Friday, May 4, 2007

The Red Skull Pt. Three (Guitar Funeral)

So, this is part three of the ongoing feature here on this blog, The Red Skull. Which is basically just me reviewing albums that I stumble upon, or old favorites, or whatever. Whatever I want, I run this blog. I can do whatever I want. I am the boss, of me. Anyway, today I'm reviewing 13 by Blur. The last great guitar album. As of yet, at least. I'd really appreciate the return of the guitar album. Anyway, I'm of the opinion that this piece needs a lot of editing, and I'd appreciate if my best editor, Amanda would edit this for me. Amanda, if you're reading, go ahead and start taking notes.

The guitar album is dead. It's been dead for a while. I can take you to it's grave, where it got the proper British funeral that it so richly deserved. It's strange to think of Blur among their many facets, as a great guitar band. Graham Coxon really only got to stretch out and make his guitar float in defiance of gravity only on the last two albums he was on with the band. Now, rumor has it that Coxon is rejoining the band, and in honor of that, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite albums of the late nineties, Blur's 13.

13 starts out with a prayer. That prayer turns into a hymn, then a revival. And so it goes, the blueprint for the rest of 13 is laid out in the gospel rock of the opening song, "Tender". Notably, this album's superhero, Graham Coxon takes the lead vocal on this song. Instead of sending his guitar into space, as he'll do in the rest of the album, he gently reveals a choir, urging him to "c'mon, get through it". There are parts of this album that feel like they may have touched the hem of the garment of other important British bands at the time, "Tender" drinks the water that is not from the well with Spiritualized. At times, Coxon's guitar heroics might sound like they're inspired by Radiohead, but inspired would be where it stops, and then it leaves on it's own path. Radiohead would go on to abandon the guitar, and Spiritualized would go on to beat that gospel horse into sand.

The "hit" of sorts from 13 was "Coffee & TV", which, I'll probably play at my wedding. It's an ode to simple domestic bliss, escaping the music biz and settling down, like a lost Kinks song. Coxon sings lead on this song as well. The song starts off with upbeat acoustic strumming, which leads into the closest to soloing that Coxon manages on this album. The melody never leaves the song, though. And a pretty little keyboard line straight out of "Something Else By The Kinks" buoys the guitar madness. The song's video features a little lost milk carton that makes it's way through the city. Until it meets the milk carton of it's dreams (who meets a tragic end).

When I say guitar album. What do I mean? Am I talking about killer solos? Nawh, not really. So if that's what you were thinking, that's probably why you were kinda put off by the whole last guitar album thing. You can hear people doing 20 minute solos with violin bows for the rest of your life. I'm talking guitar album in the vein of "Daydream Nation" or "Loveless" or "Band Of Gypsys" or Creedence's first self titled album. Where the guitar is doing something it shouldn't. The guitar is floating, the guitar is making eggs, the guitar is making you mix tapes. Somewhere on "Battle", I'm sure Coxon probably isn't even touching his guitar. But it's making a sound that's unnatural. It's floating, it's backwards, it's ephemeral, it's, it's beautiful.

The counterpoint of "Battle", and the counterpoint of rest of the album, really, is producer, William Orbit. Which seemed like an odd choice. Orbit was at the time, (and so far), famous for producing the reinvention of Madonna #6. The one where she got all gothic and techno. You know, the one with the birds. Orbit gives the album a slight techno/dub feel. Really messing with the drum sounds, echoing them straight into outerspace. This actually works out very well. I remember at the time, when this album was about to come out, and I read that Orbit was working on it. I was kinda flabbergasted. I was (and am) a gigantic fan of their previous self titled album. 13 towers over their previous work, though. It's a little cold, there's nothing you could dance to, or play in a hockey arena on 13. But that doesn't really matter does it? You can't dance to or play "Silver Rocket" in a hockey arena. Well, they should play "Silver Rocket" in a hockey arena. And yet we all love "Daydream Nation". Now, I know. I'm comparing the greatest album of the last 30 years to a Blur album, but, you know, so what. It's no worse than NME saying The Arctic Monkeys have one of the best British albums ever, in the league with Revolver and Let It Bleed and London Calling. But I digress.

Damon Albarn, lead singer, Gorilla, and general genre jumping miscreant, was depressed when this album came out. He'd just ended a long relationship, so I'm guessing that's how he allowed his oversized personality to get overshadowed by Coxon's guitar. His depression really hits on the final song of the album, "No Distance Left To Run". It's the saddest song in the Blur oeuvre. It's being totally crushed, and giving in. It's admiting defeat, and saying "I hope you're with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleep, tonight". It's like Issac Hayes singing "Walk On By" but, without the ability to even make that awesome "wahmp-wahmp" hook. Just utterly beat and downtrodden.

Then Gorillaz happened. After that, Albarn got his confidence back, and wanted more control, wanted Blur to be a dance rock band. So much so, that he hired Fatboy Slim to produce their next album. Coxon was as appalled by this decision as you and I are, and left the band. (Fatboy Slim only ended up producing 2 or 3 songs on Think Tank.) Now, rumors are abound that Coxon's rejoining Blur. What will that sound like? Good. That's what I'm banking on. Good.

1 comment:

millionsuns said...

13 is bloody brilliant. their best one by far, and i'm a pretty big Blur fan. nice piece.

are you a fan of Gorillaz?

how you guys been?