Music

Blur - "There's No Other Way"

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 backwards-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.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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