Throughout the course of its storied career, Blur more often than not seemed to be playing a role. While the Britpop group’s incarnations as faux-Cockney punters (circa Parklife) and as the British Pavement (Blur) are most often hailed as the band’s high water marks, Blur’s early dabbling in the top trends of the British indie scene at the start of the 1990s—Madchester and shoegaze—on its 1991 debut Leisure is often referred to in less affectionate terms, if at all. In spite of the lack of love for that period, consensus is clear that the record yielded at least one top tune, “There’s No Other Way”, a groovy genre workout that outdid some of the better attempts at crafting danceable Madchester singles by actual Mancunian bands.
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Credibility is apparently a big deal in the music journo biz. I get that, at least in theory. I mean, I know why I’m supposed to take shit at face value and not let myself fall in love. But the whole reason I got into this mess in the first place was because I’m a fan and I get all emotional about music, and then I get all verbose and that just leads to trouble.
I love Damon Albarn.
There, I said it. It feels kind of good to get it out there, like therapy. Or exorcism.
I know it’s uncool or whatever to admit to having a musical crush on someone, but screw it. I love Damon Albarn. I love his vocals, both languid and falsetto, his enthusiasm for music of all shapes and sizes. I love that ridiculous gold tooth.
“Strawberry Letter 23” - The Brothers Johnson
Written by Shuggie Otis
From Right on Time (A&M, 1977)
A little sonic marvel, “Strawberry Letter 23” is one of Quincy Jones’ finest moments as a producer. It begins with an instantly identifiable, semi-ominous keyboard figure. Soon after, a tight funk groove kicks in, riding on Brother Louis’ slippery bass, Harvey Mason’s always-funky drums, Brother George’s slinky rhythm guitar, Ralph MacDonald’s sleek percussion, and a mini-choir of smoothed out background vocals. Jones at the board really outdoes himself here, achieving a stately funk-elegance in the production which makes the whole thing a powerful, hypnotic listen from start to finish. The setting for Lee Ritenour’s guitar solo is particularly memorable.
“Strawberry Letter 23” was written by Shuggie Otis, son of the great bandleader Johnny Otis and a fine, maverick R&B artist in his own right. The lyrics are a trip; to this day, I’m not exactly sure what they’re all about. Dig the first couple of stanzas:
April might be a bit late for a list like this, but I did hear from some Expert on NPR that the decade does not technically end until December 31, 2010. So really, I’m early! And although every rock rag in the world did their lists months ago, I will submit my picks now.
Caveat: these are based purely on personal quirk. Before you call bullshit, let us remember the wise words of Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, “How can it be bullshit to state an opinion?” They are simply the albums that shaped my musical landscape, for which I know every lyric of every song backward and forward, that I would take with me to that mythical desert island we music lovers always talk about. They comprise the soundtrack that was playing when I fell in love, when I got married, when I had my babies, when I went to work, when I fell out of love, when I got divorced, when I did all the good and bad and fun and serious and stupid things I did in this oddest of decades. Most people, places and things come and go, but one truth that has never left me since the day I was born is my intense and abiding love for my music. This is my music. Maybe some of it is yours, too.
There’s a youthful embrace for all things synth coming from musicians barely or not even alive in the ‘80s. As one who gasped with the crowd as the Cure took the stage without a drum kit and began the set by pushing play to beats on a prerecorded track, I’m enjoying the current offerings by bands such as Passion Pit, Friendly Fires and Two Door Cinema Club. Two Door Cinema Club began three years ago by a trio of boys in Northern Ireland when they were 15—do the math and be amazed. Sam Halliday and Alex Trimble actually knew each other in grammar school and began studying music together before meeting Kevin Baird. When a drummer dropped out, they experimented with manufacturing their own drum tracks and decided they liked it that way. Their name comes from a mispronunciation of a local cinema, known as the Tudor Cinema club and their new debut album, Tourist History, refers to the popularity of their hometown of Bangor as well as the band’s extended travels with their gain in notoriety. This follows songs on a Kitsune music compilation and an EP produced by the French record label last year. Tourist History is comprised of ten tightly composed songs which bounce along with shout outs, crowd noises and walls of electronic sound.
I discovered “Something Good Can Work” last spring and promptly put it in a prominent spot on my personal playlist. Its unabashed happy-go-lucky feel had me hooked.
Another favorite off the EP, “Do You Want It All”, leads off with manufactured high hats, guitar arpeggios and keyboard chords before Trimble’s sweet vocals. The next song, “This Is the Life” is a new fun find, cranking up a funky groove into another wash of synths before the vocals come in—the title becomes the chorus followed by ‘woos’ most appropriately. “I Can Talk” starts with percussive vocals which explode to a full blown rollicking sound to amp up the energetic approach.
“Eat That Up, It’s Good For You” also begins slowly with lyrics like “You would look a little better, you know, if you wore less makeup” as a reminder of the teen viewpoint but all is forgiven by another explosion of sound at the chorus with more cheerful shout outs in the background. Everything dramatically drops out to end with only the hum of a chord.
Tourist History can be previewed until May 5th on kcrw.com and the band will visit the station’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” show on May 4th. It’s a live session that I already have marked on my calendar.