Sonic Geography BONUS (Blur Megamix)

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A mix so good that the algorithm flagged me at least twice while I was broadcasting the records on Instagram Live! My favorite band of all time (depending on the day you ask me), and certainly the band I traveled the farthest (and spent the most money, but that’s beside the point) to see.

This mix includes a few of my favorite deep cuts, a handful of hits (and variations on hits), and interesting b-sides (for being the best British guitar pop band since the Kinks, Blur had a relatively weak b-side catalog). I’d like to think it shows off a solid handful of the band’s eclectic catalog of strengths. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend an hour. I’m kind of amazed I forgot to play “End of a Century,” though.

  1. “I Know” (B-Side to the “She’s So High” 12″)
  2. “Hanging Over” (B-Side to the ‘For Tomorrow’ 12″)
  3. “Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club” (from Think Tank)
  4. “On Your Own” (7″ clear single)
  5. “Girls and Boys” (Pet Shop Boys Remix) (12″ Single)
  6. “Music is my Radar” (12″ Single)
  7. “There’s No Other Way (Rock Mix)” (12″ RBK dance single)
  8. “Stereotypes” (7″ pink single)
  9. “Trailerpark” (from 13)
  10. “You’re So Great” (stealth Graham single from Blur)
  11. “Freakin’ Out” (actual Graham single, off the eponymous 7″)
  12. “Trouble in the Message Centre” (from Parklife)
  13. “Under the Westway” (from ‘The Puritan’ 7″)
  14. “Chemical World” (from Modern Life is Rubbish)
  15. “Look Inside America” (b-side from the ‘M.O.R.’ jukebox single)
  16. “On the Way to the Club” (from Think Tank)
  17. “Ong Ong” (from The Magic Whip)
  18. “Yuko and Hiro” (from The Great Escape)

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Musical Geography 101: Blur – “This is a Low”

I recently assigned the students in my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.

… but it won’t hurt you. Those of you who know me know I cherish any opportunity to talk about Blur, one of my favourite [sic] bands and perhaps the best British guitar-pop singles group since the Kinks (or at least the Jam, who you’ll be reading about shortly). Of course, most Americans know Blur for “Song 2,” a ready-made anthem for sports arenas which began as a gentle jab at the Pixies and what the band viewed as simplistic American indie rock (though they undoubtedly love the Pixies, Guided by Voices, Pavement, and other quintessentially American bands they synthesized into their revitalized sound after the cocaine-drenched yet still wonderful 1995 album The Great Escape). Many Americans, particularly those tuned into MTV in 1994 while Britpop was thriving overseas, remember Blur’s magnum opus, Parklife. While the group themselves were hardly in awe of English culture, they did abscond and treat it not unlike Al Bundy treated Peg. It was a pain in their arse, but it was still what raised them and privileged them to be the most enduring, eclectic rock stars of that era. Sure, other bands sold more records (Oasis), broke more hearts (Pulp), and even seemed fairly adjusted and consistent (Supergrass), but none of those bands had the dueling secret weapons of Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. The former has since established himself as his generation’s David Byrne through countless prolific musical collaborations and, oh yeah, another Glastonbury-headlining band he founded that included 1/2 of The Clash for a bit. The latter has spent the last two decades stretching the electric guitar to the absolute boundaries of what could still be considered pop music. Also, for those of you interested in drug policy and international relations, their bassist Alex James hosted a BBC documentary about the cocaine trade and has settled into a quiet, normal life collecting expensive instruments and making artisan cheeses. You can’t make this stuff up. If I told you their drummer has gotten heavily involved in the Labour Party and twice run for public office, you wouldn’t believe me, BUT HE ABSOLUTELY DID. For all the right reasons, Blur’s legacy has painted much of what the world conceives as “Britishness.”

Anyway, when the members of Blur were in their star-shaped mid-twenties, a lot of Albarn’s lyrics happened to include references to English landmarks (e.g. the white cliffs in “Clover Over Dover”), but “This is a Low,” supposedly inspired by a British shipping newsletter, closes out the record with a veritable catalog of places which dot the English cartographic landscape. Much like the 1997 track “Look Inside America,” “This is a Low” pulls back, floats high in the sky, surveys everything it can see, and decides, with a slight smile… “yeah, it’s alright.” From what I understand, Albarn had hit some writer’s block when James gave him a handkerchief that detailed British shipping centers as a gag gift. It may seem a cliché, but inspiration can come from the most surprising places.

Lyrics (from AtoZlyrics.com)

And into the sea goes pretty England and me
Around the Bay of Biscay and back for tea
Hit traffic on the dogger bank
Up the Thames to find a taxi rank
Sail on by with the tide and go asleep
And the radio says

[Chorus]
THIS IS A LOW
BUT IT WON’T HURT YOU
WHEN YOU ARE ALONE IT WILL BE THERE WITH YOU
FINDING WAYS TO STAY SOLO

On the Tyne forth and Cramity
There’s a low in the high forties
And Saturday’s locked away on the pier
Not fast enough dear
On the Malin head, Blackpool looks blue and red
And the Queen, she’s gone round the bend
Jumped off Land’s End
And the radio says

[Chorus x 3]