Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #2 Blur “Under the westway”

<< #3   |    #1 >>

As some of the more frequent visitors to this blog may already be aware, I’m something of a Blur fan and have been since the beginning.

I borrowed a copy of their debut album “Leisure” shortly after its release and dubbed it to a C90 cassette tape*, one which I darned near wore through. Their next two albums, “Modern life is rubbish” (1993) and “Parklife” (1994), were amongst the first CDs I would ever buy and I pretty much ate up everything they served thereafter. Even though Blur’s seventh album, “Think tank”, was my least favourite to that point, I was still very saddened at the news of the hiatus they announced in 2004.

They kissed and made up** at the end of 2008 and played a number of huge shows throughout 2009. Then, for the 2010 edition of Record Store Day, they issued a brand new 7” inch single called “Fool’s day”, which was distinctive for being the first recording to include the work of guitarist Graham Coxon in almost a decade.

Then, in February 2012, the band were deservedly recognized for their “Outstanding contribution to music” at the Brit awards. I don’t typically watch awards shows so I found out about it a few days later and while reading up on it and watching video clips on YouTube, I learned some even more exciting news. Apparently, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon had performed a three-song set at a Brits pre-show put on in support of War Child, two nights earlier, that included a brand new song called, “Under the westway”. It was so new that Damon was reading the lyrics from a sheet of paper because the song ‘had a lot of words’. I remember tracking down a shaky fan filmed video of this performance. Then, I watched it more than a few times, easily enough to fall for this new piano-heavy number, a tune that reminded me somewhat of a David Bowie ballad. Needless to say, I liked what I heard and began to hope that there was more new material where that came from.

I started seeing ambiguous tweets from the Blur camp a few months later. When they finally came clean, Blur announced that they would be releasing two brand new tracks, the aforementioned, “Under the westway” and another called “The puritan”, on July 2nd. To add to the excitement (like I needed more), Blur was to perform both songs, live, at a ‘secret location’, and stream them over the Internet, the first song at 6:15pm and the second at 7:15pm BST. Immediately afterwards, the songs were made available for download on iTunes with a special edition, double A side, 7″ single to be released later. It was all a brilliant ploy by a band that pre-dated the ‘Internet’, embracing technology and the brave new world of music.

But it wasn’t just all fireworks and no substance. Both of these were great tunes, especially “Under the westway”, which ranks up there with my all-time favourite tunes by the band.

It’s sad but glorious. Old veteran soldiers of Britpop and London town, looking down at it all, the smouldering wreckage, the changing times, the ghostly memories. It’s like they’re revisiting home and realizing they can’t go back, only forward, and though it hurts, they sit down and write a song about it all.

“For the way I feel about you
Paradise not lost, it’s in you
On a permanent basis
I apologize
But I am going to sing”

It is seamless and easy and perfect. And I can just listen to it over and over and over.

*On the other side of which was recorded Chapterhouse’s debut “Whirlpool”.

**Not literally, of course.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 1991: Albums #10 through #6

Here we are, exactly three weeks into 2021 and this here will mark my sixth post of the year (though I consider the first one a continuation of the themes of 2020). And so far, I’ve been hanging out quite a bit in the early 1990s – happier and simpler times, in this blogger’s humble opinion. I’ve shared a couple of ‘Vinyl love’ posts on treasured pieces of my vinyl collection, albums originally released during a high point in my youth, and a few days ago, I wrapped up my Best tunes of 1992 series with Ride’s amazing “Leave them all behind“. So I thought I’d keep with the era and have another look back thirty years ago to explore my ten favourite albums from 1991.

As I mentioned when I counted down my thirty favourite songs from that year, 1991 was a big year for me in terms of musical exploration and discovery and because of this, it is one of my favourite years for music. To this day, a lot of my favourite albums ever were released in 1991. So as you can imagine, this one was another tough one for me to narrow down. Indeed, when the dust cleared, albums that I thought would be on this list, were not here. (Apparently, there can only be ten albums in a top ten.) Similarly, there are a bunch of iconic and influential albums that many of you might expect to be in this list that didn’t make the cut. Thus, I’ll forewarn you from now and spoil the twist ending in which you won’t find “Achtung baby”, “Nevermind”, nor “Loveless” anywhere in this particular series (though this last just narrowly missed the cut).

If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. However, I’m changing things up with this series from here, and I’m not just talking about dropping the pretence that these first five albums are honourable mentions, though I’ve decided to do that too. Normally, after this one, I would lay out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the next five Thursdays, one per week, but given that 1991 is one of my favourite years for music, I’ve decided to stretch things out and take my time with it. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up by the beginning of April.

Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 1991, in the comments section provided with each post.


#10 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “God Fodder”

The debut album by the five-piece from Stourbridge, England was just all kinds of energy and fun. Recorded when a couple of the band’s members were still just teenagers, “God fodder” and its songs are not deep lyrically, focusing instead on flashy and memorable titles and letting the rest just fall into place. Of course, it helped that their tight, Grebo sound that mixed punk thunder with electronic samples and dance floor rushing beats, had enough depth to cover off. The drumming was hectic and complex, the guitars loud, but it was the two bass players that really had Ned’s Atomic Dustbin standing out. I blasted so many of these songs at high volume when I originally purchased this album on CD. “Kill your television” is probably the track that most will remember from the album (it appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at #21) but I also really dug the track below.

Gateway tune: Grey cell green


#9 Spirit of the West “Go figure”

My introduction to the now iconic Canadian folk rock band from North Vancouver came by way of this, their fifth full length record. I caught the video for the song below, “D for democracy”, on the music video show, “Good rockin’ tonite”, and the love affair took off from there. I loved the sound but it was the depth of the lyrics that really hooked me. “Go figure” was a political record. It wasn’t that Spirit of the West didn’t venture here prior or since but there was a definite bent against the Brian Mulroney-led Conservative government at the time. This was also the point in the band’s storied history that they ‘went electric’, toying with rock, and adding drummer (gasp) Vince Ditrich to their official roster. This effectively alienated some of their previous folkie fans but drew in a larger alt-rock audience. For me, though, this is simply eleven unforgettable tunes.

Gateway tune: D for Democracy


#8 Chapterhouse “Whirlpool”

When people talk about the iconic shoegaze albums, the names often bandied about are “Loveless”, “Spooky”, “Souvlaki”, and “Nowhere”. I would humbly posit that “Whirlpool” should be considered as part of this same conversation. Chapterhouse’s debut was, for me, especially at the time, among the best that the genre could offer up. The five-piece from Reading, England collected for their debut nine beautiful tracks that walloped you from the inside. It was reverb-drenched washes of strobe lights, shoegazing with a danceable beat. It was organic but felt electronic, subterfuge and magic, perhaps foreshadowing their next move. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll just leave this near perfect single I’ve reference below for you to chew on.

Gateway tune: Pearl


#7 Blur “Leisure”

It’s funny that this album directly follows Chapterhouse’s “Whirlpool” on this list (and I swear that this wasn’t by design). I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I used to have a C90 cassette back in 1991, upon which these two albums were recorded on either side. So yeah, inextricably linked are these two albums for me. But where Chapterhouse’s debut knew exactly where its feet were planted, Blur’s wasn’t so sure. In the past, frontman Damon Albarn has called “Leisure” a bit of a mess. However, I feel that he’s being a bit hard on the album. Sure, it played both the shoegaze and baggy cards, but it played them well and there were some excellent songs that are still favourites of this big Blur fan today. You can include the one below, “Sing”, which appeared on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack”, and “There’s no other way”, which appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at number six.

Gateway tune: She’s so high


#6 Levellers “Levelling the land”

I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I discovered these guys watching MuchMusic’s City Limits when their video for “One way” was played on the show. I bought “Levelling the land” on cassette tape just based on hearing this one song. (We did such things back in those days.) And it became my Sony Walkman’s favourite cassette for a time. The fiddle/mandolin/harmonica/foot-stomping folk punk on the band’s sophomore release was great for walking around my small town, something I did a lot of in those days, because there wasn’t much else to do. It got so that I was singing along under my breath to each and every song and the many upbeat numbers put a hop in my step. Levellers are still a going concern today with many great tunes to their name but this is still quite possibly their high water mark.

Gateway tune: Liberty song


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Various artists “Help: The album”

(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: Various artists
Album Title: Help: The album
Year released: 1995
Year reissued: 2020
Details: 2 x LP, 25th anniversary reissue

The skinny: On September 4th, 1995, many of the biggest names in British rock went into studios across England and Ireland to record a brand new song to contribute to a charity compilation album in support of War Child. These recordings were all handed over to Brian Eno for mixing the next day and on September 9th, the resulting compilation album was released and went straight to number one on the UK album charts (for compilations). Late in August of this year, it was announced by War Child (and many of the contributing artists) that the album would be reissued on vinyl on September 9th, 2020, to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I was one of thousands that frantically went online to pre-order it. Yeah, the first run of 2020 copies completely sold out on the first day and they’ve since had to press a second run. The excitement was palpable the day I found it in my mailbox and walked home with it. In my humble opinion, this is the best the compilation album ever recorded. I distinctly remember when I purchased my first copy of it on CD from the now long defunct Penguin Music in Toronto and there was sticker providing the track listing affixed to the jewel case, so done because the artwork (done by The Stone Roses’ John Squire and Massive Attack’s 3D) was printed concurrently with album’s recording and couldn’t possibly include the finalized track list. My eyes must’ve bulged out of my head upon reading the wealth of my (at the time) favourite artists who appeared on the compilation: Blur, Oasis, Suede, Radiohead, The Boo Radleys, The Charlatans, Levellers, The Stone Roses, and more. The quick timeline on the album’s release meant that many of the songs were either original works in progress or covers of already established tracks. Indeed, two of the songs on this album have already appeared my 100 best covers list (at #100 and #74) and I feel like we might see at least one or two more make an appearance on that list. I still have that CD, though I played the hell out of it over the years, and now I have it my vinyl collection. And that makes me smile.

Standout track: “Come together” by The Smokin’ Mojo Filters (Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, and Paul Weller)