Sunday, September 10, 2006

One Band, Two Songs, Ten Years

Blur - I Know (Extended)
Blur - Black Book

‘I Know’ was the B-side of ‘She’s So High’, Blur’s debut single released in 1990. This extended version, despite being one of the baggiest songs ever made, still manages to sound uptight. It’s shiny and overproduced; a B-side that desperately wants to be the A-side and very nearly was. The Damon of 1990 is bright-eyed and bushy tailed, flinging his naïve, vacuous lyrics against the music with the air of an eager-to-please suitor with plenty to prove. ‘PLEASE LOVE ME!’ he seems to be saying, sporting a Penguin books T-shirt and adopting an affected ‘I’m On Acid’ wide-eyed stare, shaking his shaggy bowl from side-to-side. Damo is flanked by bezzy mate Graham Coxon, a Dinosaur Jr obsessive doing a pretty good impression of a white boy funk guitarist, reluctantly flicking wakka-wakka riffs and a wah-wah solo. Professional ciggy smoker Alex James slaps down another corking bendy bass line and Ginger Dave whacks out the baggy beat, commanding loose-limbed shape making from all who encounter it on the dance floor at an indie disco.

Fast-forward a whole decade, just into the new millennium, and we find an older, wiser Blur laying down some tracks to accompany the ‘Music Is My Radar’ single. There’s an organic ambience to ‘Black Book’. It has the feel of a laidback jam, with all four musicians connecting telepathically to one another with the ease of a gang who have been playing together for what seems like forever. Its eight minutes long because, well, it just felt so good we didn’t know when to stop playing. There’s an almost Doorsian vibe, with Damon’s twinkling organ work and Graham’s swirling guitar riffs. Damon 2000’s vocal delivery alternates between the gravely, world-weary croon of a proper rock star, rising to a falsetto howl that comes from deep within. He means it. He’s thrown his black book away now, yes, he has. No more groupies for Damon, he’s settling down and claiming back his soul.

One band, two songs, ten years. Not all bands are able to stay together for that long and many that do, do so by never changing tack. Blur managed it by continually evolving, sometimes with steps backwards though mostly with brave leaps of musical faith, more often than not tucked away on the B-sides of more straightforward singles. But just imagine there was nothing in between, and you heard these two songs in isolation. Would you know they were by the same band? Which do you prefer? If I ponder that question myself, it’s a bit like asking, “Who would you rather be?”. The self-conscious duffel coat wearing ninny of the early 90s, with curtains for hair and grape Converse, or the balding and somewhat more self-assured millennial JC, with less hopes and less fears, but better clothes and prospects? The answer to that question is easy. The musical dilemma – I’m not so sure.

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