For this one I want to mix things up a little bit. I’ve been having creative spurts lately that only seem to happen just when I’m about to go to bed and the latest one came when I was listening to the La’s the other night. I’ll say off the bat that their one and only album is fantastic and is the perfect way to kill half an hour. The sad thing is that it just leaves you wanting more of that classic 50s/60s-style music and the brilliant songwriting of Lee Mavers. They could easily have been as high up as the Beatles but it wasn’t to be and they broke up not long after the album was released. Then two things occurred to me:
There were several sessions of that album’s recording under several producers.
It’s 2020. The Internet exists.
I went digging on YouTube and came across the John Leckie-produced version of Feelin’, one of my favourite songs of theirs. Compared with the official version found on the album as produced by Steve Lillywhite, it’s got a different feel to it yet I found myself enjoying both songs for what they were. Let’s compare and contrast real quick.
If you’ve listened to the album you know how this one goes. A quick and peppy number clocking in at just under 2 minutes that could probably best be described as a feeling of overbearing sadness disguised as a jaunty romp. Complimented by a lively and enthusiastic performance from Lee, you’ve got a song that you can’t help but nod your head to. Worth the price of admission just for that opening blues-style guitar, which is very pronounced and dominates the tune over the acoustic, bass and drums. Like I say, one of my favourites on the album and probably my go-to La’s song along with There She Goes.
Same DNA, same lyrics, same singer, but different tone. This one comes across as almost melancholic thanks to its slower tempo and the backing vocals, which I think is the tone the La’s were going for in the first place. Whilst he sounded lively thanks to how fast the Lillywhite version was, here Lee sounds a lot more focused, heartfelt and determined to get it right. We also have the electric guitar breaks that separate the solos and the verses. Here, they just don’t seem to fuse as well with what they come between, but I actually think that works in its favour in a way, seeing as the La’s always prided themselves on going for a more raw sound. Sadly, the actual sound of the electric guitar isn’t quite as powerful as it was in Lillywhite’s, being on a level pegging with Mavers’ acoustic as opposed to one level above it.
The reason I’ve decided to dive into this is because I always find alternate versions of songs fascinating, and there are plenty of different takes from the La’s on their songs. Seriously, take one look at the collection of songs on Spotify and you’re gonna end up burrowed in one hell of a rabbit hole. Anyway, if you’re going to compare two versions of the same song, you’re going to have to pick one and I’m obviously going to pick the official version courtesy of Lillywhite. I think the reason I ended up paying so much attention to the Leckie version was because it just sounded different and provided a new take on Feelin’. Both are good, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the slower tempo does not work in the song’s favour. The faster, more guttural sound of the version found on the album is what makes Feelin’ for me. The backing vocals on Leckie’s version are sweet but they do not suit the rawness that the La’s were going for and the electric guitar isn’t prominent enough. It’s good, it just sounds a little too clean.
Is this the kind of overbearing analysis Mavers would do, or am I barely scratching the surface here? Perfectionism is a bastard.
So here’s the thing. Normally, I would be posting a full-blown album review for this Friday followed by another single review next week. However, that album review isn’t quite clicking for me right now but I’m going to aim to have it done for next Wednesday at the latest. In the meantime, I’m going to do another review of a single and it’s one that I find underrated among the rich discography of the Manic Street Preachers.
The Manics are a band with a fascinating history in the 90s. They put themselves out there by saying that their debut album Generation Terrorists was going to be the rock album to end all rock albums (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, but good effort anyway), followed it up with the more commercial grunge of Gold Against The Soul, which I must admit I’m enjoying more than I thought I would, and then truly hit their stride with The Holy Bible. The latter has the distinction of being the ‘Richey’ album, being the magnum opus of the band’s songwriter and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards. The man was one hell of a character with a myriad of issues both mental and physical which he channeled into the songs of the Manic Street Preachers. Unfortunately those issues also led to his disappearance before the band were to go to the US to promote the album. 25 years on, no one knows for certain what happened to him.
With their songwriter gone, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Manics couldn’t continue without him. Then they released Everything Must Go. You better believe I’m gonna look at that one day on here and gush about it. Part of it still had Richey’s lyrics in, including Kevin Carter which is possibly my favourite Manics song, so it was up to the next album to prove they could truly survive without him.
This is My Truth Tell Me Yours is a mixed bag. On the one hand, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next is a song that for better or for worse refuses to age, and on the other there is You Stole the Sun From My Heart which I find a bit too poppy for my liking. Then we come to the final single released for this album in 1999, Tsunami.
Musically this is one of the least Manics-sounding songs they have produced, opening up with a sitar being plucked and creating an Asian flavour which stands out against the standard tunes from James’ guitar, Nicky’s bass and Sean’s drums. The chorus also brings us a wonderful little string arrangement which adds to the melancholy that surrounds the song. Considering the title of the song is Tsunami, the sitar kind of makes sense but not when you consider that the song centres around the Silent Twins, Jennifer and June Gibbons, who had a troubled life in the Manics’ home of Wales.
To cut a long story short, the two were inseparable and refused to speak to anyone except themselves, and had a career in crime that led to imprisonment in Broadmoor. Like the aforementioned Kevin Carter, it is a melancholic and downright sad piece about real life figures only this time it’s from the perspective from one of the sisters as opposed to being in the third person, which is a lot more effective. The narrator agonises over their inseparable nature (‘Holding on to me forever’), the futility of their lifestyle (‘Can’t work at this anymore/Can’t move, I want to stay at home’) and the titular tsunami of emotion over it all. The lyrics are easily the best part of this song, scratching the surface of the Twins’ tale and creating an emotional rollercoaster. Hell, you hear the line ‘Disco dancing with the rapists’ in the first verse, you know you’re going to be listening to a good one.
In a way, there’s a chance that the Manics found the two almost as enigmatic as they had Richey, especially the way their stories ended; in mystery. While Richey disappeared, never to be seen again, the twins had agreed that one of them had to die for the other to lead a normal life and start speaking again. Jennifer had offered herself as ‘sacrifice’ and sure enough she passed away from heart inflammation as the two were being transferred to Caswell Clinic. No explaination could be found as to why this happened. June went on to live a normal, ‘free’ life.
So like I say, the Manics were still testing the waters without Richey and This is My Truth… was a mixed bag. But Tsunami is proof that they can still make songs like Kevin Carter and Nicky Wire could easily fill his best friend’s shoes by writing them up. The different sound of the song is, to quote a certain Star Wars meme, a surprise to be sure but a welcome one, and I always like it when bands stretch out and experiment with other instruments like the Manics do here with the sitar and strings. The band’s 21st century output is a hotbed for debate but songs like this proved they had staying power, and achieving the first UK number one of the millennium with their next single solidified that.
One last thing. If I ever get to see the Manic Street Preachers live, I hope they play this one. The studio version is great, but the live versions from Top of the Pops (Yes, they actually played TOTP live with no miming) and the Leaving The 20th Century concert are superb. Check them out if you have time.
If you read my review of The Great Escape last week (And I hope you did), whilst looking over the track Globe Alone I mentioned Jigsaw Falling Into Place, the lead single from Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows.
Believe it or not, I previously had no intention of diving into Radiohead’s discography all that much. At the end of last year, I’d bought myself The Bends and OK Computer under the impression that they were as good as it got for Radiohead, a band I believed were a bit too soppy and downbeat for my liking. Then I dug a little deeper and I have since added Kid A and In Rainbows to my collection, the latter simply off the strength of Jigsaw Falling Into Place.
I’d say this is tied with another of the band’s songs (But I’ll let you try and guess which) as my absolute favourite of their discography. Compared with a lot of their output, it is one of the most listenable singles they have ever done and despite clocking in at about 4 minutes, it feels like it goes by in half the time. The tempo of the song and Thom’s notes steadily rise, creating a frantic and frenzied atmosphere that matches the club that the song is presumably set in, as the narrator deals with a lost opportunity with a girl he just met on a night out, and over-analyses the situation whilst completely rat-arsed and hypnotised by the dance lights.
Every member of Radiohead is on fine form here but special commendation has to be given to Phil Selway on the drums. If you watch the music video for this song (Directed by Adam Buxton, of all people), you can see Phil puffing and panting as the tempo rises and he tries his absolute hardest to keep up the beat, so much so that by the end he looks like he’s just ran the London Marathon. Thom’s performance is excellent too as he seems to get into character, getting either drunk with madness or mad with drunkenness, as Jigsaw progresses, and creating a colourfully distorted image of the club with lyrics such as ‘The walls are bending shape/They’ve got a Cheshire cat grin’ and ‘Words are blunt instruments/Words are sawed-off shotguns’.
So if this song is that damn good, how come Radiohead never play it anymore? It hasn’t appeared in any of their live shows since 2009 and Ed O’Brien even forgot its title during an interview a couple of years ago (See here: https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/ed-obrien-interview-radiohead/ ). It’s a tricky song to play, trying to keep up the rhythm as it gets faster and faster, and it appears to be one that Thom struggles to sing for the first half; he always seems to be more at home in the higher notes, which don’t really kick in until about 2:15 with the repetition of the lyric ‘The beat goes round and round’. Combine that with the fact that the live performances I’ve watched of Jigsaw online don’t seem to really do the studio version much justice, and I can kind of understand why it hasn’t made Radiohead’s setlists in a decade. Or maybe it’s simply because this is Radiohead, a band built on classics, meaning that Jigsaw is just a mere drop in the ocean. It’s a shame either way, but it can’t change the fact that is one of my favourites from the band and helped me find what is my favourite album of theirs too. Listen to it if you haven’t already.
Over the course of lockdown, Tim Burgess has been busy keeping the masses happy on Twitter by organising online listening parties (#TimsTwitterListeningParty) for various albums. Well, on Friday August 21st, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Britpop between Oasis and Blur, we heard the latter’s album The Great Escape (Coincidentally celebrating its own 25th anniversary on the day this entry is written).
After being one of the pioneers of the Britpop movement with the release of Modern Life is Rubbish, Blur were immortalised by their follow up Parklife, and with the reception that the two albums received it was pretty much inevitable that the band were going to continue down the same route. Thus, we get The Great Escape, commonly deemed to be the third and final instalment in Blur’s ‘Life’ trilogy, taking potshots at the British upper class this time after dealing with the working and middle classes in MLIR and PL respectively.
So why is it that this album tends to get such a weak reception in comparison to its predecessors?
The most common criticism is that the album sounds overproduced and squeaky clean. Others may say that is was a case of ‘more of the same’ and that it wasn’t giving us anything new. A few would be turned off by the more cynical and downbeat nature of the music and the themes surrounding them. And of course some might say it ended up paling in comparison to Oasis’ effort of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. All fair criticisms, but where do I stand on the matter?
Well until that Listening Party, I didn’t really have an opinion. I’d never properly listened to the album in full from beginning to end, mainly because I’d been turned off from the idea by people online who would crap on the album and make it out to be a slog of a listen. But last Friday I decided that I would try and hell, if people were voluntarily going to listen to this of their own accord and gush over it (Including drummer Dave Rowntree and producer Stephen Street), then surely there had to be something wonderful about The Great Escape.
So I did. And you know what? I have to agree. I had a great time listening to this album. Let’s look into it shall we?
Not much to say about this one, it sums up the fact that this will be Blur’s take on the upper class with three people having a swim around their private speedboat. The dominating colour blue also highlights that this one is going to be a rather gloomy take on the matter. With that in mind, I’d say it does what it sets out to achieve and advertises the album nicely. My main nitpick though, and this is gonna be me picking a really small nit; why is the band’s logo in italics? Doesn’t look right at all.
Track #1 – Stereotypes
So we kick things off with one of the singles and it’s a nice Pulp-style dig at wife-swapping and affairs. Not too much to say about it honestly, it’s not the most compelling of starts compared to For Tomorrow and Girls & Boys, but Stereotypes still manages to be loud, in-your-face and gets you pumped up and ready for the road ahead (Which technically is the same road we’ve been on since Modern Life, but let’s not split hairs).
Track #2 – Country House
My opinion on this one flip flops. If I’m in the right mood, then I can enjoy it, and I do find more often than not that I do in fact enjoy it. Not massively, but I don’t dislike it. It’s a wonderful pisstake at the expense of the band’s former boss at Food Records, David Balfe, who they never really saw eye to eye with and who retired to the country during Parklife’s production. Ironically, this is probably his best contribution to the band; existing to be turned into a caricature and the subject of the band’s first number one single. But the question has to be asked; the Battle of Britpop, would I choose this song or Roll With It? Well…I’ll admit, both songs are not the best representation of either band, but there’s something more listenable in the repetitive Roll With It as opposed to the cartoon-y story of Country House. Forgive me if I’m committing sacrilege here but Oasis gets the bump on this one.
Track #3 – Best Days
And if you’re still reading after that bombshell, here’s a song I heard for the first time I heard during the Listening Party and one of the darkhorses on this list of songs. Graham and Damon go hand in hand on this rather melancholy song which I suppose I relate to more than I usually would, being just out of uni where some of my Best Days may be behind me. Anyway, song’s great, and I do love that piano.
Track #4 – Charmless Man
I feel like this is the track that best sums up my feelings towards this album; filled with moments of brilliance connected together by others that are catchy but don’t really do it for me. Charmless Man has historically been a song of Blur’s that I have never gotten along with, yet one that I have really wanted to like. Hidden behind the annoying chorus of na-na-na’s, and a distorted guitar riff from Graham that for once isn’t really my cup of tea, is a cynical tale about an absolute pleb of a toff (Or, if rumour is to be believed, Suede’s own Brett Anderson) that doesn’t really overstay its welcome and once again has a nice piano solo courtesy of Damon. I’m starting to warm up to it the more I listen to it but I still maintain, it ain’t the best song on this album by a long shot and would probably have been better appreciated if it wasn’t made a single.
Track #5 – Fade Away
During the Listening Party, Dave Rowntree described this song as being a sort of homage to Terry Hall and the Specials. And I’m all for that, I bloody love the Specials, Ghost Town is a classic and frankly with the way this year has gone I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the darkhorse for the 2020 Christmas number one. Sorry, getting off topic. Fade Away is great; I’m all for a bit of ska, which is something Blur don’t normally tap into but it’s nice to see them continue to stretch their range after tapping into various genres on Parklife. Particular highlights include the trumpets and Graham’s guitar strum at the halfway mark, and the cynical and downbeat lyrics including “He noticed her visible lines/She worried about her behind”. That made me chuckle.
Track #6 – Top Man
Not to be confused with the hipster’s dream shop (And I say this as a guy who enjoyed splashing out on ultra skinny jeans and t-shirts), this is yet another character for Damon to have a dig at but if you look more closely into the lyrics…I think he’s talking about himself. After all, he is at that point in time the Top Man of Britpop, and it would make sense for him to be that “monkey on the roof”, “a little boy racer”, and how much do you want to bet that that person he sees in double before he “pukes on the pavement” is Justine Frischmann? Speculation on my part but I’m just saying. The song itself is quite good, and one that I could actually picture being a single but maybe it’s just a little too reserved and not in-your-face enough for that.
Track #7 – The Universal
F*ck British Gas. I can’t hear this song now without thinking of them, and I hate that fact because this song is phenomenal. It’s an ethereal, subdued anthem and the backing vocalists are the cream on the cake. You know what, my words can’t do it justice. Use the link below, listen to it, bask in its glory, and then come back for the next track.
Track #8 – Mr Robinson’s Quango
Back to the character pieces now, with a tale about Mr Robinson and with one of the single best rhymes ever penned by a songwriter courtesy of Damon – “He’s got a hairpiece, he’s got a herpes”. How in the blue hell do you come up with that? Noel and Jarv can eat their hearts out. In fact, speaking of Jarv, this once again does feel like a Pulp song given the Blur treatment, both in lyrics and in terms of the fact that Graham’s guitar at the beginning sounds almost identical to the line from Stereotypes. Maybe that’s just me though. Alex does a good job on bass here aswell, and I feel that I don’t often give him enough praise; when dissecting songs, bass is often the last part I come to. Obviously, Song 2 is Alex’s finest hour, but here and across the album he plays his part well.
Track #9 – He Thought of Cars
Tied with The Universal as my favourite song on this album, this is a dark turn and one that foreshadows the band’s future. If they had saved this song for the next album, added more distortion to the guitar and to Damon’s vocals, and maybe dropped the la-la-la’s of the chorus, then this could easily have slotted in on Blur. But while I could gush about this one, it was here that I began to realise why this album is considered the inferior one of the Life trilogy; there isn’t that much variation. Think about what we had by this point in Parklife – Alex’s space-travel trip in Far Out, the backing track for a pompous arsehole in The Debt Collector, the synthy dance-pop of Girls & Boys, Phil Daniels narrating Parklife, fast-paced punk rocking in Bank Holiday. Here on The Great Escape, we’ve had ska from Fade Away, and He Thought of Cars is foreboding and slow, but that’s it. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, it just means the album is lacking pep. Not good considering I think this is The Great Escape’s peak.
Track #10 – It Could Be You
Well here’s a bit of pep at least. This one brought me back to Advert from Modern Life, with a slightly punky sound to it, but apart from Graham’s guitar work there’s not that much I can say about it…except for the fact that of all the songs here, this is the one I feel suffers the most from the overproduction that The Great Escape has been criticised for. There’s something that sounds overly squeaky-clean in those reverbs and the clashing of the electric and acoustic guitars.
Track #11 – Ernold Same
So it was true. Ken Livingstone was on this track. And according to producer Stephen Street, he was a complete twat. Must be a job requirement for London Mayors. This one isn’t gonna set the world on fire, but I think it’s a nice inverse to Parklife, with the angry arrogance of Phil Daniels replaced with the nasally boring old drone of the ‘Right-On’ Ken. A bit shorter than I’d have preferred but a nice relaxing one after the previous track. I’d even say it’s borderline ASMR given it made me want to flutter away in the sky and forget all my problems.
Track #12 – Globe Alone
Now here’s the pep I was looking for! Graham absolutely twats that guitar, Damon has some added bite in his performance here and credit has to be given to Dave on the drums aswell. I thought Phil from Radiohead had to go fast for Jigsaw Falling Into Place, Dave has to go at the speed of light here to keep up with the pace of the song. Definitely another of the darkhorses on Great Escape. But like the previous track, it’s just a shame its over so soon. Or then again, for the sake of Dave’s blood pressure, maybe it’s not.
Track #13 – Dan Abnormal
A.k.a Damon’s character from the music vid for M.O.R on the next album, obviously this one is going to be another piece aimed at a fictional character holding a gigantic mirror to reflect Damon’s words right back at him, his true target. Apparently, he was actually hungover when performing this in the studio and you can tell; he actually sounds bleary-eyed if that’s even possible. However, this isn’t really one of my favourites on this album, it’s just another one of the character-substituting-for-Damon songs and doesn’t stand out compared to the others.
Track #14 – Entertain Me
I got some ELO vibes from this one when hearing it for the first time, which was during the Blur v Oasis anniversary Star Shaped Disco Night. It got added to my Spotify playlist straight afterwards. Sadly though, it signals that the variation that I’d been teased with from Ernold Same and It Could Be You aren’t going to appear anymore and this is very much the norm. Again, nothing necessarily bad about that, in fact it’s easily one of the better songs on the album. As usual Graham is on top form and has some real prominence in his backing vocals, and once again Dave gets a real chance to shine. I just wish there had been more energy behind the making of this album but I suppose it came at a time when the band was coming to the end of its tether, with the first specks of frost beginning to appear on Damon and Justine’s relationship, and Graham becoming sick of the Britpop tone.
Track #15 – Yuko and Hiro
So I guess that’s why we end up finishing with a track like Yuko and Hiro. I noted down as I was listening to it for the first time that it sounded deliciously weird, and that lyrically it seemed like a song that could have appeared on 13 or Think Tank, but ended up in the Britpop era by accident. And that’s because this song is so damn sad, and like with He Thought of Cars it feels like we’re transitioning away from Britpop to the more gloomy stages of Blur’s career. For one last time we have a song that sees Damon reflecting on his own problems through characters, the problem this time being his relationship with Justine; two people working to ensure the very best for their careers at the cost of their time together. With Elastica beginning to take off, especially in America (Blur’s forbidden land), and Blur dealing with their continued success at home, this was the beginning of the end for Damon and Justine’s relationship. I must admit, I did almost tear up while listening to Yuko and Hiro due to its sense of finality and resignation, and that ending seems to signal that this is indeed the end of an era, as Blur’s time as the icons of Britpop just fades away…
To me, The Great Escape is quite possibly the most Britpoppy of Britpop albums, with its array of upper class caricatures, deliciously cartoony and biting lyrics and a theme of cynicism and at times despair bashing against catchy and peppy tunes. In that regard, it more than manages to do what it has set out to achieve and that is be a Britpop album which is a fun listen. Job done.
However, by indulging in those three factors a bit too much, especially towards cynicism, The Great Escape stops itself from being a quintessential listen like Parklife was. Not helped by the lack of variation in style as I mentioned earlier, this album does fall short of the mark expected after listening to MLIR and PL, but if you do find yourself digging in you end up listening to some underrated songs like Globe Alone, Best Days, Yuko and Hiro and especially He Thought of Cars. At the end of the day, it’s a very middle-of-the-road effort from Blur but considering that their output is average at worst, that still means you’re going to have a good time with this album.
So yeah. This was indeed the end of an era. Britpop began to falter not long after the album’s release, having peaked with the summer battle between Roll With It and Country House. Blur fell by the wayside as Oasis-mania swept the country, and tensions rose to almost fatal levels between the band members. A reboot was needed, and as with every end came a new beginning, one which I will happily talk about one day.
I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday in Kent visiting family, and after the year 2020 has been so far I’d say it was very much needed. Of course, there was the small issue of getting from the North East all the way down to the other end of the country, which meant three and a bit hours sat on a train. Thank God for Spotify. Now, having steadily built my playlist up over the course of lockdown (To the point where it has, at the time of writing this, 511 songs), there is a chance that I might hear the same old songs a lot and skip a few, but if there is one song out of that bunch that I will always listen to without any chance of glossing over it, it’s Trash by Suede.
I love this song to bits. In fact, I love the album it comes off; Coming Up is fantastic and I can’t wait to hear the whole thing live and in person in April. Corona permitting, of course.
Trash was one of the first songs I heard from Suede and I was instantly hooked with its loud distorted guitar riff courtesy of Richard Oakes, who had the biggest weight on his shoulders after the acrimonious departure of the band’s previous guitarist, Bernard Butler. All ears would have been on that guitar and the critics were waiting for the chance to crap on the new kid, who promptly shut them up and had them on their feet and dancing in the first 15 seconds.
Brett Anderson is on fine form here aswell, effortlessly belting out those high notes and working with Richard to pen a sweet tribute to the anti-socialites, or to put it another way, their fans. To quote Brett himself, “It’s a song that’s kind of about being in the band and, by extension, it’s a song about the fans and the whole kind of ethos of being a Suede… person” (NME, 2016). This song romanticises those out of place in society, the glam rockers like Suede themselves who transcend the norm with ‘the tasteless bracelets’, their ‘cellophane sounds’, their ‘looseness’. You may be trash, but you’re all trash together.
If I had to give one criticism about this song though, it’s that it does sound a little dated. The glam rock style and overbearing pop feel which Suede was going for with Coming Up, in an effort to create a marketable antithesis to Dog Man Star, means that Trash ends up being firmly rooted in the 90s. I realised this the hard way when I played this on the radio last year and discovered it stuck out like a sore thumb against the pop of today. Then again, maybe that works in its favour with it by making it sound fresh. Hell, with Dua Lipa tapping into the sounds of the past with Future Nostalgia, there could always be room for glam-style sounds to make a reappearance and help Trash feel of the times again. For now though, it stays appreciated by the outsiders that it appeals to with its lyrics.
Trash is a song that will always get me in the mood to listen to Suede. It’s the quintessential song from their second era (The post-Butler years) and sets you up for a fun ride ahead on Coming Up. It’s easy to listen to and I guarantee you would not be able to stop yourself at least bopping your head to it. Timeless? No. But absolutely a classic.