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4.11.05

State of British music V: Blur b-sides

I’ve taken to trawling through a few back catalogues, and by extension, the b-material and offcuts and stuff that never really progressed far from the rehearsal or aborted-conception stage. A U2 bootleg, for instance, from the early Achtung Baby sessions, was a revealingly embarrassing study in mild desperation: the band fumbling and trying to put coherent music together in the early stages, shouting cues at each other, missing notes and playing the same riffs way too long. In a way it’s almost emboldening to hear a megagroup sound so amateur and dysfunctional (and lost for ideas) before the big-ass production and mixing values kick in, before the songs were essentially found and embellished. They sound almost like anyone else dicking around with their instruments. It’s the complete antithesis of a finished record, and of course a band would be upset to leak this crap material, especially U2.

Anyhoo, the Blur. Never ones ashamed to put wholesale crap on the b-side, Blur have nonetheless got some stellar material in there as well. Although, maybe ‘stellar’ ain’t quite le mot juste when it comes to Britpop; OK, I was being hyperbolic. But, again, the b-material can be very revealing or function as great conextualiser for the a-stuff. Like Joyce says, errors are the portals of discovery. But is incompleteness an error? I remember a recent interview with Gorillaz-Albarn or maybe it was Mali-Damon talking about ProTooling his African recordings, and he said he’s good at generating ideas but not finishing them or rounding off the project. That’s what comes over clearest on my personal sampling of b-sides from Chemical World to Coffee & TV. It’s a great look at how Blur put songs together guitar-bass-drums-wise, and later, mix shit up. They’re not afraid to let stuff just run without proper fibre and mileage; they’re happy to let the search for melodic quality fritter away like so many uncomplaining drummers. They’ve left in the late-night or drunken no-brainers when anything on tape sounds adequate. Or just plain daffy. Even though the final finish and patina (or even the structure itself) is incomplete or patchy.

I’m a great believer in the aristocracy of talent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like slumming with all the slush and average shit at the bottom of the heap. With Blur especially, you can tell they just record a heap of stuff for an album, twenty odd tracks or more, then make harsh executive decisions about what should go in or get the full focus. But they always put in the basic minimal effort with their b-sides, whether it’s backing vocals or noodling effects and tricks. There’s still enough value in the tracks the for a lesser band to be quite happy with. There’s a few dinky drinky waltzes, and it’s remarkable how unlike the Kinks a lot of these cuts sound (comment, discuss) and Graham Coxon is easily 60% of the band. Damon’s predeliction for Frenchification is fun but his accent is truly shite. Personal faves include French Song (off Tender), Supa Shoppa (off Parklife), Threadneedle Street (off To The End), Theme From An Imaginary Film (Parklife), Woodpigeon Song and All Your Life (off Beetlebum).

posted by rino breebaart  # 2:30 pm
Comments:
"All Your Life" - great song. The "Song 2" b-sides are worth exploring - there's a ripper on there - ah, if only I could remember the title - "Tumblin' and Rollin'", I think it is...

It's about time blur released a b-sides collection. And You Am I - another band who smuggled some limited but rocking song on their flipsides. These sort of things made singles once worth buying - what a rip-off those remixes are on RnB / Hip Hop singles. And let's not even mention the dreaded cassingle - where the flipside is exactly the same song!
 
RE: The Kinks...yer right, there ain't much Davies-like material on the b-sides. I guess this was always commercial end, his single releases - the Kinksiest kuts on PLife and TGE are the lead-off singles. But Albarn (and Coxon's) interested in noise and Pavement and the rest of it was potent when attached to a responsibility to entertain. When Coxon left and Albarn ditched the Village Green mannerisms, the band produced one of the most disappointing records I've heard in my short life - the clumsy, messy, vacuous Think Tank.

"It's a b-side" - perhaps a necessary musical repression for noise boys.
 
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