Not, you will be pleased to hear, a tribute to that dull RnB song that recently spent a month at number one. No, I want to talk to you about Blur.
My facebook friends will know my habit of filling my main Itunes playlist with songs that were in the charts 20 and 10 years ago respectively. While reviewing the July 1993 and July 2003 charts I picked up on the fact that two artists charted singles in both months. One was Madonna (Rain and Hollywood); the other was Blur who made number 28 with Chemical World two decades ago and 18 with Crazy Beat ten years later. While raiding Itunes for the B sides to Chemical World I was rather ashamed to discover that they’d released a new standalone single last year which I’d completely overlooked.
This had me thinking about my strange relationship with this band.
To be honest Blur generally had a strange relationship with the rest of the world; predating Britpop by several years and arguably outlasting it by quite a few more. They were always just one step ahead of the game; Parklife kick started the revolution, The Great Escape showed (with hindsight) that the movement was going stale and Blur was a brave and underrated attempt to abandon HMS Britpop while everybody else – including a set of Mancunian brothers – were clinging to the mast for dear life.
The first Blur song I ever heard was For Tomorrow when it entered the top forty in early 1993. Obviously I didn’t know the context; latter era baggy band with one top ten hit under their belt trying to make a statement about England and thrust it into the face of grunge. For Tomorrow itself passed me by; it didn’t stay in the top forty long enough to me to get to know it. Then the band released Chemical World.
I’m sure it was on The Chart Show (showing my age) when I saw the video and loved the song; so I bought it. Blur briefly became my favourite band although they couldn’t hold that status on the basis of one song. Of course we were just a year away from Parklife and its now legendary quartet of singles.
Nobody seems to appreciate how prolific Blur were during the middle part of the nineties. There was less than a year between Modern Life and Rubbish and Parklife, and The Great Escape and Blur followed at less than eighteen month intervals (two years between records seems to be the average). As stated earlier they set trends rather than following them, perhaps it was no surprise that in some ways the fans couldn’t keep up. Perhaps it’s less surprising with hindsight that there would be only two further records; the downbeat 13 and the strange Think Tank (home to the aforementioned Crazy Beat which sounds so unlike Chemical World it may as well have been recorded by another band). After that Damon Albarn went his own way with Gorrilaz and watched as the rest of their Britpop contemparies ground one by one to a halt – the band they are most frequently compared with were still releasing records as recently as 2008.
Maybe history rather washed over Blur and their music, Parklife aside, never got the retrospection it warranted. Not all of their music has aged well and they rarely trouble greatest ever lists. Even those who once called them fans (such as myself) shrugged their shoulders and forgot how good it used to be.
Except that we can mark little milestones and Chemical World was in the charts twenty years ago this month. Play the video and marvel that this is already two decades old.
FOOTNOTE I should perhaps add that I had a teenage crush on Damon Albarn. He was arguably Britpop’s only true pin up (something that probably horrifies him as much now as it did then) and I remember him and Alex James reviewing the singles in Smash Hits. I mention this because my next blog is likely to concern a band who I saw live in concert last month and who Damon described as `all hair and tostesterone`.