Damon Albarn fairly splits opinion. On the one hand, the oikish mockney Cockney wiv an omnipresent Errol Flynn on his boat race, “Oi!, on the other the indie Sting, admirably keen to break out from the expected norm of Blur recordings, releases and tours by teaming up with the Chinese Ensemble, groovy cartoon characters, some of The Clash, the cream of Africa’s elite percussionists and, seemingly, anything else that takes his fancy. Not all of it works, but when it does, the results, such as the recordings he’s made with the elastic-limbed drummer Tony Allen or the West Coast meets East London stylings of his Gorillaz collaborations with Snoop Dogg can be spectacular.
With Blur seemingly no more, it’s as good a time as any to reappraise Music Is My Radar, their 2000 single released ahead of and solely for the purposes of promoting their Best Of album from the same year. Like all the best singles bands – of which Blur are undoubtedly one – Music Is My Radar stands alone as a single without a parent album, save that hits compilation. As such, it’s almost the great lost Blur tune, despite its blink-and-you’ve-missed-it appearance at 10 on yer actual hit parade.
It’s quite the tune, bridging the gap between Pop Blur and Art Blur. The skittering drums and paranoid locked-in groove mooch in like the long lost cousin of early Talking Heads while Graham Coxon’s guitar alternates between oriental expressionist and foodblender set to spin, given free reign to colour the whole thing as he sees fit.
Blur – Music Is My Radar
Damon’s vocals are double, triple tracked, conjuring up melodies and counter melodies that breeze across the top. His repetitive ‘Aah! Don’t stop me!‘ and ‘Do-do-dooh‘ refrains burrow deep into the ear and settle in the frontal lobes to be called up and played on repeat at will. He adds a line namechecking the aforementioned Nigerian Tony Allen – ‘He really got me dancin’, he really got me dancin’,’ yet beneath the surface there’s enough interesting stuff bubbling to keep even the most ardent of anti-commercial indie purist happy.
Nagging wee keyboard refrains jump in and out when least expected, save you were planning on nodding off to the noodling groove. Extra guitar lines weave their way like needles creating the freefrom pattern on one of those Fair Isle sweaters that Sarah Lund wore in The Killing. It’s the bassline though that hits hardest.
That lanky, wanky, foppish twit that plays bass wanders up and down the frets, apeing the guitar line here and there but mainly driving the whole thing forwards with unfaltering purpose and groovy swagger. He fairly surpasses himself and without the bass player on this form, Music Is My Radar may well have been a sloppy, unravelling mess, a bowl of musical spaghetti in need of some glue to hold it together. The cheese maker is that glue, commiting to record his finest four minutes in a Blur shirt.
Interestingly, the released version was shortened from Squeezebox, the original 6 minutes + demo.
Blur – Squeezebox (Music Is My Radar demo)
Probably the correct choice as this version tends to wander aimlessly up a blind alley occassionally. Just shows what a good producer (Ben Hillier on the single version) can do for a band, turning a meh track into a killer single.
The b-side to the single – actually track 2 on CD1, as was the fashion at the time, is a really great tune, with loads of crackin’ Coxon guitar lines, electric piano and a gospel choir on the chorus, coming in at a lengthy and bluesy 8 and a half minutes. Jason Pierce would kill for a track like this.
Blur – Black Book
Blur b-sides tended to be crappy, experimental, half-arsed demos or unnecessary wonky, skronky remixes. Black Book is neither, a bona fide lost classic in a back catalogue littered with rubbish. Great singles band though.