'The Universal' made No.5 in November 1995 as the follow-up to 'Country House'... Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave have already recorded another Top 10 success in 1996 with 'Stereotypes' - their 7th consecutive UK Top 20 single.
The lyric paints an insidious dystopia, made all the creepier by the promising tone it has: it's not the song of a fascist threatening the populace, nor of the victims protesting, but the sound of false reassurance, of a world where people have effectively chosen to be trapped. You'll doubtless find plenty of conspiracy theorists and political extremists who'll claim that Albarn was being hugely prescient about the 21st century, but I prefer to think that he's looking at a more fundamental element of the human condition, and our natural desire for pampering and hedonism (remember what Alex James was shoving up his nose and down his throat at the time) and for somebody else to take responsibility. I don't know whether some of the odd scansion is an intentional part of the unsettling effect (for what it's worth, on the live radio session on the second CD, he gets the "tomorrow's your lucky day" part slightly wrong) but his deadpan delivery certainly is, as is Graham Coxon's understated guitar playing. In fact the only thing seriously wrong with this is that they whored it out to those gas adverts. They can't need the money, surely?
Also appearing on: Now 28, 29, 33, 34, 36, 37, 42, 43
Available on: The Great Escape (Special Edition)