Blur – Out Of Time EP

That’s right, motherfathers, this is the Out Of Time EP, straight at you from Japan, which is an island in Southern China. I had to get it, see, because the assdicks issuing the Think Tank singles made the Cds have only one B-side and the damned DVDs have another, and I’m not going to buy DVD singles. Luckily this EP has all the songs from the Out Of Time and Crazy Beat singles, plus the videos for both. And it only costs like fifty jillion times as much as all of them combined and can’t be found anywhere ever again. I’d say it’s a small price to pay for convenience!

OOT was a gutsy choice for first single, coming as it did on the same album as the stupid “Crazy Beat.” It’s a very good song, thoughtful and sad and original and all that.

The first B-side, “Money Makes Me Crazy (Marrakech Mix)” is also a very good song. It’s a Great Escape-style pop song about the title, which is always a little annoying, but it’s okay because it’s SO CATCHY. It has this riff that’s a major earworm, and I guess it was off the album for being too happy. Also, the band announced they had five mixes of the song, but this is the only one released. Thanks, Blurs. The second B-side is the sub-Radiohead instrumental “Tune 2”, which is mostly notable for showing the band are still bitter about “Song 2” being so successful.

The other two songs were originally on some sort of “Crazy Beat” single. “Don’t Be” is decent, but sounds like about two-thirds of a well-formed, good song. Musically it’s strong, with several hooks and one big riff, but vocally it sounds unfinished and not about anything, and then it ends too suddenly. “The Outsider” is mostly notably for featuring Graham Coxon on guitar, unlike the album. There IS guitar work, but if anything it’s annoyingly sort of Spanish, and the vocals are buried and mumbled. I think they were going for “creepy” with all the breathing noises and high-pitched synths, but it doesn’t have the quality to make it a song worth remembering.

“Respect Our Music” it says under the record company logo inside. Which is funny, because this single was released in five different formats worldwide in order to make as much money from serious fans of said music as possible. In fact, it’s only possible to get all the aforementioned music on this import single that costs much more than the album that generated the single. These tracks, mostly throwaways that nevertheless need to be seriously respected, could easily have been released on a non-import single that wouldn’t cost fans thirty dollars to buy.

6/10

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Blur – Think Tank

More like STINK Tank, because this album…

But they didn’t break up! The guitarist just left! Also Damon signed my copy of this album with “XO” and I’m still waiting for my hug and kiss.

First the snark: this album was recorded in Africa, which is a resort country that bands go to to get in touch with their roots if they feel a little lost creatively. It’s a good thing that it exists, the country that is, and can exert an “African” influence on the music made there. Yes, Africa has poverty, but it has nothing except wealth when it comes to feeling. Why, sometimes it seems like the entire country is filled with happy choirs and bongo players living in happy thatch-roofed houses.

Luckily, Blur don’t do that that much, it just bothers me when bands go to Marrakech or Ghana or Johannesburg and come back acting like they’re suddenly more in touch with themselves. Maybe if they went to the slums of Lagos and wrote an album about how badly they wanted to kill themselves I’d be more forgiving. The only real “African” sound on here is the Moroccan orchestra on “Out Of Time” and because it’s so eerily pushed back in the production and only appears on the one song it’s actually pretty good. Unless you count having interesting percussion production, which it does throughout, and it a bit mocking, but lettuce put that carrot aside. For my handwords the real influence here are big-beat bands and early electronica, clashing with Blur’s more traditional pop sound. Most of the songs have real drums made to sound like “beats” and odd sound loops. Oh, and there’s nearly no guitar at all thanks to the departure of Graham Coxon. So that’s different. It’s a weird mix with Damon’s expressive lyrics, but it generates generally positive results.

This is the first Blur album ever not to fit an obvious theme, way moreso than the eponymous album. Lyrically it’s sort of a mish-mash between the last album’s songs about self-worth and Leisure’s (!) predilection with dancing and going clubbing. Guess which theme doesn’t work for a group of three men in their early 40s! Not that I doubt that Damon went clubbing and did drugs and whatever, especially since he was busy masterminding Gorillaz at the time, but that whole “white people in clubs are empty, man” focus has no emotional impact for me at all. If it does for you then “On My Way to the Club” (co-written by “James Dring,” whose name, when spoken, makes the speaker sound like half a ‘tard) and “Brothers and Sisters” might be for you. But not “Crazy Beat,” the resident blatant attempt at a hit single, even produced by Fatboy Slim, with a big dumb riff (that sounds like “It Could Be You”), an aggravating duck voice, and the awful line “I love my brothers on Saturday night, yeah!” which should make anyone twitch violently.

Me, I prefer “Ambulance,” the opener that goes “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of” over and over, the pensive “Good Song” (according to Damon the best song on the album when I asked him because I’m an idiot), random loud shouty thing “We’ve Got A File On You,” Clash-y “Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club” and the aforementioned apocalypse-y “Out Of Time,” because where IS the love song to set us free?

There are quite a few mediocre tracks filling it out, like the six-minute sax-led jam “Jets” and the annoying “Gene By Gene” and the almost good but what-the-hell’s-with-title “Battery In Your Leg.” Also, the best song on the whole album is spoken (and sometimes shouted) oddball slow-burner “Me White Noise” that they inconveniently hid before the first track so that you can’t hear it unless you have an old-timey CD player. Well, another day another dolla. It’s a sad little end to a great band, but at least it’s not a shameful end.

7/10

Blur – Music is My Radar

This single results from one of my favourites, the old best-of-with-one-new-song trick. But luckily they released it as an otherwise-available single, so you too can skip the compilation! Blur do work pretty well as a compilation, though, so maybe you want that as an introduction.

But we’re not here to talk about your social anxiety, we’re here to talk about “Music Is My Radar” aka MIMR, the one-time most recent Blur, and its B-sides.

Here at Myles’ Music Reviews music is all of our radars, so the title and subject of the title song is appreciated. That said, the song is a trifling bit of fun and not a serious statement, even if the sentiment is genuine. It’s nothing like the last couple albums, which is maybe nice. It’s a pop song again, with wheezy guitars and incomprehensible lyrics, but the hooks are true, and like I said, music is my radar too, also my sonar and scuba and laser and way of handling how boring the world sounds, so the song has a special place in my little heart.

The main B-side, “Black Book” (presented in the ‘Original Version’ even though there’s no other available) is just ridiculous. It’s a fantastic, soaring, eight-minute white-boy bluesy number that goes on and on and on and never gets tiresome and reminds you that Blur can, as mentioned, make good songs out of fairy dust and great ones out of clods of dust and other small things. And crickey, it’s even kinda touching! So yeah, excellent all around.

Further warming my heart are the other two B-sides, a couple very early tracks from when they wanted to be dance-rock. “7 Days” is mediocre and nobody cares (and that circular riff is a big ol’ failblog), but props to the guys for giving the fans a song they’d never heard, eh? It’s almost enough to make me forgive them for putting “Song 2” on the flip side of “Tender”. Last is a live version of “She’s So High,” which I don’t like, but there was talk the group would break up, so they decided to back their last single with their first. It’s that kind of thought that makes me think The Blurs always cared after all.

8/10

Blur – Coffee + TV

“Coffee +TV” is a great song, but it’s on the album. Yes, this “Radio Edit” lacks the little thirty second coda at the end. Whatevs yo. Watch the music video; it’s gravy. Anyway, these B-sides aren’t any good. Four remixes of “Bugman”? Humbug! One by each member of the band, which is not enough for them to realize there’s a reason people get paid to do the mixing themselves.

Yadda; it’s neat that the snippets at the end of the album version (which is half snippets for fucking out loud) are remixes of the song itself, but that doesn’t mean four new versions of a mediocre song is worthwhile. Generally they work by taking two or three parts of the song and repeating them over and over and over, and they all eschew silly things like being a real song with verses and a chorus and any reason to listen.

“Trade Stylee” tries to be a dance song, and fails, of course, unless your favourite part was that “space is the plaaaace!” falsetto bit that was totally out of place and the band chanting “na na nanana oh oh.” Actually I kinda like that last part, and the driving bass line here is pretty listenable, but it’s still not very good. “Metal Hip Slop” is the second best, and uses the drum loop at the end of the album track as the main loop, and tries to be all dub and stuff, with most of the track dropped out without actually being minimalist.

The other two are more terrible. “X-Offender” is a six minute take that tries to make it into a samba-led soft jazz track in the style of Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are.” It’s never-ending, and features really obnoxious yelling of “Bugman!!!!” far too often. The last one bears the least resistance to the actual song, but it’s just a nothing backgroundy drum loop like the Amen break with some bleepy bloop noises and a couple lines from “Bugman.” Next! The only good part is that while all the other remixes have obvious subtitles like “Graham’s Bugman Remix,” Damon’s is subtitled “Control Freak’s Remix.” Hee! Resentment! And oh, wait, there is no next because the next single in the box set is missing most of its B-sides. And they’re the best ones from the period! Oh well, when I find it I’ll buy her.

3/10

Blur – Tender

Nineder! Blur doesn’t seem to care much about their singles at this point in their career; they could only barely get it together enough for an album, and they’re really not worth it.

“Tender” is awesome. It’s eight minutes long, whiny, gospelly, has the greatest fifteen-second solo ever, the way the band refused to edit it…”Tender”, me love you long time, but then the other songs, the ones not available, are not worth it. “All We Want” is clearly the point, but it’s a failed attempt at making a good song, a loud blah with a silly message (“All we want / All we ever want / Is to be something / But I just say nothing”) and an annoying riff. Then “Mellow Jam” is the jam that begat the nice acoustic album song “Mellow Song” in a form that is not yet a conceived song, “French Song” is a long (more than eight minutes) instrumental that goes around and around a theme that sounds like music to The Sims or Mario Kart and starts again, and again, and again, then there’s “Song 2”. Yep, “Song 2” from two albums ago, unadorned, on a single for no reason whatsoever except to either try to get fans by selling a marketable song as a B-side of the second of two singles for an unmarketable song, to people who would undoubtedly already have it, or just as an act of aggression because “Song 2” sold so well overseas. I don’t know and I don’t care and I don’t like it.

3/10

Blur – 13

In which Blur have completely lost their shit and made my favourite album of theirs.

This album is weird as a muffin shaped like a switchblade drowning in neon eternity, and about as silly. There’s exactly one song that fits in any way being a “pop song.” It’s blatantly a record by Damon Albarn and the Blurs, being a break-up album structured by his recent relationship. It’s all atmospheric and self-loathing and shit, and there’s fucking nothing of their earlier style to be found; it’s pretty much impossible to hear who they were only two albums ago. The lead single is an eight minute gospel song. The one rock song is an unlistenable disdain-o-rama. They obviously stopped giving a shit about things like titles and liner notes and including lyrics, and there are song blurbs sprinkled liberally, hidden in the tracklisting that is the album’s only packaging aside from basic credits.

Luckily, Damon at this point could write great songs and Blur could make great songs out of pixie dust. This stuff is great on so many levels that I’m sad to have to review it and stop hearing it.

It’s touching: “Tender is my heart / I’m screwing up my life” whines Damon in the aforementioned gospel first single, the first of the album’s many great lines, which include a casual mention that “I lost my girl to the Rolling Stones” in the (but it works) hip-hop-esque “Trailerpark” (helps to know that his girlfriend left him for a Rolling Stone), he bemoans his lack of self-improvement in “Caramel,” “1992” is a ten year old repetitive drone about infidelity, “No Distance Left To Run” is a direct break-up song and makes me freaking cry…hell, even the closing organ doodle “Optigan 1” sounds genuinely sad, like the credit music to a film with a bad ending.

It’s catchy: the pop song “Coffee and TV” is the obv example, but I remember every song on here well, way more than most Blur albums in particular but in general all the album tracks are solid and worth sticking around in your brain pan. Just try to forget that keyboard hook on “Trailerpark” or the stuttering guitars on “Battle.” Betcha can forget just none!

Even the bad songs are good! This is sort of the last point again. Anyway, it’s a coherent, artistic piece of work by a bunch of guys who were on the verge of splitting acrimoniously but pulled it together just enough to make a definitive statement about something not modern life. Break-up albums are common, but this one plays like a film in song. The aforementioned unlistenable joke song is great for being catchy and scathing enough that I always kinda love it, even the duck voice. The only reason I’m not giving this one 10 out of 10 is because “Bugman” is meh and the hidden tracks get tiresome. They should have just put them all in the end in one annoying track that I can skip like everyone else does.

In conclusion, don’t bother; there’s nothing on here that sounds like “Song 2.”

9/10

Blur – M.O.R.

Well, “M.O.R.” (which stands for ‘middle of the road’ which is way less cool because it’s spelled out) is not my favourite single off the album, being a bunch of decent musical ideas slapped together around some stupid “I’m a boy and you’re a girl” lyrics and the whole thing sounds inescapably 90s. Unlike most good Blur singles there’s not much going on musically to make it stand out from other songs; it’s just a standard rock song, the kind that dozens of worse bands churn out and wonder why they don’t make it. The version on here is the “Alan Moulder Road Version,” which has a few production tweaks like making the intro noise 1/10th of a second longer and having more space between the various tracks, making it sound a bit more live-like, and the lead vocals more prominent. It’s more or less the same song, kids.

There’s one B-side and two remixes: “Swallows in the Heatwave” is 2:32 long, has really distorted vocals and guitar, some vocal hooks, a first line of “I want to contribute to natural selection” and it’s almost a good song. But not quite, because it’s so obviously unfinished. It’s very close to being a good song, though. It might be better to listen to during an actual heatwave. It’s winter now, though. Cold, dark, winter with three months left to go. It’s my favourite B-side of this Blur era, which is sad since it’s not that exciting of a song and sounds like it was recorded on a practice stage.

Then there are the remixes. First there’s an eight-minute long remix of “Movin’ On,” my least favourite song on the last album! Yes, if you thought the cheesy keyboard noises and Vengaboys-like silly three-note ascending riff and meaningless lyrics were good and you think they’d be even better repeated over and over and over again and be broken down and built up again over synth drums then this remix is for you! Then there’s a “Moby Remix” of “Beetlebum,” which is surprisingly neat in that it actually sounds like a Moby song! Turns out ol’ Beets worked surprisingly well as an ambient mumbler! Now let me never listen to it again and die.

5/10