Friday, 8 May 2009

Blur 'Charmless Man'

Chart Peak: 5


Yes, I've had to fetch the camera again to capture my original CD single of this. Alas it no longer has the gold sticker that sealed the case shut, but I think you can probably grasp the concept from here.

With all due respect to Bon Jovi (ahem) if you'd asked me in 1996 who my favourite band were, the answer would have been Blur. If any pop group ever changed my life, it was them: not only was the first record I ever bought one of theirs, but they introduced me to a lot of music that it might have taken me longer to find out about. There was certainly another rush down to the shop after school when The Great Escape came out.

My own teenage life aside, this was the fourth and final single from that album, and in retrospect seems like the end of an era for Blur. When they played the singles tour in 1999, they took a break after this song. Even listening to the three low-budget B-sides (one of which is even called 'A Song') seems like a trail for the next album; but of course those B-sides aren't on this album so I should probably get round to the point. And the point is that 'Charmless Man' is no less than a great pop record, whether Blur care to admit it or not. They may have been right to feel that there was no further to go in this direction, but that's really because this is the peak of a particular style. It's a Ray-Davies-styled character sketch of an unappealing upper-class twit with a cocaine habit ("He talks at speed/He gets nose bleeds"), the sort of person Damon Albarn must have met a lot of at this time, and possibly even feared becoming; I wonder how Alex James might have felt about it. As with so many great records, the bitterness is blended with the sugar-rush of pure pop, something that Blur seem to have been able to do much more convincingly than a lot of other art-school types, and abetted by the seamless production of Stephen Street. There's even a hook outside the chorus, when the first verse strips down to Albarn's single-finger piano.

The video is quite funny too, and possibly intended as a swipe at the stardom they were beginning to dislike. In fact, it's only the lead vocal that I could single out as a weak point, and that's when I go looking for flaws. I'm glad they chose to draw a line under this record, because a longer career of this sort of thing would have become annoying - but this still stands as a classic of its time.

Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 32, 33, 36, 37, 42, 43
Available on: Gift Pack 2CD+DVD

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