that britpop film).
    anyway, beetlebum is a solid eight from me and i quite like the album too, especially MOR which i kind of like more than ‘boys keep swinging’. in a parallel universe, range life and trigger cut would be getting tens.

    (thinking about it, maybe the difference is that people who actually know bono apparently seem to like him, thinking of both jay z and dylan taking time out in their books to go on about how brilliant he is to have a drink with. whereas people who’ve met damon seem to hate him even more than anyone else)

  66. 66
    Andrew Farrell sent back from the future on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I think that may be a generational thing – I doubt Bono has fallen out of love with the sound of his own voice, but these days he’s more likely to be speaking to World Leader Magazine than Hot Press. Not to say that he’d entirely fallen out of the spotlight in the period in question…

  67. 67
    Andrew Farrell sent back from the future on 11 Feb 2014 #
  68. 68
    Andrew Farrell sent back from the future on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Actually we may as well kick around some pop-psych: the difference is that no-one* hates Damon more than Damon does, and Bono is the same but with love:)

    *except the Lex

  69. 69
    Tommy Mack on 11 Feb 2014 #

    You may well be right. Damon is so needy it’s almost painful. “I’m brilliant…aren’t I?” My wife’s cousin’s partner saw post-Graham Blur at Reading and said someone threw a frisbee to Damon as he came on which hit him in the chest so he threw it back and got on the mic, saying ‘throw it again, I’ll catch it this time!’ “That”, said WCP “is why Damon will never be cool.”

    He also seems like he’s searching for profundity in every little thing he does or says as well as disingenuously acting the shy, insecure sad boy all the time (“‘Poor boy, he’s had his heart broken’ – the only thing that ever broke Damon’s heart was not getting his own way” quoth Justine post-breakup). In the Live Forever Docu Pink Champale mentions @ 67, he puts on this grand performance of being a wounded, sensitive poetic soul and says nothing of much insight or interest while Jarvis, Noel and even Liam come across as witty and grounded.

  70. 70
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Worth noting that with Damon’s not-particularly-convincing acting debut in ‘Face’ later this year we have five chart-topping thesps in a row (being a bit more generous to the next entry or at least its frontman there).

  71. 71
    Rory on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #65 “Hate” is an awfully strong word, and I tend to reserve it for far more disturbing figures than any you’ve mentioned. I may not like someone’s music – I may even hate some of it – but my own default assumption is that they made it in good faith. Occasionally, a random fact will challenge that assumption, but if I still enjoy the music even that will make it hard to hate them. It takes a perfect storm of disagreeable music and a disagreeable person to move me towards active dislike of a pop star.

    I’ve been a Blur fan since Leisure, rate two of their albums as among my very favourites and the rest as good to very good, and on the whole have avoided most celebrity gossip about Albarn, Coxon, or the others, so I don’t have a strong sense of how they are as people; I’ve probably picked up most of what I do have from these Popular comments threads. I can see how Alex James’s UK media overexposure in recent years might be on the nose for some, but the cheese thing: really? People are down on the guy because he wanted to try something a world away from music, and had the money to do it? It’s not as if he abandoned the bass guitar forever. Even if he had, so what?

    So no, I don’t hate Damon Albarn. I’m not rushing to pre-order Everyday Robots, and perhaps some of that is because (per Tom’s entry) I don’t have a strong sense that his is an inner life I’m desperate to explore, but if the reviews are good I might end up buying it – although I haven’t bought Coxon’s solo albums apart from Happiness in Magazines, so who knows. Blur is one of those bands I love as a band, I guess, and I’m not that bothered by what its constituent parts end up doing individually. (See also: Suede.)

  72. 72
    Tommy Mack on 11 Feb 2014 #

    I never hated him but he was someone my brother and I would always take the piss of even when we liked some of his music. As I said, I guess it’s a combination of neediness and self-importance. Colin B Morton (who used to write the Great Pop Things cartoon) once described his musical eclecticism as ‘maybe if I stand close to all these cool things, I will become cool too or at least someone will mistake me for cool and that might be enough’ which I think is actually rather unfair (but then CBM has it in for indie kids from Morrissey onwards). Seems more likely as, I think Tom suggested on the Country House thread, that he’s a guy who never listened to much music in his youth and delayed by about a decade the rapid-fire journey of discovery many music fans make in teens/early-20s.

  73. 73
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    The context of AlexJamesCheeseGate is partly that he’d reinvented himself as a Tory boy country squire in all but the politics*, and this really annoyed people – so when the outcome of his neo-foodie back-to-the-land endeavours turned out to be a really disgusting** novelty cheddar cheese people squawked.

    *as far as I know he’s no Otis Ferry
    **this I have personal evidence for

  74. 74
    Weej on 11 Feb 2014 #

    The trouble with Damon is that he’s so very earnest in what he does (you could also call it “self-important” if you like) and British people for some reason take this to be an unforgivable sin.

    The trouble with Alex is that he seems to genuinely be an idiot with a massive ego. This didn’t matter when he was just a bassist, but go have a look at his documentary about cocaine and see if you don’t come away with a reasonable amount of rage.

  75. 75
    Steve Mannion on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #72 That CBM quote is indeed unfair but also probably accurate (in describing most artists if not people…from a certain background or in a certain cultural position). Damned if you don’t aim for coolness in such a way either though (ie Oasis – Noel’s terrible quote about Albarn being “someone who could see four West Indian men in a pub playing cards and write a symphony about it, whereas I just see four blokes playing cards” springs to mind).

    I find Albarn’s ‘post-Blur’ approach actually hard to fault beyond his own characteristics as a peformer (but even here I think he’s improved – his weary old man voice sounds fine on Gorillaz ‘Empire Ants’ for example) – his projects tend to come off as reasonably respectful and inclusive collabs (he’s never released a solo record just under his own name afaik?) rather than exploitative ego-massage.

  76. 76
    Mark M on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Re 73 & 74: My impression (based almost entirely on his public persona – I met him once, fairly briefly) is that Alex James was a twat when he was taking lots of coke, and a twat when he cleaned up. That’s often the case. And of course, like a lot of other ‘reformed’ characters, he’s cashed in on his previous bad behaviour.
    I know one person who warmed to Damon when she did some work for him (around this time, I think), but she has a long history of liking the most terrible people, so that’s a limited endorsement.

  77. 77
    Andrew Farrell on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #69 Yeah, to cannibalize my own writing on Popscene (which is basically my perfect Blur single):

    “The song itself is a monument to Despite, but the video is a fascinating straight-on view of it – in the moments where it can be bothered to meet your gaze. There is barely a second when the singer isn’t sneering or mock-idioting or staring unsmiling at the camera (a trick he was to grow fonder of). The scope is (ahem) universal – these are idiots in the song and you are idiots for liking this and he’s an idiot for doing it, and he’s really an idiot for doing it well and don’t you agree that he’s doing it well?”

  78. 78
    Andrew Farrell on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #75: First solo album out next month! First single getting a cheery kicking from some people you may know.

  79. 79
    tm on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Week @74 Really? Ive not seen his coke docu but I remember Charlie Broker saying it was pretty good and that Alex James came across as likeable and genuinely contrite at having pumped a million quid into a ruinous illegal trade.

  80. 80
    tm on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Weej not Week obv. Bloody autocorrect.

  81. 81
    Rory on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Re Alex James and cheese, I must admit that this is hilarious: “I always liked to keep an eye on the cheese situation at large when I was on the move and for many years saw touring with the band merely as an excuse to travel the world tracking and eating obscure types of cheese.”

    On the other hand, I can hardly criticize when cheese is high on my own list of Good Reasons to Live in Britain and Europe. And who doesn’t love Britain’s most famous cheese fan?

  82. 82
    Tom on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Alex James’ admirable love for cheese makes the astonishingly horrible quality of his own cheese that much more regrettable!

    “I always liked to keep an eye on the literary situation when I was on the move and for many years saw touring with the band merely as an excuse to travel the world reading the finest comic novels, before writing my own, The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace” – B.Dickinson

  83. 83
    weej on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Don’t know what Charlie Brooker said but Alex spent the whole documentary sucking up to the right-wing Colombian government and parroting whatever they told him – which was that the cocaine trade destabilized the country and they were the ones restoring order and peace to the country. These points may be true on their own, but there is obviously a wider picture involving international trade, political spheres of influence, prohibition and so on and he fails entirely to even acknowledge this, let alone deal with it. He seems very sincere in his contrition, but this just adds to the imbalance. It basically comes across as a party political broadcast, which is the opposite of what good investigative journalism should be.

  84. 84
    Mark M on 11 Feb 2014 #

    Re83: ‘That the cocaine trade destabilized the country and they were the ones restoring order and peace to the country. These points may be true on their own…’
    They broadly are, and the characterisation of the Colombian government as right-wing isn’t particularly useful – the difference between, say, Alvaro Uribe’s time in power in Colombia and Lula’s in Brazil is far greater in rhetoric than policy. But you’re right, the broader context is everything, which is why a number of former presidents of Latin American countries have called for called for an end to the war on drugs.
    I didn’t see the Alex James documentary, though, so I’m trying to be wary of judging what he said.

  85. 85
    weej on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #84 I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the “right-wing” part, but it just seems to characterise the style in which they essentially write the piece – which is supposed to be balanced as it’s on Panorama. It’s all on Youtube, though the sound is a little out of sync, part one here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-DRoWlN3Og

  86. 86
    23 Daves on 11 Feb 2014 #

    #76 Just after “Parklife” came out, I had a poster of Blur on my student bedroom wall – I either got it cheaply or for free somewhere, I enjoyed the album enough that it didn’t seem like a ridiculous thing to own, and I needed all the posters I could get to cover up the walls which hadn’t been decorated since 1975 (or at least seemed like it).

    One problem, though – Alex managed to piss me off across so many interviews that I couldn’t bear to see him (looking spectacularly smug in this picture) staring down from the walls at me, so I got a sticker big enough to cover his face and put that over it instead. I can’t even remember what he specifically said to annoy me so much that I’d deface my own poster of Blur, but I think it was the slow drip-drip of ludicrous coked-up comments across several issues of NME and MM.

    One thing I can remember him coming out with is the winning line that single mothers on benefits could still afford to go away on holiday abroad and have it large if they wanted, they just needed to organise their finances better. This didn’t apply to any of the single mothers I knew at the time and led to a flurry of complaints to the NME, I think. I’m not even sure he isn’t a Tory – even back then, a lot of us had our doubts. I find he agitates me a lot less now partly because I’m older and have learnt to look away from attention-seekers, and partly because he’s not anything like as ubiquitous anyway. I always got the impression that IPC hacks would always hang around Alex for a quick quote, which he was frequently only too happy to give, usually to the grave embarrassment of Graham Coxon. These days, very few people care what Alex thinks, though as we live in a time of controversial, contrary media rent-a-gobs he’d probably be the last of our worries now anyway.

  87. 87
    Ed on 12 Feb 2014 #

    “….with his children, boys Geronimo, Artemis and Galileo, and girls Sable and Beatrix”:

    http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/politics-is-not-my-thing–but-i-was-delighted-when-the-camerons-came-to-my-farm-7546696.html

  88. 88
    Ed on 12 Feb 2014 #

    And here’s the peerless Marina Hyde:
    http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/lostinshowbiz/2012/feb/16/alex-james-memoir-cheese

    Although the match-up is so unequal I ended up feeling rather sorry for the poor guy.

  89. 89
    Ed on 12 Feb 2014 #

    “Rennet-based droning”

  90. 90
    Mark M on 12 Feb 2014 #

    Seeing as we seem to collectively love him so much (ahem), there’s a Culture Show special all about Damon and his solo album on Monday.

  91. 91
    swanstep on 12 Feb 2014 #

    It occurs to me that both in the US and down under (hence maybe almost everywhere except in the UK and Ireland) Blur and Albarn have been appreciated almost completely musically. Their personal obnoxiousness or daftness just haven’t been obvious from a distance (whereas, say, Bono’s or Sting’s or Liam Gallagher’s or Billy Corgan’s abilities to grate have translated across the globe). So… from a distance, it’s a little funny to read all this sniping and griping. Carry on!

  92. 92
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Feb 2014 #

    I think Mr Corgan has been accommodating enough to let his grating side shine through in his music.

  93. 93
    Garry on 12 Feb 2014 #

    Here in Oz, Bono had a habit of appearing on all sorts of things – 60 Minutes, the news, whatever. On the other hand the personal ructions in Blur but not really pondered over. Even Oasis issues were better known clash but not really worried about. “It’s just those Gallagher’s again,” we thought as our eyes scanned the music pages and moved onto something else. The Blur conflicts both between and within band members were mentioned but ignored. They were less theatrical than the Gallagher’s.

    In the circles I traveled thought of the Blur album as the Coxon record. Albarn was running out of quaint characters and nostalgia and finally gave over more power to the frustrated guitarist. Out of conflict came Song 2 and we were happy.

    Then came Tender so any focus was on Damon Albarn’s break-up song. I always felt it was great pop though a light-weight version of Spiritualized’s break-up album Ladies and Gentlemen (etc). (How many other break-up albums or songs does the ex actually played?)

    By the time the Blur conflict exploded on Thinktank we were all past caring about Blur conflict. Love that album though.

  94. 94
    Tom on 12 Feb 2014 #

    “How many other break-up songs does the ex actually play?”

    Funny you should ask, given what I’m writing about next!

  95. 95
    Mark M on 12 Feb 2014 #

    Re79/83 etc: So I watched the Panorama, which indeed was awful journalism, but full of stuff meant to be attention-grabbing TV: Alex meets a dealer! Alex meets a hitman (hmm…)! Alex meets a drugs mule! All leading up to the anti-climax of Alex conducting a horribly sycophantic interview with President Uribe, having brought him some of his cheese as a gift. Honestly.
    (You’re right, Weej, Alex does describe Uribe as a ‘right-wing hardliner’. I suspect Alex knows sod all about Colombian politics, but Uribe certainly likes to portray himself – to a tedious extent – as uncompromising. God he’s an annoying little man. I was reminded how much I’ve always disliked him. It’s like he’s determined to disassociate himself with everything that went right during his time in power).
    Although there didn’t seem to be much in there that was factually wrong, the programme was obviously a totally useless introduction to Colombia and the War On Drugs. But then I’d expect nothing better from Alex James or indeed Panorama.
    By the way, though, Colombia is a beautiful and fascinating country that’s really not that dangerous these days. Worth a visit, definitely.

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page