In the week of August 14, 1995 Blur's 'Country House' was bought by nearly 300,000 people - one of the biggest first week sales ever on a single in Britain... Inevitably it entered the chart at No. 1.A pedant might point out that probably rather fewer people than that bought it as there were multiple formats available. At the time, though, I resolutely refused to multibuy and made do with the second CD of live tracks; I had this idea that I'd bought a second hand copy of the other CD several years later but if I did I can't find it now. That sales figure also accounted for sales of the cassette single but not the 7", which was issued a couple of weeks later and reached the Top 75 in its own right.
'Country House' is the first upbeat-sounding track on this side of the album at least, if only musically. It certainly makes its appearance known quickly, with a thunderstorm of percussion before the brass section comes in, a batch of guitars hammer out the familiar riff and Damon Albarn supplies an almost music-hall like introduction of "So the story begins..." It was certainly these elements of the track that attracted the most attention at the time, as well as other touches like that "Balzac"/"Prozac" rhyme and Damien Hirst's must-have-seemed-a-good-idea-at-the-time video to give the impression that this was something of a comedy song. What was less remarked upon by people who didn't like it (and, I daresay, by many who did) was the darkness of the lyrical content, which is somewhat of a kind with the preceding Pulp song - there's that shared theme of attempted escapes which only lead to disappointment; the major difference being that this song is in the third person and has much less sympathy for the attempted fugitive (there are of course many theories as to who it might have been inspired by). In fact, the use of japery to sneak in this sort of bleakness is quite reminiscent of mid-period Madness, via their mutual influences and I can imagine this slotting onto The Rise And Fall.
I remember an interview in the NME at the end of the year when the band already seemed to be starting to distance themselves from this record to varying degrees, and Albarn claimed that this had only turned into an upbeat song in the studio, which I can well believe: some trace of what might have been its original incarnation survives in the middle section ("blow me out, I am so sad, I don't know why"). Unsurprisingly, the most openly dismissive member was Graham Coxon, who almost seems to be trying to subvert this song with the unconventional guitar solo which sounds like the the sort of anti-solo Andy Partridge used to do on XTC singles. And after a couple of paragraphs of defending the song, I have to admit that I don't entirely blame them for wanting to move away from this. Even at the time, I was conscious that they were having their biggest hit with what wasn't their best material, and time and over-familiarity haven't been entirely kind to it. In fact, controversial as it may be, I think 'Charmless Man' has aged better. Still, there's a lot more to it than initially meets the ear, and I don't think I'll ever dislike this record.
Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 33, 34, 36, 37, 42, 43
Available on: The Best of Blur