“Leisure” was a calling card, a mess of sounds, a mass of experiments and, at times, a little miracle of pop music.
“Modern Life is Rubbish” was a pop-cultural manifesto, a statement of intent, a coruscating, white light, white heat of a record that changed the musical landscape and gave birth to Britpop.
“Parklife” was the big hit, the pop record, the stab at being stars…and it succeeded, elevating the band from indie kids to genuine Smash Hits, posters on the walls, swooning girls, cooing boys, pop band.
“The Great Escape” came too soon. A premature attempt to capitalise on their moment at the toppermost of the charts. A curious mix of good ideas poorly executed, dreadful ideas that were brilliantly successful and magnesium flares of good ideas done well…flashes of light in the darkness.
“Blur” was the sound of a band ready to stake their claim to being one of the greats, a new sound, new sounds, looking outwards, more collaborative. Four note perfect singles. Grown up and mature but with moments of childlike, punk, pop brilliance…hello “Song 2”. Their finest moment to date? Not for me…that honour remains with “Modern Life is Rubbish”…but it comes a close second.
According to Yazz the only way is up…but I’m not sure that’s always true.
Their next album, “13”, was released at the start of 1999 and the myriad highs of the Britpop party were now little more than half-remembered memories.
Tender – 22nd February 1999
(Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats)
“One writes of scars healed, a loose parallel to the pathology of the skin, but there is no such thing in the life of an individual. There are open wounds, shrunk sometimes to the size of a pin-prick but wounds still. The marks of suffering are more comparable to the loss of a finger, or of the sight of an eye. We may not miss them, either, for one minute in a year, but if we should there is nothing to be done about it.”
(“Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Drawing its name, and a core element of its lyric, from the novel “Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald which, in turn, took its name from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats suggests that Damon Albarn had turned his attention completely away from the insular inspirations of contemporary pop culture and towards something deeper, more poetic and more grand.
It is a love song.
Pure and simple.
It starts with a faint, wonky, half heard guitar seemingly recorded in about 1913 before building, slowly…oh so slowly…and perfectly into a grand, Gospel soaked, heavenly hymn to her.
The whole thing just sounds like the only love song you would ever want.
It sits, quite comfortably, alongside “Into my Arms” by Nick Cave as one of the most gorgeous, beautiful, heartbreaking, love songs of all time.
When Albarn sings about finding someone to heal his mind everyone who has been hurt, betrayed, lied to and bruised by what they thought was love gets it instantly. It isn’t your hear that is broken when you suffer heartbreak. It is your mind. The circular thinking. The constant worry that even if they didn’t really love you…at least they were, you know, there. Nobody else could ever not love you like they didn’t love you. Daydreams of loneliness. Visions of alone. Nightmares of empty beds and meals for one. Your heart keeps beating, the blood keeps pumping…but your mind is stuck in a loop, caught in a trap.
Then when you find somebody who puts a stop to all of that…love’s the greatest thing.
Everybody needs somebody.
Somebody to love.
And to love them.
You’re perfectly happy on your own.
You don’t need somebody else to “complete” you.
You prefer your own company.
We are all delighted for you.
Some of us have a yearning, a burning, inside of us…for L.O.V.E, love.
“Er, actually, the whole idea of romantic love is an artificial construct. It’s a lie marketed to us so that the powers that be can, like, control us. Also, monogamy is just such bullshit, yeah?”
Goodness, those people are tiresome.
Look, all I am saying is that I have been in love and I have been out of love.
I’ve been hurt and I’ve done the hurting.
I’ve been lied to and I’ve lied.
I’ve been alone and I’ve been with.
I prefer with.
I prefer honesty.
I prefer soothing, healing and comforting.
The first thing I noticed about the greatest love I’ve ever known was how much she laughed. The second thing I noticed about the greatest love I’ve ever known was how the demons of my past just…disappeared, whenever I was with her. The third thing I noticed about the greatest love I’ve ever known was how she healed me when I was screwing up my life.
Then I noticed that she made my tummy go all funny.
When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there was no such thing as scars being healed in the life of an individual he was being clever, or arch…unless he had never been in love. Because when you are waiting for the night to come, when love arrives…all the scars are healed, all the wounds are closed and the pain is gone.
I think Damon knew that.
Like a hymn “Tender” brings people together.
It is simple.
Listen to the crowd in this footage from Glastonbury in 2009…voices raised, hearts soaring, minds healed. Whatever was troubling them…gone, gone, gone, over the course of seven minutes of communal singing.
Love is the drug.