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The Capn's Log: News

Blur

 More British than weak tea sipped through crooked incisors

 

Introduction

Leisure

Modern Life Is Rubbish

Parklife

The Great Escape

Blur

13

Think Tank


The Lineup Card (1989-2003)

Damon Albarn (vocals, keyboards) also of Gorillaz

Graham Coxon (guitars) until 2002

Alex James (bass)

Dave Rountree (drums)

Blur is one of the better products of the 90's British music boom, not as fiercely derivative and snotty as Oasis, not as obsessed with dance music as Primal Scream, not as prog-flirtatious (or as good) as Radiohead, and, well, no one gives a rat's ass about Suede or the Happy Mondays, so let's clear on out of here and have a pint, for I do think Blur fancies themselves as being the most fiercely British of their contemporaries. They're concerned about class structure, like the Kinks, they write prickly little tunes about 'the little man' and his tribulations, like the Kinks, and Damon Albain sings it all in a thick-arse accent that gives no quarter to what a Yank might be able to understand or not (not like the Kinks). Even a lot of my Brit friends think most of Blur's Anglophilia is a big act, trying to deny the fact that England has become Yet Another Shopping Mall at the mercy of MTV Europe and casual pants, and that there actually still exists a place called England and that it remains completely different than it's world. Where the Kinks and Blur differ is where their romanticism begins. Ray and Co. pined for the pre-World War England of the Queen mum...little towns and village greens (I'm still not exactly sure what that is...is that like a town square? Or a park? It must be a sort of park too small to play cricket on without bruising a pensioner) and Donald Duck and kidney pie while Albarn ironically wants Ray Davies' England of the mid 1960's as far as I can tell. Whatever...it's all the same and it's all nostalgia for a time the writer never lived through and probably wouldn't have liked if he had. 'This 13th century is artistically barren and intellectually cruel, what with this plague and dangerous talk of heresy....give me those bygone days of the 1050's when men were men, Frenchmen stayed on their side of the Channel where they belonged, and no one knew a good long bow from their arsehole....oh, those times were the best!' Fuck that.

All this nostalgic nonsense is pretty important for the Blur catalog, however, for they based half their albums on aping the Kinks, and if you're going to ape a group, it may as well be a good one, and even better one that's out of commission and faintly remembered by the average punter. Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape take great huge pages out of the Kinks Manual of Songwriting, but strangely, they do it well, and if you're an American, you might still like this stuff since it wasn't totally overexposed and forced down your throat in 1995. Blur are pretty good players in the basic Brit Invasion, post-everything manner, and enjoy getting decent sounds from their instruments rather than just bashing it along, but yet don't approach overseriousness like some Radioheads I could point a finger at. One warning might be that Blur also, at one time, were a bad shoegazer group....and if you ever want to make enemies out of your ear canals, force some bad shoegazer music through them. At least their shoegazer phase made the band courageous enough to try new sounds and either mash styles all together (like Modern Life Is...) or try to write as many songs in as many different styles as you can (Parklife). Their newest albums are interesting in their near-total rejection of the catchy britpop sound, but get bogged down in other problems.

Hey, and that's all I know about this band! Other than the fact that Damon Albairn went on to form the Gorillaz with all their MTV hit videos and electronic idiocy. Sometimes even the good ones should die young.


Leisure - SBK 1991

The debut that could've been better. At the time, creating music to trip to was all the rage in ol' England, what with the thai stick boogie of the Stone Roses and the incense and peppermints of the Happy Mondays and....were there any other popular movements in Brit music in the early 90's? Not in America, anyway, so you better ask a native. We barely heard of those other two groups as it is. Ohhhh....riggghhhht, the brain clicks back on and suddenly I remember Shoegazer, the fuel (opiate)-injected new psychedelia that was passed on by bands like Spacemen 3 and The Jesus and Mary Chain. And there was My Bloody Valentine in that whole crowd too. Blur didn't have much to do with all that, but they have a certain snot-slow dreaminess happening on Leisure that probably had something to do with a few visits from the Narcotic Nurse down at the practice facility. And just so's you know the band is hep to how cool the whole ingestion thing is, the first song is called 'She's So High', heh heh. They're much too fast to really be shoegazer, and too heavy to be psychedelic, but achieve a sort of nice pop-trippy balance (at least on this song and 'There's No Other Way') that's nice to listen to if you're trying to be accepted by a group of people slightly older and more stylish than yourself. 'There's No Other Way' insinuates that Blur has a tight rhythm section and a strong way with a funky guitar lick...but most of us over here in Bushland will probably have a hard time forgetting the Michelob ad with the creepy, pointy-faced blonde chick and this song bubbling along on the soundtrack. Nothing like a beer ad to ruin a good song, and since as far as I can tell, this song is about intoxicated paralysis ('all you can do is watch them play'), so you can run with that irony if you want.

But Blur has a simple lack of ideas happening on Leisure, and the rest of the album is impossible to hate and impossible to remember. 'Bang' is a bald-faced, shaved crotch rewrite of 'There's No Other Way' (as is 'High Cool'), and no badly groomed whore is even going to take a second look through 'I Know's pocketbook, the song is so poor. Parts of that song, for some godawful reason, remind me of Clapton's deepest, dankest 80's album hell. The band simply cannot balance their urge to melodic poppy poop with their insistence that they're 'far out', even though there's nothing more far out than slow tempos, disinterested vocals, and plenty of overdistorted guitars. 'Repetition' is self-descriptive but a tad deceptive. They should've called it 'Repetition of Shit Psychedelic Noises', or, simply, REM's Adventures in Hi Fi. And if 'Bad Day' isn't a cover from some obscure Syd Barrett outtakes record (I think it's the song right after Syd farts for 5 minutes, then talks childishly about his pet marrmot, and finishes off by asking for a steak and a TV tray) it should be. And should've been left there. The songs just simply have nothin' to em from about song 4 onwards....nothing you'll wanna toss down the hellhole, but if you're a-whistlin' these ditties down the street, I don't wanna live in your neighborhood or have a conversation with you. The simple truth of catchy pop music is just that....it's simple, and when people dick with the formula they're destined to fail. Get too cute with the melodies and you're left with Leisure, an album full of unmemorable puffs of too-cool hookah smoke.

Capn's Final Word: The CapnMarvel Blur Leisure Challenge: If you can come up to me and hum more than 3 of the melodies on this record after about 3 or 4 listens, I'll give you a hundred bucks. Mess up and I get to hit you with a baseball bat. C'mon! Email me and we'll have a go! It's $100! At this point, Blur were the British Spin Doctors.

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Modern Life Is Rubbish - Food/SBK 1993

A pretty high B, though, so don't just think this album has one or two better songs than Leisure did...this is a completely different thing going on here now. The band's gone completely guitar-pop, keeping around such things as feedback and waily guitar screeches more as window dressing than a reason to live. The real truth is that, if you were to just strip these songs down, you'd always be left with a melody of some sort....some better than others, some no better than ball slime, but still a fun thing to have around the rec room for your dog to play with. There's a lot of folks out there willing to make the statement that this album created a revolution in British pop music (thus the term Brit-pop being hung on everything from Elastica to Radiohead), but since I'm not British, and I don't really care anyway, all I'm gonna say is that very few records come close to what the Kinks and such were able to do in 1967-'69, but this album makes a nice stab at it. The problem with this album for me is that it's really hard to pick out good songs from the filler, and boy, if there isn't filler on this album. The friggin' thing has like 20 tracks on it! Too many of the fuckers sound just like the opening 'For Tomorrow', mid-tempo singalongs with Bowie vocal tics and lots of bombast. This album should be banned in Iraq for all the BOMBast on it. Oh, what am I saying? Is it just my deep pit of depression acting up again? Hey, did you know I still haven't seen my wife or baby in two months, and I'm looking seriously at the prospect of moving back in with my parents until I can finally get a fucking job here in the Greatest Economy on God's Green Earth? I leave two years ago and they can't give jobs away, I come back and I see these engineers telling me they've been out of work for 12 months. Well fuck me! I'd go back to Russia but you see, I CAN'T or my wife'll never ever be able to come to the US! Fucking shit, man. Talk about the last 3 or 4 years being enough shit for anyone's lifetime.

So when I listen to this album I catch a lot of how I feel right now. Damon's all about describing how life is in England in the 90's, where you can still be paid by the government to watch TV and do nothing. Or just up and deciding to go to the beach ('Advert', which RULES), but no, see we here in the US are expected to all be like 'Colin Zeal' and be on time yet again. Listen, these first three or four songs are just about the tops for the entire CD. There's plenty of energy, some nice nasty satire, and the whole delivery makes me wanna jump around and rail at the old folks that live next door. But then the album begins to slide and I'm not sure it ever gets back up again. 'Star Shaped' is pretty zippy, 'Chemical World' sounds like everything that's on the radio these days except for the vocals, which is cool, there's a silly dancehall 'Intermission' (I'm only halfway through this record? Jesus!), and 'Sunday Sunday' is like updated Madness. So there's some good songs, but we're pretty stale now in terms of stuff that really knocks you around inside. The only truly impressive stuff on the end of the album is the swirly intro to the bashing 'Villa Rosie', which is like the 'There's No Other Way' riff sped up and set to a loping beat. They then dump endless crap like 'Miss America' on us, and my attention is lost until the album ends and Parklife starts up. This album has it all down except for the memorable part...maybe my brain is just damaged from diesel fumes or bock beer or something, but this album just sneaks right through the ol' filters, if you know what I'm sayin'.

Capn's Final Word:  This album is far from bad, and it mostly achieves what it wants to do, which is write a bunch of little vignettes about life that no one understands. But did they have to make it so goddamned long?

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Parklife - Food/SBK 1994


Hey, I can love these songs! Instead of rewriting Modern Life like they would later do with Great Escape, or cheating and doing a covers album, Blur does the fascinating genius thing and releases an album made up of songs in all these different pop styles. You asked for Brit-pop, and Brit-pop is what you're gonna get, but Brit-pop from the late 80's? Yeah, baby....'Girls and Boys' is a disco classic about meeting chicks, an intentionally irritating and repetitive boinger over a mechanical beat and a bass figure that would make Nile Rodgers cream his leather pants. Some folks HATE this song, but you gotta admit it's genius. They've finally done it, fellas, put hooks on the album that poke through one ear and out the other, then proceed to swing you around by your pierced skull until your head snaps off your neck like a cheap Barbie doll knockoff. Following a fairly by-the-numbers Madness-style weer-all-in-the-family 'Traci Jacks' about some old dude's middle age, you get a poignant weeper called 'End of the Century' that more or less encases the boredom of suburbia into a Beatles-'65-esque pop song. I guess the watchword here really is pop this time around, 'cos the guitars really aren't the main deal any longer. Not when you have Phil Daniels (what, you don't know who he is? Fucking idiot. Go look at Wilson and Allroy is you want your hand held on a website. Bloody amateurs)(he played Jimmy in the Quadrophenia movie also starring Sting, who later went on to great heights by first ruining the Police and then sucking alone for 15+ years)(that'll be $14.99 for the lesson).

Not when you have Phil Daniels reciting ever-so-London-y about how to waste time in a 'Parklife', another smash hit on this record. I mean, pretty much a spoken word vocal by a long-forgotten movie star over a bunch of street-life sound effects and a Remedial British Invasion guitar riff? Even my Brit friends hate this frigging song, but I love it...it's so British, this lovey-dovey 'nowottahmean?' stuff. 'Bank Holiday' is pblitzed punk rock (?) that beats the average Dead Kennedys album for social commentary about getting drunk on days off, 'Badhead' and are great, sweeping ballad things, but BALL-ads, if you revel in sniffing my offensive underarm odor, and I think you do. Meaning, the ballads have some guts and vision, which is more than I could say about Modern Albums Are Way Too Fucking Long. There's a neat polka instrumental (??) called the 'Debt Collector' followed by a circusy Donovan ditty called 'Far Out' which is also neato. Okay, time to stop boring you by going song to song. Do you get it yet? Punk, dancehall, polka, circus music, mod stuff....this album takes more turns than a Vietnamese luggage salesman and changes styles more often than Cher in a Luby's cafeteria drink line. But the thing is, derivative as they are, these songs are about 85% great. I mean 'To The End' is just gorgeous, and of course you're going to say 'I hear Burt Bacharach' or 'That sounds like a James Bond theme song sung in 1966 by a Mr. Tom Jones' or maybe 'I hear Skrewdriver' if you happen to be a Neo Nazi with a micropenis disorder. But no small dicking around, this album is just fantastic, a trip through the odder parts of a record shop. It think it's a real achievement that these guys could write songs that sound immediately familiar, but fresh at the same time. No wonder this made them bigger than Jesus in England, and of course no one gave half a shit in the US because we were too busy buying up all those copies of Blind Melon's CD that are now clogging up all the used CD store racks. Americans can be so stupid sometimes. And I'm not just talking about George W. Bush, either.

Capn's Final Word: Almighty style-shifting phantasmagoria of love. Shows that not all 90's Brit albums are stupid when they quote from history books.

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Tony Souza       Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: I've played this one a few times, but I can't for the life of me remember any of the songs except "Song 2". This is an album (and group) that I end up respecting more than liking. The music on here seems meandering and directionless, like they know what they want but aren't sure how to get there. A noble effort, but it comes up short
for me.

Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: What an amazing album. Just brilliant. There, a short comment, there you have it. I even like the dopey instrumentals.


 


The Great Escape - Westbound 1995

Supposedly you can tell this album apart from Modern Labia Is Rubbery and PorkyourWife from the subject matter. As you may gleam from the cover, these aren't your average Simons we're talking about here. Nope, these are songs about the people with money, the Upper Class Twits who film themselves having sex and leave their husbands and don't have to worry about sitting on the couch all day spending dole money. So what do you think is more interesting? Albums about poor city folk and mod kids or about rich people with nothing to do? I don't know about you, but as a weekend class warrior, hearing about these kinds of people over and over for a whole album kinda makes my skin crawl. Maybe it's just that I've finally become able to decode Albarn's English pronunciation problem and can therefore understand most of his lyrics with no problem, but I have a hard time enjoying these songs as much as Parklife. And part of that is that they've dropped the costume ball style flirtations like they had on Parklife, and have settled down into good ol' Basic Kinks-derived rock. It's hard for me to say this, but I will 'cos I don't give much of a shit about Blur really, but this Kinks thing tends to get old when your album again has 15 long tracks on it. It's been said that this album is somewhat more of a downer than Modern Life or Parklife, but I don't know about that. Having an 'undercurrent of despair' or some shit like that doesn't cut it when you don't much care about what he's singing about. So 'Best Days' is pretty much a bummer of a song about how life is going downhill from here, and its suitably slow and somnambulistic. But most of the rest is so darned upbeat that what are you supposed to think? This ain't the Joy Division, you know!

I'm just generally underwhelmed by what's going on here. It like they said...'hey, so we're the kings of Brit-pop, eh? Well, let's go write a bunch of songs that sound immediately familiar, dump it on the market, and reap some more profits before this whole thing goes pfft in 1997.' And I have a theory that the minute Blur started making inroads in the States and Oasis made it big there with Morning Glory, the whole idea of Brit-pop died right there and then. It wasn't British music anymore, it was being sold to the States, and as a result English people didn't want it anymore. It had been corrupted and coopted. So the British public did what it always does and ran out and found a new fad to latch onto, this time being Electronica bands like Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. Is it bad that Americans need British people to constantly break new trends to them? Yeah, but the American public has been beyond hope for a long time now. That's why I'm reviewing an album about British life right now, and can't name a damned one about American life. What, a Neil Young album or something? Bruce Springsteen? Maybe, but those guys have some sort of 50's dream life tucked in the back of their heads when they write about life, and you're down to having Rap artists tell you about what life in Americ ais like.

Christ, that was a ramble, wasn't it? You need to stop me when I start doing that or I'll end up straining myself. Hit me across the jaw with a big fish or something. Let's go back to the album: Still good, enjoyable British-invasion derived stuff with more of a sustained style than Parklife, but worse hooks. More of that social commentary and biographical stuff, this time about annoying wealthy people, more filler, but more of that overall 'Well, that was pretty okay!' feeling you get from Blur records. Now let's hope they move on because they've already started to stagnate this particular tributary of rock music. Oh, and 'The Universal' is a fantastic big ballad.

Capn's Final Word:  Good. Familiar. Quality. Marking Time.

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Blur - Food/SBK 1997.

Time to address Blur's main competition even though this isn't an Oasis page and I don't want to make and Oasis page right now. As far as I can tell, Oasis and Blur differ in two main ways: First, Oasis goes for 'kicking ass' a lot more than Blur does, making for a lot more easy listening and quick radio-friendliness, but in the long run a blur song is about 10 times more deep and interesting than a comparable one from Noel and the gang. Secondly, while Blur wear their influences on their sleeve like a big forgotten booger with a small ripple of blood running through it, they never actually directly quote from them, though it often gets pretty close. Oasis rip off entire titles, for chrissakes? You think most of us don't know what a Wonderwall is? So, though they didn't have the exposure here that Oasis did, it's still a lot cooler to say you dig Blur than Oasis for just those two reasons.

By the release of Blur, however, the competition was breaking down. First off, Brit-pop had finally conked out more or less for good at home in the UK as soon as it came across the Atlantic, and Blur was keen enough to know it. So while Oasis kept beating the same ol' Britpop kid in the parking lot, Blur changed gears and started aping American indie rock instead of their usual targets. In turn they also consciously raised the artiness of their music from 'pop with a point' to 'ironic dicking around with little or no point', and you can already guess how I feel about it. Now, I'm all for changing things up when they need it, and The Great Sexxxcape showed nothing other than a set of donkey balls bouncing against your mom's ass. No wait, that was on weirdstuff.com.  TGE showed that things were getting stale in the world of Damon, and when a band starts talking about it's rich lifestyle you know you've reached a turning point. Blur could've turned out to be the band's Be Here Now, a total ape of the style they'd already squeezed drier than a nun's snatch, but instead they attempted something different, and for that we need to give some props. But not mad ones. What the fuck is a 'mad prop' anyway?

So is the album any good?  Is there any better song on the album than the one we hear at all the football games, the 'woohoo!' song? There's a few songs I love the shit out of, lying in some zone just heavier than Modem Wives Are Flabby, but better. Better pop, better guitar noise, better structure. Like 'M.O.R.' or the 2 minute masterpiece of punk satire called 'Song 2' that most people don't know is a joke. And no, I don't know what the hell a jamoche is either, or why you'd want one to shave your head. 'Beetlebum', which is our leadoff batter tonight at EnronTycoWoldCom Park, is supposedly a jab at Oasis, which it may be, but it's a lazy, bored sounding jab. And Damon may sound loads like Ian Hunter on 'On Your Own', but he can't save the track from feeling pointless. Come to think of it, your artsier albums often have a stink of pointlessness about them, and after floating aimlessly through the sea of Theme From Retro' and the whinefest of 'You're So Great', and a lot of the stuff on side 2 (why does this band's flipsides almost always blow?), you'll probably be feeling a bit more on the boggled side yourself. Like what good is 'Strange News From Another Star' other than to bore everyone to salty tears? Don't feel bad about yourself if you don't understand most of what they're trying to do on this dour piece of fuzzwork. No one else did either. If they're not shooting heatseekers like 'Song 2', they're running around in little self-indulgent circles expecting you to recognize their work as beauty when its actually just a lazy mediocrity.

Capn's Final Word: Again, Blur's too good to make an album that out and out sucks, but the total result of this album is one of underdeveloped 'textural' stuff that goes on way too long and is way too down on itself.

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Unknown        Your Rating: A

Any Short Comments?:     A jamoche's a jumbo jet (I heard it the other way, too.  Thought I'd found a good unique nonsense word, but Google says otherwise).  Dunno why you'd want that shaving your head, either.


13 - Food/SBK 1999.

Following Albarn's breakup with his Elastica singer girlfriend, he put together this set of songs that has the ugly rotting stench of breakup all over it. Anyone who's ever felt their world end as the result of a breakup will probably identify with the bile and self-loathing that just eek out of the walls on 13. And this band used to be about reasonably uplifting pop songs? Whatever it is, they've got some power happening on a lot of this stuff, probably because of how Albarn was feeling. Power, in any of its forms, can be used for either good or evil purposes, and I'm not talking about 'heavy/noisy=evil' and 'ballads=good', I mean good material and shitty material. He was obviously feeling it, but was unwilling to break from Blur's arty bent, so a lot of the tunes are seriously hit or miss. Two bit monster gut-shot hits are the gospel sing-along-through-your tears anthem 'Tender', which is as close to Blur actually transcending their roots as they ever got...imagine the Exile Rolling Stones crossed with the Smiths and you're on the right track. Wotta song, and at 7-odd minutes it never even gets draggy. It's a mantra! Check out this line 'Tender is my wife...for screwing up my life', yeah, like most people haven't felt that way sometime 'Coffee and TV', which goes 'jangle ja-jangle ja-jangle ja-jangle jangle' in the most insistently cute way, is similarly excellent and catchy as all get-out. And if you've ever seen the video, I dare you to get that little milk-carton's stroll out of your mind as you listen. 'Battle' is pretty cool in a totally modern techno way, and rips equal parts from Spiritrualized and Radiohead, in case you were wondering if Blur did the improbable and actually got original more than once or twice on an album. 'No Distance Left to Run' borrows heavily from the lighter Velvet Underground-era VU, but it's also a mighty pretty song...but it's all hidden in the middle of all this horseshit on side 2, so don't kill yourself for not noticing it before.

The bad songs are, well, right there for you to be annoyed by. 'Bugman' does nothing for me other than make me wish it wasn't between the two best songs on the album, '1992' may be as autobiographical as hell, but it reminds me more of the most unbearable moments of stuff like Berlin and Broken English...instead of being poised and graceful, it just lays open all sorts of ugly wounds and sticks them right up in your face, and sets it all to music so steadfastly aimless and plodding they're almost daring you to fast forward. This song in, say, Radiohead's hands would have been transcendent, but here it's just a torture. The second half of the record, as usual, sucks the sweat right off a docker's nutsack from 20 paces, this time using the revolutionary process of using sampled beats and lots of effects, and just forgetting about the quality of the songs themselves. 'Yellow Song' and 'Trailerpark' are similarly crap, this time with an instantly dated techno thing that screams out 'late 90's!', a time when you could replace a decent hook with some ambient strumming and a by-the-numbers techno beat and some noise and still get away with it. Come to think of it, you still can, but not on my website. Here I say that kind of stuff is shite and needs to go. Your input on this issue is appreciated. You sending me $50 is also appreciated. 'I lost my girl to The Rolling Stones' on 'Trailerpark' is a funny line I'll admit, but this song would sound quite at all out of place on U2's POP. Isn't that enough of a damnation? 'Caramel' saves us the beat (for awhile) and echoey strumming and gives us, erm, a soup of screechy nothingness that in no way can be considered much of a song. Ugh...slow going doesn't even say it. This stuff is like tar.

There's also plenty of other stuff falling on neither of the extremes, but something tells me I like it a lot less than similarly unmemorable stuff on their pre-Blur albums. When they're not writing about getting your heart ripped out and thrown in front of an oncoming train, they just don't seem like they have much to say, which was also the problem with Blur. The songwriting's all there on the surface, and once you've gone through it once, that's it, you ain't gonna find any secret passages the next time down that hall. And when you're dealing with songs that almost defiantly eschew hooks, you'll most likely find that a few trips through 13 are just enough.

Capn's Final Word: All this down-with-people stuff can be a drag, and this album could've used a truckload more hooks, but those two hits sure are fantastic songs!

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JEFA     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: It's their best. Combination of electronic music & rock. Trailerpark rules.....Please add more bands to this category (alt.rock category that is), these pages are quite interesting, thanks!

Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I started with this one, so I'm biased. But it's my favorite by them still, which must mean something...right? It's a brilliant album, and this was a good review, though you don't need me giving approval or whatever...anyhoo, interesting that you tossed in a Marianne Faithfull reference, cause she adores this album apparently, going so far as to say something like "it was like listening to "Pet Sounds" for the first time all over again." Riiiiiggghhht, Marianne, get back to rasping like a cockney Jack Nicholson with sandpaper lodged in his throat (which admittedly does sound cool).

Anyway, I do really like this 'un, and give special nods to "Tender," "Coffee and TV," the Syd Barrett-y guitar on "Swamp Song," "1992," "Battle," the multi-part insanity of "Caramel," the lounge-techno-meets-fuzzfest of "Trimm Trabb," and "No Distance Left To Run," which is whiny and conjures up images of Damon "Metrosexual" Albarn stubbing out cigs on his fey underfed arm but it's still a great song.

I like it.


 


Think Tank - Virgin 2003

Quite honestly, a shitty album that sounds like the kind of thing somebody desperately trying to keep up with newfangled Radiohead and failing miserably would make - an electronic noise mishmash that would sound awful even if it had some artistic leg to stand on. It doesn't, and SHABANG! It sounds awful! When your major selling point is that your single ('Crazy Beat') was remixed to utter 'Song 2'-aping cliche by Fatboy 'Why Did We Ever Like You When Your Talent Level Is So Obviously' Slim, who at last glance hasn't been cool since Monica was showing the Tobacco Lobby where to shove it. I suppose releasing your electronic album a good four or five years after people stopped caring about electronic albums could be seen as a sign of fiercely sticking by your guns, but it can also be seen as a sign your band should quit wasting precious natural resources and just break the fuck up already. Which brings us to the reason for this rather major drop in quality from 'maddeningly inconsistent' (Blur, 9) to 'stuff usually seen stuck to the bottom of your Chuck Taylors': the loss of guitarist and connection-to-reality Graham Coxon, for which the devastating effects on the band lie somewhere between the loss of the entire year's cocaine crop and irrefutable proof that Twinkies are made out of people. Not to draw too outlandish of a comparison here (but I'll fucking do it anyhow, this being my website and all. I even pee on my hard drive every few hours just so there's no confusion about who's territory this is! I wonder if that's why by dong has been charred black by electric shocks for the last three years?) but this is something like the Rolling Stones losing Keith Richards during the recording of Dirty Work. Just imagine the doinky, trendy shit that Jagger would've tried to drag in from his solo career to put on that record if that'd happened...'Harlem Shuffle' would've been expanded into the 'Harlem Shuffle Suite', there'd have been remixes, a bunch of 'ka-WANK' dance noises, a duet with that little wonky gay dude from the Pet Shop Boys, and Ron's guitar would've been replaced with one of those key-tars, the keyboards you strap around your neck and bang like you're not better off just admitting you have no nuts.

It probably never would've happened that way (Mick was the one closer to the exit door than Keith back in '86, if you'll remember), but it still would've simply been poisonous, the end of that band for sure, but no so difficult to imagine happening....especially if you've heard Think Tank, the Blur equivalent of this hypothetical Keith-less project. Singer dude Damon Albarn, fresh off his little sidetrip with his revolting animated dancepop band the Gorillaz, is convinced that the kids want nothing more than a whole 'nother heapin' helpin' of recycled beats from a machine slothered over with a crust of hissy synthesizers as if it was 1996 again and not every lousy Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams had already tried the same thing. Blur has always been derivative (one listen to Parklife will tell you that they were always sly compilers, not innovators), but they were also decent songwriters who valued structure and melody as well as the flavor-of-the-week drumbeat.  Not anymore. Damon is so far out of date he might as well be making a grunge album, though he no doubt fantasized Think Tank as the perfect set of despondent dance songs for University pinheads too pussy to listen to Primal Scream's recent punk-funk material or Radiohead's truly psychedelic guitar-less excursions. It's a cooler-than-thou bit of make-believe that this stuff is, in fact, not a rehash of ideas done better by bands in the early 90's, including by Damon's king idol, David Bowie, who Damon can simply not steal enough from. Despite the name on the front of the record, this is very much the same as a Albarn solo project, with all of the soppy miserableness of the last one but without any songs that might've resulted from a healthy relationship with a co-writer (or maybe just someone with enough nuts to tell Damon this shit sucks). Not a single 'song' that's worth as much as a single listen, and yes, that includes the hardcore put-on 'We've Got A File On You', which is just as disingenuous and false as everything else on Stink Stank.

This music is so post-everything it merely sounds cranky and bored, as if we're supposed to listen to 'Caravan', hear the cute little accordion sample and think 'Wow! This song isn't just a cotton-brained mopey little puddle of dog pus either! Just listen to that EYE-RONIC accordion! It adds so much to the atmosphere of this song. Boy these guys are smarter than me and my self-absorbed glueheaded boyfriend put together!' Other tracks are baldfaced Metal Box ripoffs of drum-machine presets and Damon's nauseating murmur. When he's not regurgitating John Lydon, he's making sappy ballads like 'Sweet Song' which make me wish he'd go ahead and stick his gloomy, egocentric head in the oven and get it over with already. Fucking Albarn. This is your pile of shit to live with, you know. I bet Graham Coxon spent most of 2004 just gloating that he had nothing to do with this vomit puddle.

Capn's Final Word: If I want to listen to apocalyptic funk, I'll put on Metal Box like a man. If I want to hear Damon Albarn piss thirteen years of a decent recording career down the drain though shitheaded outdated attempts at cool, I'll put on Think Tank.

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Mike     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: While I agree with you mostly that this is a bad album, that Damon Albarn's dictatorship of the band has shot to mammoth proportions and that Alex James and Dave Rowntree really need to kick his ass soon for all of us, there are songs on it that I do like quite a lot. And this doesn't rip off "Metal Box." It sounds nothing like that album. They aren't even going for apocalyptic funk. What they are going for, it seems to me at least, is a cross between early-'80's Talking Heads, "Sandinista"-era Clash (doesn't "Gene By Gene" sound just like something that would have been buried within side whatever of that garbageplot?), and Berlin-era Bowie (Bowie in all his many forms was a massive
inspiration for the group). And, mostly, they fail.

"Ambulance" and "Good Song" (has Albarn run out of titles or something?) are saccharine shit. The hidden track doesn't even have an adjective to go with it - it's just shit. Yes, "Jets" is a pretty cool instrumental, and I do like that eerie guitar-bass-drums-drum-machine loop, but not when it's extended to 6 minutes with a terrible quasi-bop sax solo and Damon chanting one line of total rubbish: "Jets are like comets at sunset." Wow, man. That's, like, deep and everything. Like, total new age, dooode. Go sign to Windham Hill, you fucking jackoff. Still, I'll give it up for Alex and Dave's rhythm section work. I won't give it up for "Crazy Beat," which tries for "Song 2" glory and fails - though I do like Damon's guitar tone and agreeably raucous riffing. The riff itself, though, is unforgivably naff.

"Brothers and Sisters" is a dubious attempt to cross Grandmaster Flash-style hip-hop with "bluesy" guitar pickin'. Needless to say it comes off more hop than hip. I already trashed "Gene By Gene," but I'll expend one more putdown on the song and say this: It's generally not a good idea to use the words "jellybean" and "shower" in a song together, ever. I like the beat and rhythmic approach, but the synthesizers are just annoying...they sound like third-rate Casio-for-kids keypads. Even though I like the beginning of "Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Ego Indulgence," the synths get annoying there too. But even though I don't like the synths, the song itself has such a groovy rhythm that I really don't mind.

But I do like "On The Way To The Club" - I think it sounds like a fascinating collaboration between Massive Attack and Underworld, with Damon Albarn as guest vocalist. "Caravan" is also a song with some emotion to it. I actually do like that song quite a bit - there's something happening there, and no, I don't think it's eye-ronic, as you say, Mr. Capn. When Albarn is emotional, he generally does mean it, even if he is a toff. "Sweet Song" is beautiful. I'm not going to brook argument here - it's a beautiful song and that's that. "Out Of Time" is a restrained and tastefully listenable single, with a wonderfully sinuous James bass intro. "We've Got A File On You" is bullshit, but dammit, it's fun enough, and it only lasts a minute. More of a contender for "Song 2" followup, says I, though "Chinese Bombs" trashes it's eye-ronic ass (this is where the term applies).

"Battery In Your Leg" is stone cold brilliant, a requiem for Blur with Graham. Stylistically, the song sounds like Bowie singing a song from "The Idiot" with Keith Levene on tape-delayed guitar. (Note: I know "The Idiot" is an Iggy Pop album, but Bowie did write, produce, and play on it to the extent where I consider it to be a Pop/Bowie album in actuality.) The song is so sad, so painful, but so goddamn good - and that guitar playing is incredible - that it makes you wonder what this album would've sounded like with Graham, what may have happened if Albarn had been willing to collaborate.

I'd have liked this better if they actually had ripped off "Metal Box." What they came up with is a morass of crap with some good songs stuck within the mess.

 


 

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