Best albums of 1997: #5 Blur “Blur”

Blur practically invented Britpop.

It was the media that invented the term, of course, but the impetus lay in albums like Blur’s sophomore album, 1993’s “Modern life is rubbish”. Written in part as a reaction the Grunge scene and the alternative explosion in North America, frontman and principal songwriter Damon Albarn wrote a poppier rock record influenced by British artists with songs satirizing British life. These British-centric themes and ideas carried forward into 1994’s “Parklife” and then, released during the height of Britpop mania in 1995, “The great escape” saw Blur almost parodying themselves in technicolour cartoons.

When it came time to record album number five, the four members of Blur had become disenchanted with the scene and really, with themselves. Albarn finally bought into the lo-fi influenced rock (think Pavement) that guitarist Graham Coxon was becoming more and more enamoured with. Coxon convinced Damon that it was time to write ‘music that scared people again’. The band convened to Reykjavik, Iceland and “Blur” was born.

Many of you who read these pages frequently will know by now that I have been a fan from the beginning so it may not surprise you to see this album in my top five for 1997. However, when I first heard the lead off single “Beetlebum” and then the rest of “Blur” later on, I didn’t recognize it as the band I loved and was initially unsure of the change. It was so jarring, so different from the zaniness of “The great escape”. Of course, it didn’t take super long for me to buy in, maybe a few go rounds in my CD player, and I didn’t look back. “Blur” is crunchy, noisy, and aggressive and it’s not surprising that it finally gave the band their first hit single in the US.

I imagine most of you already know “Song 2” (often misnamed “The Woo hoo song”) so I didn’t include it as part of my three picks for you below.

”M.O.R.”: David Bowie and Brian Eno get songwriting credits since Damon and company lifted the chord progression from two songs on “Lodger”, which themselves shared the same progression as an experiment of sorts. “M.O.R.” is a song that builds through each verse structure to the explosive chorus. The call and response vocals are fun, each taking turns under distortion effects. The drums are punchy and the guitars wailing. It’s most certainly constructed for pogoing and shouting along with and just having a blast.

”Beetlebum”: As mentioned above, this was my first exposure to the new album, being the first single released and also the opening number on the playlist. Writers have called it a tribute to The Beatles and you certainly can hear their influence buried deep within all the crunchy guitars and feedback but it could just be laziness on the writers’ parts, making assumptions based on the name. Damon Albarn has admitted that it was influenced by his own experiences with heroin and other drugs and that definitely sounds spot on. It is droning and flailing and free falling. It would have easily fit on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack had it been recorded a year or so sooner.

”On your own”: Yes! This is actually my favourite song on the album. It’s a singalong, for sure, but not in the traditional sense. It becomes one in the way the thumping drums and Coxon’s wailing guitars frame the vocals so wonderfully. And Albarn’s singing is so personal and lazy, like he doesn’t care who’s listening but knows we all are. The backing vocals join in midway through the verse and the chorus becomes a defiant shout. You just want to pump your fist in support. This is the new Blur. They don’t give a fig if you don’t like it but somehow know you will. Wicked.

Check back next Thursday for album #4 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out albums #10 through #6 here and you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 1991: #25 Pearl Jam “Jeremy”

I started off this Best tunes of 1991 series with an honourable mention post on Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit”, ruling it out from my top 30 from the outset. In that post, I touched on how I quickly grew to dislike the Seattle scene and any of the bands associated with that sound, whether or not they actually came from that particular geographical area. And it was completely irrational, being less to do with the bands themselves or their music than it was the industry machine and the music press. It was these bands that brought ‘alternative’ to the mainstream and the focus on them effectively narrowed the scope and sound of the genre in North America for way too many years. But before I start ranting again, let me just say that Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was one of the songs that somehow transcended all of this for me and I couldn’t help but like it.

It was definitely the music video that caught my attention. Considered one of the most controversial of all time, it has been rarely seen on television in recent years. It’s a touchy subject for sure. Teenager brings gun to school. The video, of course, is an extension of the song lyrics which Eddie Vedder wrote based on an article he had read about real events. It was just a short paragraph in a newspaper that he expanded, imagining a back story for the troubled Jeremy that hinted at the not uncommon stories of neglect and bullying.

The song was the third single off Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”, and due to heavy rotation of the video, became a hit for the band, selling tons of copies of their album and kickstarting their career as one of the more important bands in alternative rock. And yeah, their music sounds commonplace enough nowadays but it was just that much different back in 1991. It’s aggression matches the subject perfectly and Vedder’s soulful moan is now iconic and all the more harrowing when he sings lines like: “Daddy didn’t give affection and the boy was something mommy wouldn’t wear.”

But the beauty of it all is that Pearl Jam does not distance themselves from Jeremy, Vedder admitting that he remembered picking on the boy and acknowledging that “we unleashed a lion”. We are all the bullies and the bullied and I think that universality haunted a lot of people. It certainly did me.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Vinyl love: The Decemberists “What a terrible world, what a beautiful world”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: The Decemberists
Album Title: What a terrible world, what a beautiful world
Year released: 2015
Details: Gatefold sleeve, Double LP, 180 gram, Laser etching on side D

The skinny: Working backwards through my Decemberists collection, their 7th studio album is a lighter and livelier work than their earlier material. I was released after a four year ‘hiatus of sorts’, but it felt more like a decade. “What a terrible world, what a beautiful world” did not disappoint, feeling like a breath of fresh air to combat all the evil pollutants we have to deal with in the daily news.

Standout track: “Make you better”