the red penguin

Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish

I’m writing this exactly 30 years to the day after its release and I’m trying to remember exactly how large an impact this album had on my life back then.

It harks back to a very specific “English” sound, influenced heavily by the Kinks and Syd-era Pink Floyd. But this wasn’t the kind of music I was listening to at that time.

I was listening to a lot of different stuff at this time – undoubtedly Carter USM was my flavour of the month, having seen them 3 times live in the last 12 months, which was a lot for me.

I was also listening to the Frank and Walters, the Sultans of Ping, the Manic Street Preachers, Pop Will Eat Itself, Thousand Yard Stare, Billy Bragg, They Might Be Giants.

I was even obsessed with the Barenaked Ladies’ current album “Gordon”, probably because I’d just had my honeymoon in Toronto and we loved it there.

Looking back there’s a lot of variety there, but it was all “indie music”, all part of the same scene for me.

I was an avid reader of the NME and Melody Maker, never missing an edition. The music press seemed to simultaneously champion and hate every band they featured. I loved There’s No Other Way, I read 18 months of articles about how Blur had squandered their talent and lost their musical way, but then noticed a buzz over Popscene and For Tomorrow.

And then the album came out and I genuinely saw the light.

The music and lyrical subjects reflect a changing period in my own life – getting married, looking to buy a house, maybe have kids, looking to move out of Romford where I’d lived all my life for a slightly bigger house in the country.

Whenever I hear Graham Coxon’s fuzzed up guitar over Chemical World or Oily Water, or the horn section on Sunday Sunday or the Visit to Primrose Hill extended mix of For Tomorrow, then suddenly I’m driving around the back roads from Billericay to Chelmsford and beyond, exploring a country I hadn’t really bothered to look for before.

I’m not one of these people who goes on Facebook pages moaning that “things were better years ago”. They weren’t – can you imagine living in 1993 again without social media, without amazing phones and cameras, without being able to watch or listen to what you want, when you want?

Yet I can listen to Miss America, Coping or Villa Rosie, close my eyes and suddenly I’m a 20-something making my way in the world again and everything is good.

The album’s title derives from stencilled graffiti painted along Bayswater Road in London, created by an anarchist group. (Thanks, Wikipedia). I remember this group writing to either the NME or Melody Maker, moaning about the band and their appropriation of their slogan, ending the letter with words along the lines of “see you in the bargain bin, losers”.

I remember thinking that if they really were anarchists, they would have loved this reappropriation, surely? I probably remembered it for so long because it was a prediction that went stale very quickly.

The painting of the steam locomotive Mallard on the album cover was a stock image that Stylorouge — Blur’s design consultants — obtained from a photo library in Halifax. According to Design Week magazine, the painting by Paul Gribble “evoked the feel of a Just William schoolboy’s pre-war Britain”.

This feeling filters through to the music, and despite me being the opposite of a middle-aged right-wing-obsessed little Englander, it’s an emotion I have a lot of time for. This may be why British Sea Power’s albums rate so highly on my all-time lists too.

Modern Life Is Rubbish is still my favourite album of all time.

This photo was taken in Clacton – a place where I got to see a much-more-hyped-up Blur the following year when they played a gig at Oscar’s night club.

I’m not sure who made this image, but I love it.

Wednesday 10 May 2023, 10486 views

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