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.
Surprisingly for a tune that unashamedly leapt onto the baggy bandwagon, the star of Blur’s second single (and first pop hit) is not any component of the rhythm section, but Graham Coxon and his deliriously sinewy guitar lines. If you ever wondered why some diehard metal musicians and even arch Blur-hater Noel Gallagher will wax enthusiastically about Coxon’s talents, here’s one of the best examples of why. Spooling out indelible riffs like they’re going out of style, Coxon’s playing is quite lyrical, sliding up and down the neck of the instrument with hammer-ons and pull-offs galore adding flair. Some of my favorite moments include Coxon pulling back tastefully after Damon Albarn sings “All that you can do is watch them play” in each chorus, his backward-sounding guitar solo, and the flurry of high-pitched licks that end the track with an ecstatic rush.
Not that the rest of the band are slouches. Listening to how well bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree groove together here, their efforts on Blur’s 1994 dancefloor-conquering megahit “Girls & Boys” sounds relatively staid. True, Damon Albarn’s lyrics from this period were maddeningly lacking in substance (this being a time before the future Gorillaz mastermind started immersing his work in the quirks and quandaries of the quintessentially English lifestyle), but this was also before he began acting (and singing) like his own exaggerated idea of a working-class football hooligan, which makes him far more bearable here than he is on much of the group’s mid-period material. Albarn is definitely cocky on “There’s No Other Way”, yet he also keeps a distance with his wispy phrasing, teasing the listener into submitting to the tune’s allure with his come-hither delivery.
Comparing this song to, say, the Charlatans’ 1990 hit “The Only One I Know” (which I love, by the way) or pretty much anything by Inspiral Carpets, and “There’s No Other Way” totally outshines those exercises in wedding rock stylings to acid house dance beats. In fact, it synthesizes the (to diehards on both sides of the fence) diametrically-opposed genre elements in a way that few others have matched. And to think, there are still people out there who maintain you can’t dance to guitar music.