13


Band: Blur
Album: 13
Best song: “Coffee & TV” is a great song.
Worst song: “Mellow Song” isn’t much.

It’s odd to think of the weird trajectory that music videos have had in the culture. With the Beatles’ feature films Help and Hard Day’s Night, the band set the stage for similar stuff they’d later explore in promotional films, which would become music videos. Indeed, artists like Bob Dylan ended up cutting similar pieces:

The genre was mostly dormant throughout the 1970s, with disco supplementing the visuals for music (example: Saturday Night Fever). Then, the 1980s happened and music video became an art form of consequence.

Having been born within a year of MTV, music videos were almost forbidden fruit to me during my very early years. As mentioned, the are of the suburb in which I grew up was not wired for cable, so I was only cognizant of music videos in an abstract sense. I watched MTV when I stayed over at my cousins’ place, but we didn’t get cable until I was nine. Being way into music, I went bananas for MTV when we finally did get it. I watched Headbangers Ball every week, soaking up the classic Judas Priest videos — my first memory of a music video is of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” a song that remains a favorite. Rick Rachtman meant a lot to me, at that time.

However, I came into video late enough that the genre played itself out pretty quickly. Total Request Live cut videos into 30-second clips, MTV got in the reality show game and VH1 followed suit. BET started showing sitcoms. Grunge had a three-year high and those bands — Pearl Jam, specifically — weren’t interested in making videos.

This was OK with me, as I hit high school and got into punk and indie rock. Those bands didn’t make videos — quick, name a video you saw on MTV for anything on Thrill Jockey, Touch & Go or Drag City — and I got deeper into music that was not visually inclined.

A lot of bands still make videos. Indeed, among my favorite bands, videos are made solely to put on DVDs, the web and for fans to enjoy. Mastodon does a lot of video stuff. Mogwai’s “Friend of the Night” video is as lovely and abstract as the song. The video for Tortoise’s “Prepare Your Coffin” is similarly wonderful.

Blur isn’t my favorite type of band, as Britpop leaves me mostly cold and I find Damon Albarn’s voice a tad too Britpop-y (even on the songs that sound different).

“Song 2” is, undoubtedly, a classic, but the self-titled album’s follow-up, 13, is Blur’s best. The record is full of breakup songs, showing Albarn’s status as a crying, sad man.

(In his defense, Justine Frischmann had broken up with him. She’s pretty amazing and anyone who isn’t devastated by that sort of thing isn’t human.)

“Tender” is a sad look into Albarn’s pain as he references to the novel Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “No Distance Left to Run” is the terrible realization of the end of the relationship, with Albarn’s voice cracking and fading as the song goes on. “Caramel” is similarly themed, only with minimal lyricism and more comlex instrumentation.

This is all a bit of a roundabout way of explaining my favorite music video. “Coffee & TV” is a cult classic in the United States because the video is so good. For a video to tell a story that’s so bittersweet and adorable, while making a viewer feel for a milk carton… That’s impressive:

The song stands by itself, of course. It’s a little indie rock stomp, with Albarn’s falsetto reciting the inanities of modern society. A deeply principled protest song (example chorus lyric: “I’ve seen so much/I’m goin blind/And I’m brain dead virtually/Sociability”), the record is the most Britpop on 13.

Also, my favorite video ever.

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