Under the Covers with Britpop – Part #1, BLUR

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The cover version…an opportunity for a band, or artist, to pay homage to an inspiration or an easy way to get radio plays as you plough your way, note for note, through a rendition of a song that people already like but, and this is where you can prove you really are a creative artist in your own right, you bung in a rap bit to make the song “relevant” to a modern audience.  Thanks to the cynical, heartless, profit before art, agenda of “X-Factor” the cover version is now dead as a form of creative expression.  That’s a shame because sometimes, and it really is only sometimes, a band or artist delivers a cover version that takes the original song into strange new places or brings attention to a song, or artist, that people might not have known without it.  Some cover versions are sublime and are even some of my preferred versions of classic songs…Patti Smith has been covering “My Generation” by The Who for decades and it is, without any doubt, the definitive version of the song, filled with righteous anger of the sort that drove Jesus to drive the money lenders from the Temple or Kong to bellow from atop the Empire State Building; it’s just perfect.

It isn’t always a good idea for a band to cover other artists of course, it can often lead to moments of musical misfiring that make a grown-up blush.  Some of the bands who define the Britpop era of the nineties UK music scene were not averse to a cover version and they could be magnificent or, well, utterly dreadful.  Shall we sort the wheat from the chaff?

Blur have a back catalogue that could stand shoulder to shoulder with any of their peers and most of their inspirations but their forays into cover versions were, at best, unsatisfying.  Take “Daisy Bell” from the Modern Life is Rubbish era, a b-side to “Sunday Sunday” which was itself a really tepid slice of music hall, a tired attempt at mimicking The Kinks.  “Daisy Bell” is the worst sort of twee.  Possibly it is the height of Albarn’s mockneyist tendencies, the sort of grizzly “cor blimey, Engerlund, wotcher, pie and mash” nonsense that the liberal intelligentsia (or The Guardian and The Quietus to give them their proper names) like to use to describe Britpop as xenophobic and worse.

Their attempts at covering songs from their inspirations were no less anaemic with Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” and The Who classic “Substitute” all sounding rushed, poorly thought out and delivered for no other reason than they thought they should.  My guess, and it is only that, is that these things were Albarn’s ideas and that Coxon, much like Johnny Marr when Morrissey started covering Cilla Black songs, was sat in a corner of the studio quietly weeping.  I could be wrong.  I doubt I am.  Only their drunken bellowing through “When Will We Be Married” by The Waterboys in “Star Shaped” is anything more than flimsy.

Perhaps the best of the Blur cover versions is the one that never actually happened in any meaningful sense…the Postman Pat Theme.  When Damon finds himself in the Hell of a motorway service station in “Star Shaped” and stumbles across a child’s ride…

This could have been something genuinely wonderful.

Lyrically it is so much better than something like the aforementioned “Sunday Sunday”, a wonderful stroll through the sort of England that so inspired “Modern Life is Rubbish”; like something from “Village Green…” or “Arthur” by The Kinks.  I can hear it in my head, a woozy, oily water of a song with Albarn mumbling about birds singing, days just beginning, letters falling through the door and, in Pat, the sort of character that Albarn has always had populate his songs.

There is still time of course, perhaps for the 25th anniversary release of “The Great Escape” we could jettison “Ernold Same” and drop in a cover of the Postman Pat theme song…someone get me Damon Albarn’s number.