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Friday, April 25, 2003

++ Blur Have A File On You

++ I had been listening to some admittedly rather awful nu-jazz when the package arrived, wondering just when, exactly, a genre that I had once found relatively innovative had gotten so deadly dull. Had the music changed? Had it always been this indulgent, this indolent? Was this striving for sophistication and "depth" a new thing, I wondered — or had I somehow been suckered into its swishy ways back when the NASDAQ was high and the main threat Dubya posed, seemingly, was to the English language?

And so the white mailer proved a welcome distraction, especially since it looked like — yep — a seven-inch. When was the last time someone sent me a seven-inch? And not just any seven-inch: out of the flat cardboard envelope came sliding a white-label 45 in a plain white sleeve, with one word stamped on the label in an inky smudge: "Blur."

Indeed.

The Xeroxed, hand-written one sheet did not fail to intrigue: "Blur — one-sided — ltd edition of 1000 — U.S. only." (Don't worry, you can close that eBay window, as the tune reportedly will be released on the domestic version of the album.) I chucked the nu-jazz — Rima's This World, if you must know — and dropped the needle onto the fragile-looking platter.

++ Fast forward to the present tense. It's too bad you can only hear things for the first time once, because the bewildering way this record opens is a joy. Savor it: a drunken electric guitar riff stumbles over a wiry Middle Eastern drone for nine utterly confusing seconds — loops tangle, chords fray, the needle wobbles unsteadily in grooves cut wide enough for slot-car racing. Everything sounds thin, and brittle, like an obsidian sky glinting high overhead. Like a frozen world about to break. And then it does.

The guitar finds its footing, lopes into a two-chord blues-rock riff, the drummer leans into a clumsily fluid break, and-a-three-and-a-four-and-...

"We've got a file on you!" barks out the band, over a pounding riff caught somewhere between Mudhoney and In on the Kill Taker-era Fugazi. "We've got a file on you!" they shout, stating the obvious, speaking in the self-assured voice of state terror. You can hear the sneer in the voice: fuck you, Winston Smith, poor little git, you're fucked. Fuck you, John Q., your ass is public property, your thin-skinned self is nothing more than parchment for the stamping of bar codes. "We've got a file on you!" You'd better be glad this isn't an MP3, you subversive little prick, because we're tracking all your online transactions. Not that your vinyl dalliances will go unnoticed anyway, because did we mention? We've got a file on you.

It's paranoid, senseless, visceral, and brilliant: a belligerent and ebullient cry in the face of the Anglo-American bogeyman, the monolithic state apparatus. Rock stars have taken a fair amount of guff recently for their sometimes eloquent, sometimes pea-brained diatribes about wars, governments, the sham alliance that is the Coalition of the Willing (or the Woe-alition of the Killing), and the generally sorry state of Anglo-American democracy, something we can pretty much all be in agreeance on. But Blur don't care. This is radical negativity, not so much an intervention as a string of interruptions, weaponizing the interruption and using it as a preventative strike, wielded the way Dr. Evil and Bill O'Reilly (who's only one advanced degree away from that title anyway) employ the trope: shush, zip it, shut up, cut his mic, I don't care what you say because we've got a file on you anyway.

What happened to girls who like boys who treat girls like they're boys? What happened to Brit-pop? This is as punk as it gets. There's no verse, just those six words fired over and over like warning shots. After the first chorus there's a brief breakdown, a swaggering bridge of bass and guitar and a flyover drone of a Mid Eastern horn, and the chorus plays out for the second and last time. The whole thing is gone in 60 seconds: it's a 58-second blast, making bona fide minutemen out of the boys in Blur. And then it's all over but the shouting — no, even that is silenced, and all you hear is the hum of the poorly grounded needle lapping up against the locked groove, a chik chik chik and maybe the echo of a question:

What makes a man start fires?


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