Vinyl love: Blur “The special collector’s edition”

(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: Blur
Album Title: The special collector’s edition
Year released: 1994
Year reissued: 2023
Details: RSD 2023 reissue, 2 x LP, Light blue translucent

The skinny: Long gone are the days when I would set the alarm to wake up early, drive downtown, and queue up in a massive line at one of my favourite independent record stores for a chance at purchasing one of that year’s Record Store Day exclusives. In fact, there have been some years in the last handful where I haven’t even ventured out at all and instead, tried and generally succeeded at tracking down some of the exclusives online. This year, though, I decided to head out for the festivities* in person, albeit arriving at the respectable hour of 11 am, instead of 7:30 am, when the employees at the store I chose to visit opened up early to a ridiculous amount of waiting customers. I had my own eye out for a couple of the special releases and yesterday, found one of the two at Compact Music, and so after flipping through the rest of that store’s wares on the racks**, I returned home satisfied with my limited participation. Then, last night, I gave Blur’s “The special collector’s edition” a proper spin for the first time and quite enjoyed it. Originally released as a Japan-only release back in 1994, this b-sides collection, from what I would consider the best period of one of my favourite bands, featured some tracks with which I was already familiar*** but others that I had never at all heard before. For even more fun, the artwork plays upon magazine pull out adverts for collector’s edition memorabilia that I always though no one ever purchased. Twenty-four hours and two full spins later, I am still quite pleased with my Record Store Day purchase.

Standout track: “When the cows come home”

*Unlike last year when I went out a day afterwards and still found what I was looking for.

**And finding a non-RSD exclusive to bring home with me.

***Including the above tune, a hidden track on the CD copy I had of 1993’s “Modern life is rubbish”, and one of my favourites on that particular album.


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: #12 Blur “Chemical world”

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Back when I was in university, I still listened to commercial radio relatively often, but for me, the only station worth listening to had become Toronto’s CFNY 102.1 (these days called The Edge). I loved the morning show with Humble & Fred, the weekend live-to-air shows by Chris Sheppard and Martin Streek, Alan Cross’s Ongoing history of new music on Sunday nights, and of course, the all request nooner on weekdays. The nooner was music “as chosen” by the listeners. I was a regular listener and tried often enough to put in requests but I think my songs only made the show once or twice.

The one time I can say for absolute certainty that it happened for me was when I requested they play Blur’s “Chemical world” just a few days before the band was due to play The Phoenix in Toronto in September 1994. Back then, requests couldn’t be made by webform, email, or tweets, they had to be called in by landline telephone. The phone lines opened 30 minutes to an hour before the show was due to start and some intern or other answered the calls, and if we’re being serious here, they were the ones that really decided which songs were going to be played. After dialling, getting the busy signal, hanging up, and hitting the redial button a number of times, I actually got through to a live person! The guy asked what I wanted to hear, hesitated briefly at my response, and then said “yeah, I think we can play that for you.” He recorded me giving the song an intro and let me go so he could take the next call. I sat by the radio for the next hour in my basement apartment while I ate my lunch and got ready to head in to the university for an afternoon class. Just at the end of the hour, I heard my groggy voice croak the intro and my request was played.

“Chemical world” was the second single released off of Blur’s sophomore release, “Modern life is rubbish”. It’s one of the songs the band recorded when they were sent back to the studio by their labels after initial recordings for the release did not yield any singles. It definitely fits the definition of single without straying far from their new aesthetic. After their debut couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be baggy or shoegaze and it (and their performances) couldn’t find foothold with the US markets, they decided to record the antithesis of the grunge music that was taking over in North America. “Modern life” would turn out to be one of the initial albums to fly the Britpop banner and in the process, influenced a host of other like-minded bands.

“Chemical world” was the only track from the sophomore album to crack the US charts and it was one of the few songs I would hear by the band on occasion, even on alternative radio, at the time. It’s still one of my favourites by Blur and came in at number three when I counted my five favourites by the group a few years ago*. Dave Rowntree is pounding away at the drums, violent but tame, Graham Coxon is ripping away at his guitar like he’s been hanging with John Squire, Alex James’s bass line is holding it all together tightly in muscular arms, and Damon Albarn is once again bashing out against modern life and modern Britain and how it cannot be escaped, even if it was wanted.

“It’s been a hell of a do
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
And now she’s right out of view
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes
Well, I don’t know about you
They’ve been putting the holes in, yes, yes

Until you can see right through”

*In that post, I told a shorter version of the story detailed above.

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