Cannonballs and seagulls

It’s funny how preparing a record makes you reflect on your musical identity.

When I was a teenager, I was clearly torn between the United Kingdom and the United States, between Blur and Nirvana, between Elastica and the Breeders…etc. I thought the Brits wrote killer songs but the Americans sounded better. Still makes sense for me today.

I’m listening to a lot of Breeders lately. I always loved this band, and I remember watching the Cannonball music video over and over again when the single came out. This song is such a miracle. You can tell when you listen to the entire record that this track is different from all the others. The sound is prodigious.

At the time, I already had started playing guitar. I was 11 or 12 and when my parents bought me a shitty classical guitar for Christmas. I learned a few chords and started recording songs. But I was not into acoustic things that much and I started dreaming of electric sounding guitars, of cables, distortions and amps.

Next to my my school, there was a little shop where they gave music lessons. In the shop window there was an acoustic guitar. Everytime I got out of school I would walk by the shop and stare at the guitar. It was a Seagull electro-acoustic, and it looked so beautiful compared to mine.
One day, encouraged by a friend, I entered the shop and asked if the guitar was for sale. The guy told me it was his guitar he placed in the front window so people would understand they gave music lessons but it wasn’t for sale. I asked if he was totally sure, and then he said maybe he could sell it to me.

IMG_2417

So that’s basically how I got my first real guitar : love at first sight. It was only a while after that I realized Kim Deal had exactly the same Seagull in the Cannonball music video, and I felt so bloody proud. Quickly after I  bought an awful 10W Park amplifier, and that’s basically how I experienced my first overdrive. The acoustic guitar was plugged into the amp and I would play alternative versions of smells like teen spirits, endlessly, until my parents told be to shut it down.
The funny thing is I learned years later that one of the reason why Cannonball sounds so special is that Kim Deal plugged her Seagull guitar in an amp in order to get this very specific distorted sound. I swear I didn’t know. But great minds think alike, right?

Anyway, I still play that guitar, and I never understood why this brand was not more popular. They are pretty cheap and sound awesome.

And the Breeders rock big time. I will never get tired of this band.

The Magic Blur

I left Blur a while ago, when I finished reading Alex James book « A bit of a Blur ». The band had exploded right in the middle of Think Tank’s recording sessions and it looked really gloomy. Damon and Graham’s relationship was such a struggle it seemed obvious fixing it would be the only key to any further Blur material.

When they reappeared in 2009 for a bunch of concerts I was wary. I thought their reunion looked genuine but I couldn’t understand why they would show off on such big stages. What was the purpose?  Although the media were getting all crazy about their comeback and the Hyde Park gigs, given the particular context, the band didn’t really made a fuss about it.
Damon kept telling the press he was not sure it would be followed by anything, and he implied the gigs were a desperate and unique attempt to work things out. It could as well be the end of it all. Of course, that was quite a tease. Everybody would want to go to the shows !
But yes, Graham and Damon finally had a chat after all these years, and felt like they could give it a try.
When you’re in a band, playing can sort a bunch of issues between egos. The thing is, those guys are not in a band, they are in Blur. One can easily understand how tricky it may be.

blur_old_1329915788_crop_550x400

As most european kids of my generation, britpop was my scene. In the nineties, it was the musical movement I adored. Blur, Elastica, or Sleeper were my favorites and they strongly influenced me. I watched MTV all day long and often went on holidays in London, Wales, or near Dublin to practice my english. I would usually spend all my pocket money in records, english music magazines or fish and chips.
Therefore, those bands were like older brothers and sisters. I watched them giving interviews, performing, and I followed their releases. They were part of my life. For some reason I thought I had a lot to learn from them and their songs, but I never really adopted a fan attitude. They were just doing the job I dreamed of, so I watched them tirelessly, trying to understand how it all worked.

Blur’s comeback was something I feared. But on the other hand, I knew the guys were smart enough, and wouldn’t reappear unless they had something valuable to share.
When the first pictures of the band working on new songs popped up on the internet I was surprised by how simple it all looked. All band members in the same room, small studio, in a total DIY atmosphere. The 30 minutes documentary that was released a few days after the release says just that : they needed to hide somewhere, jam, and it would eventually lead to a fine record. Graham obviously took the lead, and I believe that helped putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

The result is a great Blur record. It’s funny how the esthetics of it all -the cover, the chinese signs and artwork, and the songs themselves- contrast with the behind the scenes atmosphere. Mostly made of shitty iPad Videos of four guys working in a crappy studio… well, that’s not fancy at all ! Maybe fans were expecting something else, but it speaks for itself. All band members seem to be enjoying themselves and that’s all we needed to know.

I don’t want to write about the record itself. I am not a music critic. But I do like it and I think it’s a wonderful Blur record. It’s typical : great songwriting, nonchalant basslines and catchy guitar riffs with an elegant sound. Typical doesn’t mean it’s just another Blur record. It’s truly different, and there is a melancoly and solemnity about it that makes it really moving. Maybe it’s not the best record they’ve ever made, but it’s probably the most endearing one.
I feel my big brothers finally made up and it’s somehow heartwarming.

After ‘The Magic Whip’ finished spinning on my turntable, I was happy and wanted to hug those four guys and thank them for making pop music so bloody exciting.

bd67996a