Best tunes of 2003: #18 Blur “Out of time”

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Blur’s seventh full-length album, “Think tank”, was their first in a large mittful that I didn’t rush out to purchase upon release. I had been a rabid fan for over a decade by this point and loved everything they did but as I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this Best tunes of 2003 series, I didn’t have a lot of disposable funding in the early 2000s and was forced to be excessively discerning in my CD purchases. And though I became familiar with some of its songs*, I didn’t really give the album a good listen until a decade or so later when I purchased it as part of the “21” vinyl box set and really got an understanding for how much I had previously underestimated its value.

Still, it’s a bit of an outlier in their catalogue, being the only album to which founding guitarist Graham Coxon didn’t contribute as a full-time member, only appearing on its final track. He left the group very early on in the recording sessions, after they had started them without him while he recovered in rehab and then, found himself not on the same wavelength as his bandmates**. And while it’s not quite as out there and as experimental as their previous output, “13”, it’s not exactly the accessible pop record that Damon Albarn had promised beforehand. Without Coxon’s influence, “Think tank” really reflects Albarn’s ever changing interests, less focus on guitar and an increased synthetic palette, and of course, it’s painted with a big world music brush.

“Out of time”, just as an example, features an Andalucian string group, a benefit of their having recorded a large part of the album in Marrakesh, Morocco. These strings come in during the latter part of the song, after the rhythm section of Dave Rowntree and Alex James have set the scene with the subdued drum beat and lackadaisical bassline. All the while, Albarn is crooning along to vaguely unintelligible sounds, like he’s performing with an orchestra of ghosts.

“And you’ve been so busy lately
That you haven’t found the time
To open up your mind
And watch the world spinning
Gently out of time“

He is addressing someone, or perhaps a gaggle of someones, who is completely removed from everything else going on in the world and that perhaps that someone is partially and inadvertently contributing to everything that is going on. When the orchestra (of ghosts or of Moroccan musicians) kicks in to gear, it’s like the rest of us should be joining in and rising up together.

*Including this one

**Coxon has, of course, since participated in all of the group’s reunion activities, including the surprise/surprising eighth album, 2015’s “The magic whip”.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.


Best tunes of 1993: #14 Björk “Human behaviour”

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Has there ever been a performance by an artist, be it of just the one song or their whole set, that completely changed your perception of them? For me, there have been several of these, some of them introductions and some reintroductions. Björk’s performance of “Human behaviour” was one such personal and almost spiritual experience and it wasn’t even a set that I witnessed live, that’s how transformative it was. I can only imagine how it must been for those who witnessed it in the flesh.

I distinctly remember hearing Björk on alternative radio and a big deal being made of her solo debut album, cheekily titled “Debut”. I knew from hearsay that she had been in a band called The Sugarcubes but I wouldn’t properly discover and explore that band’s catalogue and understand what it all meant until many years later. Many of my friends and passing acquaintances throughout the 90s were huge Björk fans, bordering on obsessive and on my side, I also liked pretty much everything I heard, which was quite a lot given how popular she was becoming in the alternative rock realm. I also remember being super impressed by her acting turn in the Lars Von Trier feel-bad movie, 2000’s “Dancer in the dark”. In fact, the music for that film was also so great that the soundtrack by Björk (“Selmasongs”) would be the first album of hers that I would own on CD. After that, though, her art explorations tended to diverge with my own musical tastes and we grew apart.

At some point in the late 2000s, I picked up the Julien Temple directed documentary on “Glastonbury” at the Ottawa Public Library and brought it home with me to watch. I’d always heard that the British music festival was the holy grail of music festivals and based on the lineups that have graced its stages over the years, I’d had held a reverence for it, always dreaming of attending. I was held rapt for the film’s two plus hours and found myself watching a ton of the bonus features, including uncut sets of the some of the iconic performances there over the years. One of these was Björk’s 1994 appearance there, specifically her performance of “Human behaviour”. It was the embodiment of childlike exuberance and animalistic intensity, exuding both sensuality and innocence. She was pixie-like in a slinky pink slip of a dress, racing and marching and flitting about the stage when she wasn’t blowing the speakers wide open with that unique and powerful voice of hers. It further fuelled my desire to go to Glastonbury (which I have yet to do) and forced on me a Björk rethink. I started collecting her early albums on CD and even managed to see her perform live in 2013.

“If you ever get close to a human
And human behaviour
Be ready, be ready to get confused
There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic”

Though it is not the only great tune on the aforementioned debut, “Human behaviour” now has its hold on me as my bar none favourite from album. It was track one and released as the first single and incidentally, was written a good five years before its release, back when Björk was still leading The Sugarcubes. It is synth, sample, and percussion heavy, rhythm as a melody, industrial dance, playing second fiddle to Björk, the voice, the magician and artist and shaman. A song that could grace and cross dancefloors of many ilks, high culture, pop culture, low culture, and everything in between.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


Vinyl love (revisited): Arcade Fire “The suburbs”

(I started my Vinyl Love posts pretty much right after the launch of this blog to share photos of my growing vinyl collection. Over time, the photos have improved and the explanations have grown. And looking back at a handful of the original posts in this series, I found myself wanting to re-do some of them so that the posts are more worthy of those great albums. So that’s what I’m going to start doing… not on the regular, mind you, because there’s plenty of other pieces in my collection still awaiting their due.)

Artist: Arcade Fire
Album Title: The suburbs
Year released: 2010
Details: black vinyl, double LP, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: The original Vinyl Love post for this Grammy-winning third album by Montreal’s now infamous indie rock collective was posted to this blog on May 19, 2017*, almost three and a half years ago. I wrote then that frontman Win Butler called it “neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” Two songs from the concept album then appeared on my Best tunes of 2010 list in the months that followed: first, the title track was slotted in at number twelve and the standout song below came a very close second to the number one for that year. For me, “The suburbs” is one of the best, if not the very best album of 2010** so it was a no brainer for me to pick up this original pressing early on in my collecting days. Ten years following its release, it still sounds as fresh as ever.

Standout track: “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond mountains)”

* Don’t go looking for it. As I post these “Revisited” pieces, I intend to rid the internet of the original evidence as soon as I can. This is, of course, the point of these posts.

** I guess we’ll see if I ever get around to counting down my favourite albums for 2010.