Best tunes of 1991: #6 Blur “There’s no other way”

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I’ve just spent the last few days at a cottage with some of my best friends, old friends, many of whom I’ve known since high school and earlier. We whiled most of the time just hanging out, telling jokes, reliving ancient histories, and listening to tunes. So of course, this particular tune lines right up with feelings and memories drummed up this weekend.

Most of you regular visitors to these pages will know that I am still a huge Blur fan, even after all these years. And well, it all started with their debut album, “Leisure”. When I was in my final year of high school, I had a copy of it on cassette tape, recorded to one side of a C90 and on the other was Chapterhouse’s debut album, “Whirlpool”, both from compact discs borrowed from a friend’s then girlfriend. That I had both albums on one cassette and that this cassette spent plenty of time in my Walkman and bedroom stereo really shines a light on where I was musically in 1991. Yes, I was gobbling up everything that fit into either the shoegaze or madchester pigeonholes.

And while Chapterhouse were decidedly of the shoegaze and dream pop ilk, Blur hadn’t quite declared their mission statement yet, that would come on their sophomore album (tales for another time). So “Leisure” was a bit of a mixed bag, Blur dipping their toes and waggling them in both pools. It says something about the band’s talent and Damon Albarn’s prowess as a songwriter that the album doesn’t feel disjointed at all and that it’s got some amazing tracks that are still considered fan favourites today.

One of these is “There’s no other way”, the second single to be released off “Leisure”. It greets us with a big hello of sliding guitar riff care of Graham Coxon and a big and funky Dave Rowntree beat accoutred with a liberal shake of the tambourine. Alex James shakes his head with his backbone bass, cigarette dangling from his lips and Damon Albarn adds some organs that sound ripped from Rob Collins’ (of The Charlatans) repertoire. All the while, he’s singing about how it sucks to grow up.

“There’s no other way. All that you can do is watch them play.”

It definitely sounds of its time and from a bunch of art school kids in London, it feels like they’ve been visiting the dance halls in Manchester quite a bit. Not that I complained then, and I still don’t.

And oh yeah, if you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth clicking below just to see Damon’s haircut from back then.

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

Best tunes of 2011: #17 Girls “Alex”

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Song number seventeen on this list of great tunes from 2011 is “Alex”, a non-single from Girls’ second album, “Father, son, holy ghost“.

Girls was an indie rock band based out of San Francisco. The two primary members were guitarist/vocalist Christopher Owens and bassist/producer Chet ‘JR’ White. The rest of the band was filled out by a constantly revolving door of musicians and it was this turnover that ultimately doomed the band when Owens finally grew tired of the fluidity. The group disbanded the year following the release of “Father, son, holy spirit”, making it not only their second but also their final full-length album.

It is unfortunate, really, because both albums (the other being 2009’s “Album”) are quite good and each received heaps of critical acclaim upon release. I was particularly enamoured of the second one when I came across it, finding in it hints of Teenage Fanclub and Sloan, personal favourites of mine. Indeed, if I remember correctly, “Father, son, holy spirit” found itself a spot on my old blog’s inaugural kick at the end of year best albums list can. A surprise that might have been greatest to myself.

“Alex” is track two and definitely a highlight off the album for me. It is rumbling and boppy bass lines, lazy guitars, jaunty drums, and Owens’ soft croons, showing a hard exterior but betraying soft insides. It juxtaposes mellow garage rock feels at the verses with controlled rock jams in between.

But who is this Alex?

Well, she has blue eyes, black hair, and a lovely smile. She is in a band. She has a boyfriend… but who cares? Well, who cares about love?

We all should. And that’s why you should at the very least give this song a listen.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

Best tunes of 1991: #7 Teenage Fanclub “The concept”

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Moving deeper into the top ten of my favourite tunes of 1991, I have, at number seven, Teenage Fanclub’s “The concept”, the epic opening track off “Bandwagonesque”.

Teenage Fanclub was formed in Scotland in 1989 by guitarist/vocalists Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley. Over the years, all three of these founding members have shared songwriting and lead vocal duties across their albums. Their number have typically been rounded up to four with a succession of drummers that have included Francis MacDonald (twice!), Brendan O’Hare, and Paul Quinn, and in recent years, they have added keyboards, the fifth member up to this year being Dave McGowan.

The band has never taken themselves too seriously and this was never more true than in their very first few years, prioritizing fun over proper song structure and form. Their first couple of albums were mostly just noise and laughs. “Bandwagonesque”, their third, bridges the gap between these early games and the surprisingly long career and excellent discography that followed. They were obviously still having fun here, as evidenced by gentle punches pulled at the metal genre (“Satan” and “Metal Baby”), and there was still a lot of noise happening, but there was also a lot more attention paid to songcraft. It didn’t sell a lot of copies at first release (though it did reasonably well in the states) but the critics loved it and so did their peers. They were name checked at the time by Sonic Youth and Nirvana and quite famously, Spin magazine picked this album as their album of the year for 1991 over “Nevermind”, “Out of time”, and “Loveless”. And it is still quite influential to the kids that were listening to it at the time and that have become known musicians these days, like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, who recorded a full album cover of “Bandwagonesque” in 2017.

“The concept” starts off the album with a scream of feedback and that iconic first line: “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo.” Its first two minutes set the stage for the rest of the band’s career, mellow rocker with jangly guitars just this side of fuzz and Blake’s gentle rock star vocals with the three part harmonies the band would become known for at the chorus. Between the verses, the guitars become just that much more raunchy and then, at the three minute mark, the song becomes completely instrumental and the guitars follow the drums into a loose jam, at one point, a violin bow is even brandished to further accentuate their point.

As album openers go, it doesn’t get much better. The six plus minutes is like butter on toast, urging you on for another bite. Happy Friday.

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