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 2001: #24 Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood”

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In or about a month ago, I posted some other words on Gorillaz and one of the few other songs of theirs that I liked, “On melancholy hill” (#13 on my Best of 2010 list). In that same post, I made mention of this track, which also happened to be my first taste of what the virtual hip hop fusion band led by Blur frontman Damon Albarn was going to be offering.

“Clint Eastwood” was the first single released off Gorillaz’s self-titled, debut album. The name of the song appears nowhere in its lyrics, nor does it seem at first glance, relevant to its themes. I recently learned, though, that it was so named due to the similarity of the song’s melody to that of the theme song for the film, “The good, the bad, and the ugly”. I never picked up on that myself but now that I know it’s there, it changes things a bit for me, and I can’t seem to un-hear it. I always used to feel that the drum machine rhythm and keyboard line, as well as the synthesized strings, evoked the image of a travelling midway circus, a dark and haunted one, at that. I loved Albarn’s sung, ear worm chorus and its interplay with Del the Funky Homosapien’s rapped verses. The whole thing had an eerie but laidback groove that you didn’t want to try too hard to escape, no matter how unsettling it was.

The song will always remind me of one of the few social evenings my wife and I enjoyed shortly after relocating from Toronto to Ottawa. I had met a couple of people at the new call centre job I had started at the end of August, found myself wandering down for coffee at the same time as them during breaks, and by October, Candace, Jeff, and I were making plans to go out for drinks with our respective boyfriends and girlfriends. The six of us met at the Blue Cactus down in the Byward Market on a Saturday night and we had a blast. Even to this day, my wife Victoria looks back fondly on that evening and marvels at how easily we hit it off. The group of us would go out a few more times together after that but save for a particularly fun New Year’s gathering at our place, we never really replicated the magic of that night.

And at some point during the evening, “Clint Eastwood” was played in the Blue Cactus and even as deeply engaged in hilarious conversation as we were, my subconscious recognized the track and my head started bopping. I think it was Candace who noticed and asked who it was that was playing. I explained and we all sat back and soaked in the song for a few moments before continuing with the laughter. It wasn’t the first time I had heard the song, but perhaps the first time from someone else’s speakers and in a whole other environment and I saw it in a whole other light.

But enough blathering. Enjoy the tune.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2010: #13 Gorillaz “On melancholy hill”

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Anyone who’s been reading my words on music for a while now knows that I’ve been a pretty big Blur fan since the very beginning. But what about Damon Albarn’s other music projects? Well, I did enjoy me some of The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s only LP and his solo album, “Everyday robots” also had some very fine moments. Where Gorillaz are concerned, however, my thoughts are decidedly mixed.

I thought the concept was fantastic. A virtual band that was just as much a multimedia experiment as it was a serious musical project, throw in Albarn’s talents and those of Jamie Hewlett, one of the comic artists behind “Tank girl” and you have some serious potential. But given the heavy hip hop influence, especially on the first couple of albums, I didn’t find myself all that interested. There were exceptions, of course. I really liked the first single, “Clint Eastwood”, and also, “Hong Kong”, off the “Help: a day in the life” compilation and this track, “Up on melancholy hill”.

It appears on Gorillaz third album, “Plastic beach”, but I didn’t hear it there first. I blame AUX TV for this. For a while there back in 2010, I spent a lot of time watching that channel, or half-watching it, as the case may be. I was quite enthused to find a cable channel that actually played music videos again. And not just the popular music videos, but quite the mix of music, much of it new and hip. It became part of my early morning routine to switch AUX TV on and listen to tunes while I was making my lunch and brewing espresso for my wife’s and my morning lattes. I discovered a lot of music in this way that year and also rediscovered my love for watching music videos.

The video for “On melancholy hill” was played regularly on AUX in the summer of 2010 and it’s a great one too. Some pretty fantastic animation by Hewlett has band member Noodle gunning down some Korean War era planes before surviving a boat explosion in the open waters. Other fantastic adventures follow under the deep blue sea that include the other band members and some “superfast jellyfish” but you don’t need me to explain all that. You can just watch the video below.

And oh yeah, the song… well, it’s a catchy one. A real pop gem. It could have something to do with the time of year that I first heard it but it’s a real summer song for me. It’s sunshine and happy days. It’s not your typical danceable number but I think it would be a fun one to hear at a club nonetheless. Alternatively, it fits quite nicely in a lounge or playing on your boombox while you languish out by the pool. The melody is just so simple and laidback and Damon Albarn’s vocals are forefront, drifting lazily over the synths, like he’s there just singing you off to la la land. Beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.