Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Classic Albums No.11: Modern Life Is Rubbish

There is a theory, that if the first album you buy by a particular artiste is not their debut album, then this could be for one of two reasons. One, is that you for some reason had never heard of said artiste before. The other, is that it is only now that they have done something that has impressed you enough to make you splash the cash.

I have a tendency to sometimes hear a record by somebody, think “oh, I quite like that”, and then manage to not buy any of their records for years. If at all. I seem to recall liking a Fu Manchu video I saw on MTV in 2002, and then promptly did nothing about it. This is either sheer laziness, or the fear that, as a record collector, once I have bought a record by this artiste, that this will automatically result in a number of “required records” having to be added to my already sizeable hit list. For those of you yet to discover The Fall, for example, when it happens, it will take you forever to get their back catalogue.

I do remember quite liking “There’s No Other Way” by Blur when it came out in 1991, probably because it’s shuffling rhythms made it sound like bands I already liked at the time, such as The Charlatans. But I didn’t rush out to buy it, nor the subsequent LP it appeared upon, Blur‘s debut album “Leisure“.

But by 1994, Blur were fast becoming one of the biggest bands not just in the world of indie-rock, but in the UK in general. “Parklife” had been a critical and commercial success, and by the end of the year, they were headlining the likes of Alexandra Palace. Once a band becomes that popular, it’s generally expected that you have to have an opinion on them - do you love them, or do you hate them? You have to decide, you can’t sit on the fence anymore.

My brother bought this album on Cassette. Having expressed a fondness for them, he told me that I would like this record, and made me a copy - he even photocopied the inlay so I had a replica of the original artwork, albeit in black and white. And I did like it. What impressed me about “Parklife” was that it was not an album of nothing but potential hit singles in waiting, but seemed quite diverse and experimental at times. The “oom pah” instrumental stomp of “The Debt Collector”, the Syd-era Pink Floyd-isms of “Far Out”, I had hated “Girls & Boys” when I first heard it, but I began to appreciate it’s oddball Human League meets Elvis Costello meets Sparks hybrid sound.

I finally got round to buying my own copy of “Parklife” years later, but before then, it was the 1995 follow up, the now much maligned “The Great Escape”, that was the first Blur album I bought when it was first released. At around about the same time, maybe before, maybe just after, I went back and completed the set by buying 1991’s “Leisure” and 1993’s “Modern Life Is Rubbish”. I am not quite sure exactly when it happened, but at some point, I realised that the latter was quite possibly Blur’s masterpiece, and that the adoration that got heaped onto “Parklife” was probably a year too late.

“Modern Life Is Rubbish”, effectively, did everything that “Parklife” did, but with less “nudge nudge wink wink” behaviour, and with more punk rock guitars. Like the oddball mini-instrumental “Lot 105” that closes “Parklife”? Well, “Commercial Break” and “Intermission” got there first. Love the hyper punk rock thrash of “Bank Holiday”? Then check out “Advert”. Fascinated by the Britpop “sound” of “Badhead” and character study of “Track Jacks”? Then try “For Tomorrow” and “Colin Zeal”. “Parklife” is possibly a better record, because it smoothes down the rough edges of it’s predecessor, but “Modern Life” is important because it set up the rest of the band’s career. When “The Great Escape” came out, it was described by somebody as the final part of their “Britpop Trilogy”, thus ensuring that “Modern Life” was seen as the starting point for the rest of the band’s lifetime.

What I love about this album is that it does, quite successfully, show you the two sides to the band that more or less defined everything they did up until “Think Tank“. On one hand, the punky, guitar driven noise that was explored on “Coping” and “Oily Water” would later be used as the template for 1997’s “Blur”, on the other, the more “Britpop” mainstream sound on the likes of “Chemical World” or “Sunday Sunday” would inform huge chunks of the two albums that followed. Without this album, it’s difficult to know if Blur would have become the band they are today.

The record is made even more fascinating, by the fact that it was rejected by the record label not once, but twice. There are reasons for this of course, which you may or may not agree with, but it simply makes the success of this record even more to cherish. Out of adversity comes a story of triumph. OK, so whilst the current sight of the band trawling the festival circuit playing more or less nothing but the hits with no new album on the horizon is a bit "easy target" and a tad depressing, you can’t fully blame this on the break through into the mainstream that “Modern Life” more or less succeeded in doing - or at least opened the doors for them to run through. A good album is a good album, and if it eventually results in said band becoming stadium filling rock stars, then that’s the way it is. And yet at one point, “Modern Life Is Rubbish” was seemingly on the verge of not being released at all.

Let’s rewind a bit to 1991. In August of that year, two days after Nirvana’s famous Saturday lunchtime Reading Festival show showed the rumblings of Grunge about to go overground, Blur released their debut album “Leisure”. It was the recipient of mixed reviews, some critics seeing it as a worthy addition to the Baggy/Madchester scene being led by the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets & friends, others saw it as a pointless and underwhelming addition to the genre. The band themselves expressed a certain discomfort with the album, the suggestion being that the label had specifically asked for the likes of “Bang” to be recorded for the album, thus increasing the amount of “Baggy” material that was on the record, and thus the likelihood of success. But Blur seemed far happier with some of the noisier material that was being tossed away as B-sides, or lost in the middle of the album (such as the shoegazing growl of “Slow Down”), and more or less disowned the album.

In late 91, the band recorded a chunk of demos with producer John Smith, as start of preliminary work on a second album. The band were so impressed with what they recorded, that much of the material was deemed good enough to be released officially, without any attempts at re-recording the demos professionally. The first material to surface from this session was when “Oily Water” turned up on the “Volume 2” compilation album. As the title suggests, this was the second release by a ground breaking magazine/CD called “Volume”. Each issue came housed in a thick digipack sleeve, with a booklet featuring articles and interviews with all the bands featured on the CD. “Oily Water” was deemed so important, that not only was it lined up for inclusion on the abandoned version of “Modern Life”, but it eventually appeared on the released version from 1993, where the original “Volume 2” demo mix was included in unblemished form.

At the tail end of the year, another compilation provided the home for another one of the demos, when “Resigned” appeared on the “Food Christmas Party Tape”. It was one of two Blur tracks to be making their debut here, as the cassette also included a previously unreleased remix of “Leisure” album track “High Cool”. Even though, again, this version of “Resigned” was the exact same one that would later re-emerge on “Modern Life”, the cassette remains of some interest because the remix of “High Cool” has never resurfaced. But it’s perhaps telling that although, from a collectors point of view, it is that mix of “High Cool” that gets people excited, from a musical viewpoint, “Resigned” was a far greater indicator of where the band were heading.

December 1991 saw the band head into the studio with John Smith again to record more new songs in “non demo“ form, including the re-recording of one of the tracks originally taped at the demo session, “My Ark”. The sessions continued into January the following year, with “Into Another” also the subject of a re-recording of one of the old demo tracks. By the end of the sessions, the band had ditched some of the tracks from the original demo session (“I Love Her” and “Turn It Up”), material from the first Smith session (“Beachcoma”, “Miss America”, “Colin Zeal” and “Seven Days”) but a projected album was now being pieced together. According to the excellent “Veikko’s Blur Page” (who has been very helpful in the creation of this article, thanks Veikko!), the running order was to be:

Intermission/Oily Water/Mace/Badgeman Brown/Popscene/Resigned/Garden Central/Hanging Over/Into Another/Peach/Bone Bag/Never Clever/Coping/My Ark/Pressure On Julian/Commercial Break.

The album was presented to Food Records, only for them to turn it down. Given that many of these songs later trickled out on compilations and B-sides, many of you may be familiar with these songs, and if you are, you may or may not agree with me when I say you can see why Food rejected the album. A lot of the songs are quite awkward, angular affairs - don’t get me wrong, I like “Hanging Over” and “Into Another” but both sounded as though they had been recorded when Graham was using a guitar with faulty strings, whilst Damon’s vocals are either channelling Syd Barrett or are simply out of tune - take your pick. Food secretly wanted Blur to “do a Nirvana” and as this record was not “Nevermind Part 2”, the record was subsequently ditched. Things were about to go from bad to worse. Enter “The Wilderness Years”.

With the second album deemed to be “not up to scratch”, the band were sent back into the studio to try and record (or re-record) material worthy of release. A session with Steve Lovell in February 92 resulted in revamps of “Popscene” and “Turn It Up”, the latter being recorded - again - seemingly at Food’s request on the basis that it would help the album do well in America. “Popscene” was soon being touted as the band’s next single, a very early preview of the - at the time - completely unfinished second LP. During April, the band played four “new” songs for BBC Radio 1’s “Evening Session” - “Into Another”, “Hanging Over”, “Colin Zeal” and “Seven Days”, suggesting that despite Food’s belief that the planned album was unsuitable, some songs were still being considered for the record, either in re-recorded form or in their original versions. This session is now viewed with a great deal of interest, because although three of the four songs would appear in 1993 either on the album or as B-sides, “Seven Days” would not. The song would not see the light of day until it appeared in 2000 on the flip of “Music Is My Radar” - and it was the actual BBC recording that was used there as well.

By this point, it had dawned on the band that due to some financial disasters, the band were more or less broke. A lengthy 6-week US tour was scheduled for May and June in an attempt to try and recoup some losses, by which time “Popscene” had been released as the next single. Three tracks from the “abandoned” album were resurrected for use as B-sides, with “Mace” appearing on all formats, “Badgeman Brown” on the CD and “Garden Central” on the 12”. A self produced track, “I’m Fine”, was also included on the 12”, which seemed to date from the 1991 Demo session.

The band were proud of the single. It was a major leap forward from the “baggy” sound of the earlier 45’s, with a zingy Coxon guitar line, and a vibrant energy throughout. It was a noisy bugger of a record, and although it seemed to pre-date the Pavement-apeing sound of the 1997 self titled LP (the band were touring with Dinosaur Jr at the same time the single was released), it later got described - inaccurately, IMO - as the first ever “Britpop” single. This may come from the fact that Albarn himself later described it as a very British single, I guess the Madness sounding horn section was the reason for this statement.

Despite the multi formatting madness, requiring completists to have to buy the single on both 12” and CD to get all the “new” songs, (Blur had always been issuing their singles on multiple formats with variant tracklistings since day 1), it didn’t do the trick chartwise. “Popscene” charted at number 32, lower than the much despised “Bang”. This left the band feeling slightly bemused. The label, at some point, lost interest in the band again, and apparently, plans to release “Never Clever” as the next single (another survivor from the 1991 Demo Session) were abandoned due to “lack of public interest”. Although “Never Clever” remained in the Blur live set, it would fail to make it onto the final version of “Modern Life”, instead turning up - with “Popscene” - on the 1997 “Food 100” compilation LP.

With this sound of (relative) failure ringing in their ears, the US tour simply made matters worse. Blur had toured the country before, and had enjoyed the experience, but this time around it was different. Grunge had now gone fully overground, and Blur found themselves touring the country that had invented it, whilst promoting a now archaic sounding LP (“Leisure”, technically, was still their new album) which they didn’t particularly like. The setlists of the time revealed what their opinion of the record was, with much of the set consisting of material planned for inclusion on the not-yet-released follow up, vinyl only B-sides like “Won’t Do It” and “Day Upon Day” appearing in preference to some of the “baggy” stuff, with the likes of “Bang” conspicuous by their absence. Americans just didn’t seem to care much for Blur, and the group found themselves playing to half full, disinterested crowds, which began to instil a sense of “Anti American” feeling within the group. Albarn, becoming homesick as the tour went on, began to write new songs that had a real “British” vibe to them, a combination of his anti-USA attitude being reinforced by listening to a tape of The Kinks that was on the group’s tour bus. In a similar way to how The Jam reinvented themselves circa “All Mod Cons”, Albarn’s new songs were influenced by Ray Davies’ own view of ’Englishness’.

Once the US tour was over, the band did not immediately reinvent themselves. Yes, Albarn was now wearing a mod-style suit, but instead, they still seemed bruised and battered by the experience, and were on something of a self destructive streak. They played a now famous Glastonbury Festival show in June, a slightly chaotic, alcohol induced, middle-of-the-bill but energetic 50 minute set - a far cry from the sleek show they put on nowadays - a PA module landed on Damon‘s foot during the ramshackle set closer, “Day Upon Day“. On 23rd July, the band played a gig that was to become the turning point of their career, a charity gig for the “Gimme Shelter” organisation at London’s Town And Country Club. You have probably heard about it. Bright young Britpop things Suede were on first, whilst Blur, still seemingly in an alcohol induced stupor, played what is regarded as either their greatest ever gig - or their worst. Band members kept falling over, Albarn advised the crowd to go home the minute he came onstage because the band were likely to be “rubbish” (or words to that effect), and true to his word, according to eye witness reports, it was a near shambles. The band survived long enough to play the full set, but the label were worried, and the band were warned that they needed to buck up their ideas. Albarn later apologised for the “awful” show they put on. Suede had blown them off stage without even trying, and the music press loved them and now hated Blur. Although at this point, it is easy to look at Blur as being “just another indie band”, Albarn had greater ambitions, and seemed to take the advice to heart. In August, attempts at recording new material for the second album started again.

For this session, the band worked with XTC’s Andy Partridge. An attempt at re-recording “Seven Days” was conducted, along with stabs at new songs written on the US tour - “Sunday Sunday” and “Coping”. However, the band were unhappy with the session, feeling that Partridge had successfully made them sound like Blur, but that this was exactly what they didn’t want. Another session with Steve Lovell in October spawned “Villa Rosie” and a re-recorded “Sunday Sunday”, but progress was still slow.

A chance meeting with Stephen Street, who had worked with the band previously, was the catalyst for the album really starting to take shape. The resultant sessions saw a number of older songs being re-attempted (“Colin Zeal”, “Coping”, “Pressure On Julian” and, at the behest of the label again I do believe, “Turn It Up”) along with a number of other new recordings. Several songs from the original Demo/John Smith sessions were still being held over for inclusion on the album, whilst some of the new songs would later only surface as B-sides (“Magpie” and “When The Cows Come Home”). “Magpie”, in the end, would see the light of day when it appeared on the flip of 1994’s “Girls & Boys”, and would be revealed as just one of numerous songs demoed during 1992, which would take some time to surface officially, including others such as “1992” and “Pap Pop”.

A completed version of the album, consisting of 14 songs, was presented to Food at the end of 1992. Unless I am very much mistaken, this was the “new” track listing of the second album, which bore little resemblance to the originally planned second record:

Intermission/Advert/Colin Zeal/Pressure On Julian/Starshaped/Blue Jeans/Sunday Sunday/Oily Water/Miss America/Villa Rosie/Coping/Turn It Up/Resigned/Commercial Break.

“Popscene” was deliberately left off the record, the band believing that as the single had sold in such meagre numbers, that their fans did not “want it” or did not really “deserve” it. “Intermission” and “Commercial Break” were originally recorded under the working titles of “Intro” and “Outro”, I understand they were to appear here at the start and end respectively, but in the end, they were slotted in at the end of side 1 and side 2 instead. As regards the “new” version of the album, half of the LP dated from the recent Street sessions. The exceptions were the previously discussed “Oily Water” and “Resigned”, “Villa Rosie“ and “Sunday Sunday“ from the late 92 Lovell session, “Intermission” and “Commercial Break” from the 1992 Smith session, and “Miss America” from the 1991 Smith Session, ditched from the original track listing but suddenly back in vogue.

Trouble was, Food were still unimpressed, claiming the album lacked “hardly any singles”. Albarn responded to this by writing more material during Christmas 1992, “One Born Every Minute” (eventually recorded and released as a 1995 b-side) and “For Tomorrow”. Another track that had been demoed and then shelved, “Chemical World”, was also chosen as a contender for the record, and both this and “For Tomorrow” were recorded by Street in early 93, along with a proper version of “When the Cows Come Home” and another future B-side, “Young And Lovely“. Even then, the band’s US label, SBK, didn’t like the mix of “Chemical World”, but did like the demo version that the band offered them instead. Other bonus tracks were tagged on as well in the US, especially on the CD editions, including “Popscene“. And so, with “For Tomorrow” placed at the start, “Chemical World” on side 1 before “Intermission”, with the US version playing the demo mix instead (later released, curiously, as “Chemical World (Reworked)” in the UK as an alternate A-side, when it was the UK LP version that was actually the ’reworked’ take), “Modern Life Is Rubbish” was finally complete, some 18 months after work had started on it.

“Modern Life” was not the enormous-selling hit that Food might have liked, but it did seem to shake off the ghost of “Leisure”. It charted at number 15, Blur’s only studio album to not dent the top 10, whilst all three singles charted inside the top 30 - but none higher than “Bang”. But the band were proud of it, Food’s concerns of the band releasing a “British” album generally proved unfounded as critics showed a great deal of love for the record. The Britishness theme was extended to the painting of the steam locomotive that adorned the front cover, and an image of the band on a London tube train inside.

A sizeable chunk of non-album material was issued across the three singles that followed, helped by some more over-zealous multi formatting games by the label. “For Tomorrow” saw the inclusion of four tracks from the “abandoned“ version of the LP, namely “Into Another”, “Hanging Over”, “Peach” and “Bone Bag”, whilst “Beachcoma” was lifted from the vaults for inclusion on the second CD edition along with “When The Cows Come Home”. “Chemical World” came backed with “Young And Lovely” and another relic from the abandoned LP, “My Ark”, along with a new b-side taped in the summer of 1993, “Es Schmecht”. 7” copies featured a cover of “Maggie May”, taped in 1992 for the NME “Ruby Trax” covers album. CD1 replaced the single edit of the A-side with the “reworked” demo version, and was padded out with three live tracks from the Glastonbury show - “Come Together”, the at-the-time-new song “Pressure On Julian” and the single-that-never-was “Never Clever”, which at the time of the Glasto show, was already generally considered to have been already ditched as a potential 45 by Food. It’s inclusion on this single was, until the studio mix appeared on “Food 100”, the only place this track could officially be found.

For “Sunday Sunday”, the b-side machine went into overdrive, with exclusive material on every one of the four formats. With the original second album session vaults nearly, but not quite, emptied, the band used alternate sources for flipsides. A number of unreleased tracks from the band’s pre-Food days, when they were still called Seymour, were spread across the 7”, 12” and CD editions, whilst a special “Popular Community Song” CD EP came backed with recently taped music hall standards “Let’s All Go Down The Strand” and “Daisy Bell”. The EP was originally planned to be released as a 4 track single, but Albarn “deleted” the other song, “For Old Times Sake”, seemingly by accident. The artwork on all of these singles seemed to tie in with either the theme of Britishness, or the Americanisation of British culture - a Spitfire plane on “For Tomorrow”, a sports car on “Chemical World”, and the “Victorian family” image alongside a mega Big Mac burger on “Sunday Sunday”.

So what of the album itself? Well, it really is a glorious piece of work. Moan all you like about record companies, but having Food “force” Damon into writing a single really worked when you consider that “For Tomorrow” came out of this demand, a beautiful piece of baroque pop, with the “choir” section in the middle eight being a piece of soaring musical perfection that lifts the song to an astonishing high. “Advert”, written as a response to the invasion of cable TV by the shopping channels, and consumerism in general, in response, is a far more scuzzy, growling, beast of a record, Britpop but through an effects pedal. “Colin Zeal” cackles with an edgy spark, anthemic choruses and key changes in just the right place. Indeed, it isn’t really until the chugging awkwardness of “Pressure on Julian” that you get the impression of how “odd” the original version of the album could have been. This is the first song on the released “Modern Life” that was intended for the original version, and you can hear the anti-baggy snarl the song exhibits quite clearly.

Conversely, “Starshaped” is glorious, a piece of catchy indie-pop that benefits greatly from those high pitched backing vocals, structure wise, it’s simple but brilliantly effective. “Blue Jeans” doesn’t quite hit the same glorious highs, but shuffles along pleasantly, all harmonium and Syd-style vocal inclinations. And “Chemical World” is magnificent, all crunching rhythms, booming drums, spiky guitar, and pure Britpop style observations (“peeping Thomas has a very nice view, across the street at the exhibitionist”). The following “Intermission”, starts off slowly with a rinky dink piano riff, then starts to build and build, speeding up as it goes, as Coxon unleashes his mighty guitar effects across it’s length and breadth. It’s brilliantly executed, a highly imaginative finish to an impressive first half.

Side 2 is just as good. The stomping thud in the verses of “Sunday Sunday” giving way to a wonky, Seymour-style “anti guitar” solo in the middle eight. “Oily Water” is shoegaze-era Blur at their best, the final section a monumental wall of sound which is never self indulgent, but is held together by Alex’s bass and Dave’s propulsive drums, the song never descending into chaos despite Graham’s guitar histrionics. Again, as almost if to prove a point, the following “Miss America” sounds very much like it’s a demo recording, all wobbly sounding instruments, and Damon’s vulnerable vocals muffling their way through the speakers, as he again heads down Barrett Way (“she no jellybean she’s a jemima ho ho”).

“Villa Rosie” starts off with some more warped Coxon effects, before settling into a slightly oddball piece of pop, a more spaced out “Starshaped”, whilst “Coping” spits and snarls with an aggressive sneer, driven along by some full on manic keyboard noises. And even though they may hate it, “Turn It Up” is certainly no worse, perhaps it’s even better, more “wall of sound” style production at the start with Coxon’s guitar filling the room whilst James’ bass keeps everything in check. It’s not cool to say so, but I love it.

“Resigned”, as one of the older tracks, has an air of “Leisure” about it, at least the more experimental side of the band from that time frame. Rowntree’s drums beat out a shuffly rhythm, the harmonium casts a strange spell across the song as Coxon‘s insistent guitar chops along, it all gives a feeling of desperation and sadness even before Albarn’s little boy lost vocals cut in - it’s a truly spellbinding piece of work that brings the album to a quite remarkable (nearly) end. “Commercial Break” is the more quirky of the two instrumentals, starting off like a band trying to get going in a rehearsal room, then breaking into a noisy and rampant Coxon led sprawl, feedback stumbling out of the speakers before it careers from a breakneck speed to a sudden, sharp, stop. And that’s it. 16 songs, just under an hour, and a record that barely puts a single foot wrong.

As part of Blur’s recent rehabilitation, “Modern Life” was reissued (as were all of the LP’s) in 2012, in newly expanded form. Of the seven studio records, it’s one of several that upon being reissued, offered nothing in the way of previously unreleased material, but instead uses it’s bonus disc to display the B-sides recorded during the period, and thus in this instance, gives you a sort of alternate version of the album - a “what might have been” situation. The second disc includes all of the relevant studio material from the period, in “release date” order. So you get the blistering “Popscene” and it’s attendant flipsides, including the warped rumble of “Badgeman Brown”, complete with it’s variants in tempo, structure and time signature. Radio edit mixes are excluded, but alternate versions are not completely ignored, so you get the extended “For Tomorrow” (but not the acoustic B-side retake) and the “reworked” “Chemical World”. All of the other B-sides of “For Tomorrow” are here, including the trumpet driven march of “When The Cows Come Home”, which could have slotted onto either side of “Parklife” with little problem. Most of the “Chemical World” flipsides are here, including the oddball strut of “Es Schmecht”, which sounds like a bizarre punchup between Squeeze, The Specials and Kraftwerk, and their charming take on “Maggie May”, which always sounded to me as though it was recorded whilst Damon was struggling to set his microphone up, his voice having a strange sort of strangulated effect, with the original mandolin driven Rod The Mod original now sounding like it was recorded in the most echoey room ever, Dave’s drums sounding like cannons going off.

Space constraints more or less stop things there - the other covers that were recorded at the time for compilation albums are sadly missing (“Oliver’s Army” and “Substitute”), whilst the historically important live tracks from Glastonbury are also absent. The reissue came housed in a special box, with a free booklet and art prints inside, with the two discs housed in a special cardboard “vinyl style” gatefold sleeve. At the same time, the band issued their “21” boxset which across it’s multiple discs, sheds some more light on the period. “I Love Her”, which remained unreleased for some time, later turned up as a fan club single and appears on the second disc of the expanded “Leisure” release. The recorded versions of “Magpie” and “One Born Every Minute” appear on the relevant second disc of their respective albums (“Parklife” and “The Great Escape”).

The boxset also includes two double disc “Rarities” albums, and more material related to the period appears here. There is no space, still, for any of the “Sunday Sunday” Seymour-period B-sides, but disc 1 of “Rarities 1” does include demo versions of a couple of songs which appeared in re-recorded form on the single, namely “Dizzy” and “Mixed Up”. Disc 2 of the same release deals with “Modern Life Is Rubbish” material, so you get the original 1991 demo of “Popscene”, an alternate version of “I Love Her”, an early version of “Turn It Up” when it was known as “Kazoo”, along with demos of “Julian”, “Colin Zeal”, “Sunday Sunday” and “Never Clever” - actually the same version that had appeared on the “Food 100” comp.

Also on here - the three songs taped with Andy Partridge, more demos of songs which made the album (“Advert”, “Starshaped”, “Blue Jeans”), more demos of songs which didn’t (“Beached Whale”, the aforementioned “Pap Pop”, “Death of A Party” - later issued as a fan club single) and the band’s infamous gig freebie single from 1992, “The Wassailing Song”. The disc ends with the original demos of “Magpie” and “Cows Come Home”, and a demo of “For Tomorrow”. Still no space for the acoustic B-side though, nor those Glasto performances. Even the “compilation album only“ live version of “Sunday Sunday“ from the same show (tossed away on the “In A Field Of Their Own“ mail order CD) fails to get an outing.

“Rarities 2” also includes material vaguely related to the period, although this is subtitled as being from the “Parklife And Great Escape” era, but there is a demo of “One Born Every Minute”, probably dating from 1993 rather than 1995. Nowhere to be found are the demos for the unreleased “Singular Charm”, “Pleasant Education” or the aforementioned “1992” - famously named after the year in which it was originally written, as opposed to when it was eventually released (1999) and also long seen as making vague references to the famous “Wilderness Years” would have been fascinating to hear a version of it from this period.

During the years that followed, material that would eventually appear on the major breakthrough record, “Parklife”, was trialled onstage, and a buzz began to surround the band, finally reaching it’s climax when the follow up to “Sunday Sunday”, “Girls & Boys”, stormed the upper reaches of the charts in 1994. This is a period that is quite fascinating, because here was a band playing the club circuit trying out unknown songs from an album that would shake the world of indie-rock to it’s core. But I still maintain that “Modern Life” deserves it’s place in history. Because without it, “Parklife” probably wouldn’t have happened. It has it all - shoegazeing guitar effects, early Pink Floyd mannerisms, brass instruments, slightly unhinged instrumentals, punk energy here, big Britpop style flourishes there, and in the case of the 2012 edition, a second edition of even more weird and wonderful strangeness. Listen to both discs one after the other, and it shows you just how open minded the band were in the period between the release of “Leisure” and the oncoming “Parklife”. It’s a brilliant record, very original, utterly clever, incredibly intelligent, exhilaratingly noisy at times, heartfelt, bruised, battered and tearful at others. Later Blur records may arguably have been better, but they usually concentrated on one or the other facets that made “Modern Life” so special - or in the case of “Think Tank”, decided it couldn’t be topped so avoided it’s influence altogether. Twenty years on, it still sounds glorious. “Parklife” may have turned Blur into superstars, but it was “Modern Life Is Rubbish” that really started it all.

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