Friday, July 31, 2009

Somebody At Pitchfork Agrees With Me On Blur!

Well, more or less. Scott Plagenhoef gives Blur's new two-disc compilation Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur a robust 9.4 on the Pitchfork Meter. Yet it's the level of analysis in his review that really makes me feel less alone in this grunge-loving world. In other words, thank you Scott for letting me know I'm not the only American music fan who finds Blur's discography so deliciously rewarding. Assuming you are American. What's an American these days anyway? Some excerpts:
So this compilation can be seen as a more Americentric look at Blur's career, which makes some sense as they still have a lot of fanbase growth potential in the States. Few bands from the 90s increased their stature this decade among America's self-identifying indie set as much as Blur-- and this at a time when, thanks to globalization and the internet, the caché of romanticizing other nations as exotic or different largely dwindled. Anglophilia in the States was once the province of those willing to take the time and effort to look outside their immediate surroundings, and with that came the attendant feelings of acting or thinking differently from one's peers that often fuels cultural choices, especially in indie circles.
What he means to say, rather, is "the attendant feelings of knowing you're vastly superior to your suburban counterparts because you didn't form your musical taste simply by nodding along to whichever Offspring or Red Hot Chili Peppers song happened to be force-fed down your throat by some RIAA executive in your freshman year of college."
Fully embracing the UK's art-pop history, Blur's London- and UK-centric records made them superstars. Less celebratory than they at first seem, these records are teeming with despair and dripping with disdain. From Phil Daniels' title-track monologue to discouraging traffic reports to suicidal thoughts on the Cliffs of Dover, all was not well.
You're damn right Scott. Those albums are complex, layered, and open to endless interpretation, biotch. Scott proves just how open with his analysis of "This Is A Low":
Parklife's low point is also the band's artistic peak: The tempestuous, atmospheric "This Is a Low", with Albarn's reading of the English shipping report over Coxon's backward guitar was an admission that this once-dominant island nation was increasingly sheltered and inward. There is a sort of spectral finisterre quality to the song's tracing the outline of England by boat, and because those shipping reports-- news from the end of the world-- used to sign off the BBC's nightly radio broadcasts, the song almost sounds as if it could be the nation's lullaby. The sun once never set on the British Empire; this song seems to indicate that it now did so nightly-- in a haze of depression and doubt.
Nice one, Scott, nice one. Although "spectral finisterre" might be pushing it a bit. Nevertheless, your purple prose is on behalf of Blur, so I forgive you.
Despite the cravenness with which it seemed Blur-- Albarn and bassist Alex James, in particular-- sought and reveled in fame, this portion of their career is dominated by songs about pre-millennial tension, the dangers of conspicuous consumption, and social changes regarding shifts in technology and communication. In retrospect these prescient sentiments are the strongest and most compelling threads of their mid-90s work; rather than celebrate Britain with knees-up Mockneyisms, they often painted real warnings about a nation quickly being engulfed in obsessions with consumer and celebrity culture. In the years after World War II, America's exportation of such culture was seen as powerful, endearing, the sign of an emergent nation that would dominate the second half of the century as Britain once did. By the 90s, however, Blur had correctly identified the U.S./UK axis as perpetually spoiled and distracted and these themes often dominated their songs. But without the moaning and brooding of peers like Radiohead, Tricky, or Pulp, the messages were often glossed over.
Yeah! Screw Radiohead. Blur managed to address all that "yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon" crap without having to "deconstruct the pop song," i.e. not write any.
With hindsight, it's no surprise that Blur's star has shone so brightly again this decade in their absence. Despite the cries about careerism, they rarely settled into one spot for long, and even when they were correctly perceived to have done so-- about one half of The Great Escape really is a Parklife retread-- they were still spreading their collective wings on album tracks and B-sides.
No No No! For the last time, The Great Escape is Parklife's subversive doppleganger! Scott, I was so with you, and for so long. Well, maybe you've made up for it by calling "He Thought Of Cars" "arguably their most underrated song." A couple of kind words for "Entertain Me" and I might have overlooked this Great Escape comment entirely.
Whether or not they continue to tour, record again, or really are calling it quits this time, the distance between their years of tabloid fame (and sometimes punchable ubiquity in the UK) and today has stripped away a lot of preening and the press and left their legacy enriched only by their music. Unlike a lot of rock's image-conscious genre-hoppers that music is sturdy, sometimes whipsmart, and endowed with more cracks and crevices and corners in which listeners can become lost than they're often given credit.
Sure, but they're no Fiery Furnaces.


Herr Zrbo said...

I'm just surprised that someone at Pitchfork liked something that's not from an emo/indie/hipster band.

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Anonymous said...

I inclination not acquiesce in on it. I think polite post. Specially the title-deed attracted me to study the whole story.

Anonymous said...

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