Beetlebum: reaction at the time

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TracyJosh
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Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by TracyJosh » 21 Feb 2020, 15:16

For those old enough to remember... What was the reaction like when Blur came back after the backlash of TGE and released Beetlebum as the lead single for S/T? It's obviously notably a lot darker in tone and a lot more intimate and personal than the jovial but sarcastic, character based songs they had become massive with.

Was it a triumphant, phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes return? Looking back, it's like their artistic integrity was really elevated with beetlebum and the album that followed, but they maybe weren't quite as commercially dominant as they were with the previous 2 albums. Did it put them more in the alternative category? Feels like that may have been the case in the UK anyway.

jonathas
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by jonathas » 21 Feb 2020, 15:58

My memory is that the backlash to TGE is largely a fiction. When that record came out it reviewed exceptionally well and I don't really recall people turning their backs on Blur. It was just that a bit of time passed and other records came out that people turned their attention to. I might be misrembering but between TGE and Blur you had pretty amazing records by Beck, Aphex Twin, Belle & Sebastian, Eels, Super Furry Animals, DJ Shadow and most were a bit more left-field than Blur had been in recent memory.

I remember watching Blur playing The White Room on c4 in 96 and they seemed so out of place, and utterly pissed off at having to play songs they were emotionally finished with. So it wasn't really that Blur were getting slagged off, it was just that people had kind of forgotten about them while other cool stuff came along. Obviously as a mega-fan I was still listening to them a lot but even I was probably spending a lot more time with the new b-sides and hoping for a bit more texture next time around.

To my ear, Beetlebum is the best song Damon ever wrote, and I thought that the first time I heard it. Most people I knew at the time (first year of university) were pretty sold on it too. I remember Damon allowing himseld a satisfied smile on TOTP, and feeling pretty triumphant on the band's behalf. I got very excited when I saw they had a Mario Caldato jr remix in the works too. That excitement abated fairly dramatically when I heard it.

northernmonkey
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by northernmonkey » 21 Feb 2020, 17:04

I don't think there was a backlash either, I think the band and the more commited fans were ready for something else at this point, although my first listen to Beetlebum on the radio was a bit of a shock moment. Took a few listens for this to grow on me, but I remember watching the video for this on the chart show on a Saturday morning and realising that Blur were pretty cool :) The single and album going to number one proved that they still hat retained much of their fan base and maybe gained a new one, and obviously then you had Song 2 following this, it seemed that Blur couldn't write a bad song however different it was and once again the video helped a lot too. For me at this point, I wanted to be challenged by whatever Blur decided to put out, and despite Graham's guitar being a beautiful second voice right throughout the first 4 albums, I just wanted him to make noise now. It was a great time, I think the American sound was a great move and by the release of 13 they were at the stage were they could do whatever they liked.

It is hard to imagine a single so different coming out of the dying embers of Britpop, and lets face it, it is a million miles from Country House, but I remember Blur getting a lot of hype that year, with performance after performace on shows like TOTP, TFI Friday, Jools Holland etc as well as there increased popularity state side.

I never even imagined 23 years on after the first listen, that Beetlebum would actually sound even more relevant now. I actually agree its maybe Damon's and Blur's best song (maybe alongside something like TIAL).

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Mallard No. 22
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by Mallard No. 22 » 22 Feb 2020, 05:52

I don't think there was a backlash - the singles from TGE were commercial and gave Blur airplay and TV well into 1996. They had a life in their own right - they appealed to passive buyers who didn't purchase the album. If TGE is seen as a disappointing album, this has been judged retrospectively and didn't seem the case at the time.

Also, the first two albums didn't go much beyond indiedom, whereas TGE like 'Parklife' went to no. 1, so Blur's profile continued to rise. Blur didn't become "less popular"- I think it was a case of Oasis becoming "more popular" than they had been (& helped in this by tabloid attention).

In any case it wasn't long between 'Charmless Man' dropping off the chart (June 96) and 'Beetlebum' picking up airplay (Jan 97). Many popular acts have much longer between new releases, and it was regarded as an interesting new single - they certainly didn't bring us "more of the same", which could have been their downfall.
Last edited by Mallard No. 22 on 03 Mar 2020, 04:35, edited 1 time in total.
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dparrott
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by dparrott » 23 Feb 2020, 17:23

Being a fan since Leisure, I learned to expect changes like this. I liked it but not as much as TGE.

northernmonkey
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by northernmonkey » 23 Feb 2020, 19:23

It was a short time between Charmless Man and Beetlebum but it did feel like forever in the sense it was Oasis this and Oasis that. TGE isn’t a bad album at all but if you are going to have a chart battle between 2 bands you can’t moan too much if it doesn’t go your way. The fact that Blur had completely distanced themselves by Oasis’s third album and with great success just showed up Be Here Now to be more of the same but nowhere nears as good as their previous 2 albums. I remember the 2-3 years of Britpop being a fantastic time for British music, but I do think it had ran out of steam by 1997 and think Blur’s change in direction helped finish it off. What followed was the new wave of bands like Travis, Embrace, Stereophonics, Coldplay etc which despite their success didn’t have the feeling of being part of something and celebration of our music.

There is still great music being made worldwide, but when watching a best music videos of 2019 on New Year’s Day with my daughter I couldn’t believe how much of it sounds the same (I know I sound old 😄). Ed Sheeren, Stormzy, Ed Sheeren featuring Stormzy, Stormzy featuring Ed...you get the picture and don’t even start me on the Brit Award nominees and winners this year....🤣😂🤣

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stephen
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by stephen » 24 Feb 2020, 14:42

If my memory serves me right, most blur fans and general music fans liked the transition between the two albums.

I think if anything it was 13 that got a bit of backlash, I think the album was branded lazy by the more casual music listeners.

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Sledge Hammer
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by Sledge Hammer » 24 Feb 2020, 21:34

Yes 13 was a letdown after "Blur" for me, so excited to hear the new single after the previous brilliant "Beetlebum" and barnstorming "Song 2".

Remember been very disappointed when I first heard Tender, its a great song, bit simple and goes on way too long which I had always said about Oasis singles.

The 1997 Blur album was the perfect mix of Blur imo never been matched, punk, pop, rock and more without Orbits lazy meandering production.

Think it was the album that Graham had most say in, like i've said before when they are together Albarn/Coxon up there with anyone. Shame barely anything from them together in the last 20 years, a waste.
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jonathas
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by jonathas » 25 Feb 2020, 13:41

I didn't buy 13 when it came out - I loved Tender but I was seriously underwhelmed by a lot of the rest of it; I remember listening to it excitedly on a listening post in HMV in Brighton and just thinking it was pretentious soupy nonsense - those early songs (Bugman, Swamp Song, 1992, BLUREMI) just sounded really underwritten to me and I thought Damon had lost the knack of writing songs. It was only when I watched that TV special and stuff like Trimm Trabb and Mellow Song jumped out at me that I got a copy and began to wrap my head around it. Now it feels full of moments of wonderful invention and chaos – but I still think it probably has the weakest set of songs on any Blur LP bar Leisure and it’s probably the Blur record I listen to the least (with the exception of The Magic Whip). I get why people love it though!

John_d
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by John_d » 25 Feb 2020, 14:27

Pretty great reaction, from memory. I had a tape of it from Mark Radcliffe's Radio 1 show, he must have played it around 20 December 1996. I wore that tape out. One of their very best songs IMO and still an absolute delight to listen to today. The Great Escape gets a mixed rep but the response at the time to that was very positive too. The only mis-step was Stereotypes as a single. In fact I have a distinct memory of commercial radio and DJs playing Charmless Man and saying stuff like "Blur back on form". Comparisons are drawn with the monstrous sales of Morning Glory, but with hindsight that was propelled by tabloid nonsense and kids (including me) wanting to be like Liam and Noel. I wouldn't argue that Wonderwall is a better song than The Universal.

dougharrison
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by dougharrison » 25 Feb 2020, 20:23

I wouldn't say there was a backlash to Beetlebum as such, but Blur definitely featured less heavily in a lot of sections of the pop-centric media following that, unclear if by design or a rejection from the mainstream or a bit of both. I remember the NME (or possibly Melody Maker) claiming it was deliberately released in early Jan because there were no big singles to go up against, thus ensuring #1 claiming it wouldn't have been popular/big enough in a regular week at the time of release.

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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by John_d » 26 Feb 2020, 16:23

dougharrison wrote:
25 Feb 2020, 20:23
I wouldn't say there was a backlash to Beetlebum as such, but Blur definitely featured less heavily in a lot of sections of the pop-centric media following that, unclear if by design or a rejection from the mainstream or a bit of both. I remember the NME (or possibly Melody Maker) claiming it was deliberately released in early Jan because there were no big singles to go up against, thus ensuring #1 claiming it wouldn't have been popular/big enough in a regular week at the time of release.
Release near start of January was a definite tactic and subsequently copied by the likes of the Manic Street Preachers to great effect (think they got two NO. 1s that way). Whoever worked on Blur's releases was pretty switched on (see also the 2 CD singles for Country House which gave a huge advantage in the "chart battle).

I would agree with earlier comments that Blur was largely brilliant and 13 was a bit kind of messy in comparison. Song 2 was huge so I would disagree that 1997 saw Blur drop out of the "pop" scene too much. I have a clear memory of my first listen to Tender (played by Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq on Radio 1) and you could tell she/they didn't know entirely what to make if it. It was however a hit and only kept off No. 1 by "hit me baby one more time", and hung about the UK Top 40 for absolutely ages, and I would guess it to be the second biggest selling Blur single after Country House. Even so, I don't think it became the massive song it is today until after the Glastonbury reunion show.

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Mallard No. 22
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by Mallard No. 22 » 27 Feb 2020, 04:34

I think if Blur had released "more of the same" in 1997 it could have brought a decline in chart fortunes, esp. given that by the later part of that year Britpop was starting to fade.

'Beetlebum' was subtly different but as dparrott suggests, the regular fans regarded style changes as an appealing quirk of Blur, and expected them.
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dparrott
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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by dparrott » 27 Feb 2020, 05:26

Mallard No. 22 wrote:
27 Feb 2020, 04:34
I think if Blur had released "more of the same" in 1997 it could have brought a decline in chart fortunes, esp. given that by the later part of that year Britpop was starting to fade.
In fact I'd say one of the biggest and first bands in Britpop going in another direction helped kill the genre.

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Re: Beetlebum: reaction at the time

Post by dougharrison » 29 Feb 2020, 16:59

John_d wrote:
26 Feb 2020, 16:23


Release near start of January was a definite tactic and subsequently copied by the likes of the Manic Street Preachers to great effect (think they got two NO. 1s that way). Whoever worked on Blur's releases was pretty switched on (see also the 2 CD singles for Country House which gave a huge advantage in the "chart battle).

I would agree with earlier comments that Blur was largely brilliant and 13 was a bit kind of messy in comparison. Song 2 was huge so I would disagree that 1997 saw Blur drop out of the "pop" scene too much. I have a clear memory of my first listen to Tender (played by Jo Whiley and Steve Lamacq on Radio 1) and you could tell she/they didn't know entirely what to make if it. It was however a hit and only kept off No. 1 by "hit me baby one more time", and hung about the UK Top 40 for absolutely ages, and I would guess it to be the second biggest selling Blur single after Country House. Even so, I don't think it became the massive song it is today until after the Glastonbury reunion show.
Absolutely - feels weird to discuss Blur ever having been promoted well. What I was trying to convey is that the more popular (serious) music magazines - desperate to award Be Here Now 37/10 and declare Oasis the best band int he world ever in their reviews were looking to take pot-shots at Blur at this point and it felt to teenage me as though it was made as a very snide way to imply that releasing singles in Jan was the only way it would look like Blur weren't failing.

Agree on comparisons between Blur and 13 too, although I consider it to be looser/free rather than messy, but Blur is probably my favourite album of all time. Song 2 was huge, but it was embraced by an older audience, features on things like Shooting Stars, Fantasy Football, Smash Hits etc were a thing of the past at this stage. That's more what I was referring to when I suggested it was less pop, without wanting to sound too much like a suit, it was music for a different audience through different streams etc.

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