Friday, 14 August 2015

Blur vs Oasis - 20 years ago today...

Exactly 20 years ago today, one big question was on everyone's lips. I doubt there's many people in this country who didn't get  asked "Who do you prefer, Blur or Oasis?" in 1995. It was almost as if your answer would determine what sort of a person you were. From August 14th to the 20th, music fans from around the country were rushing out to their nearest record shops as Blur fought Oasis in a headline grabbing chart battle. The Essex band's 'Country House' and the Manchester group's 'Roll With It' were both released during a time when a fierce rivalry between the two was at its most intense. 

According to Wikipedia: The chart battle was dubbed "The Battle of Britpop", and brought Britpop to the forefront of the British press. The bands had initially praised each other but over the course of the year antagonisms between the two increased. Spurred on by the media, the groups became engaged in what the NME dubbed on the cover of its 12 August issue the "British Heavyweight Championship" with the pending release of 'Roll With It', and 'Country House' on the same day. The battle pitted the two bands against each other, with the conflict as much about British class and regional divisions as it was about music. Oasis were taken as representing the North of England, while Blur represented the South. The event caught the public's imagination and gained mass media attention in national newspapers, tabloids, and even the BBC News. The NME wrote about the phenomenon, "Yes, in a week where news leaked that Saddam Hussein was preparing nuclear weapons, everyday folks were still getting slaughtered in Bosnia and Mike Tyson was making his comeback, tabloids and broadsheets alike went Britpop crazy."

During the year the two bands had traded insults as their previous mutual respect had dissolved, possibly down to incidents like the one former NME editor Steve Sutherland desribes: "At the end of one of the NME Brat Awards, Liam had walked up to Damon and started poking him and pushing him and saying: "I think you're a bunch of cunts, I hate your band." Provoked by Oasis, Damon Albarn turned a petty feud into a national debate... "Yes I did move our release date to match theirs! The main reason was that when Oasis got to Number One with ‘Some Might Say’, I went to their celebration party, y’know just to say ‘Well done’. And Liam came over and, y’know, like he is, he goes, ‘Number fookin’ One!’, right in my face. So I thought, ‘OK, we’ll see...’"



My clearest memory of it all was going to Our Price in Bath on the day before the singles charts were announced, and purchasing both singles on cassette. That evening was the yearly carnival in Melksham, which went past the end of my street and which that particular year I remember not really paying much attention to because all I wanted to do was get back home and play these new Blur and Oasis singles. So exactly 17 years ago today, the chart results were announced. I remember that instead of doing a recap of the top 40 before playing the week's number one song, they did it before the top 2. "So the song at number two this week is... Blur" followed by a pause "... or Oasis...". 

Blur won, selling 274,000 copies to Oasis' 216,000 - the songs charting at number one and number two respectively. Blur were presented by their record company with a framed copy of the charts. The inscription read: “‘Better than Blur any f---ing day of the week’, Liam Gallagher, Glastonbury Festival, 1995.” Underneath that it read, “NOT TODAY SUNSHINE!”

Damon Albarn himself was surprised that "Country House" topped the charts. He told NME, "I sort of believed all the papers, including NME, who told me Oasis were going to win." Oasis' management came up with several reasons for 'Roll With It' losing out, claiming 'Country House' sold more because it was less expensive (£1.99 vs £3.99) and because there were two different versions of 'Country House' with different B-sides forcing serious fans to buy two copies. An alternative explanation given at the time by Creation was that there were problems associated with the barcode on the 'Roll with It' single case, which did not record all sales.

The Daily Mail saluted ‘Country House’ topping the charts with a bout of oik-bashing. The headline read: ‘The Pop Victory That Makes It Hip To Be Middle Class’. Damon said "The most interesting thing about all the press that surrounded the single is that it revealed this open sore in our society, our fascination with the divide between working class and middle class people... I hate this class thing. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s useless."


A few weeks later things had become very nasty. In an interview with the Observer newspaper Noel Gallagher said "I hate that Alex and Damon. I hope they catch Aids and die." Gallagher later explained "As soon as I had said it I realised that it was an insensitive thing to say as Aids is no joking matter and immediately retracted the comment. Although not being a fan of their music I wish both Damon and Alex a long and healthy life." Damon commented: "No-one was having a go at Oasis on our side. I mean, I did that thing on Chris Evans’ show when I said, ‘It sounds a bit like Status Quo’, but that was the only thing. It was all on their side."

But Blur's pleasure at emerging victorious didn't last long, as the second Oasis LP (What's The Story) Morning Glory? went on to become the third highest selling UK album of all time.


Years later as all concerned grew up, attitudes had changed, when Liam Gallagher revealed "I don’t mind Blur... I’m over it [the rivalry]. It was a laugh man, that’s what you do when you’re young." He added: "When I see Damon Albarn, I buzz off him. If I was still caught up in it now I’d be a right wanker." Noel also admitted a newfound respect for Blur: "You know Damon, bless him, I’ve got a lot of respect for him. This never comes across in interviews, but I really do mean it," Noel said. "Because I’m indifferent to Damon, he thinks that I think he’s a cunt. Our Liam will talk to him. I won’t because he’s just another singer in a band to me, but I don’t think he’s a cunt. Good luck to him." 

The spirit of goodwill and forgiveness wasn't just limited to the Gallagher camp, as Damon commented that he'd be happy to collaborate with Noel one day: "Well, why not? He should come on the Africa Express train [an Albarn-formed music collective] in September." Albarn went on to say that despite the rather public feud, he "never held anything against [Gallagher], even right in the middle of it. I just kind of admired [Oasis] in a way; that they were better at handling it all than me. They didn’t seem to get too affected by the bullshit." 

Then came the wonderful and historic moment at the 2012 Brit Awards, where Noel and Damon publicly embraced each other. Members of both bands see the whole rivalry as a ridiculous thing. Blur's Dave Rowntree said: "We couldn't be more different. To call us both part of a movement was laughable really. Blur and Oasis were stapled together at the head which wasn't healthy for either of us. Every country plays out their national story through music and it became open season for people to wax lyrical about the British condition, using us and Oasis as a metaphor for it. In England, it seemed to be about the class struggle. We were deemed to be middle-class southerners, even though in Graham's case that's far from the truth, and Oasis were working-class northerners."

Guitarist Graham Coxon, meanwhile, added: "We found the Britpop thing very limiting. We went out to see the latest bands and we thought, 'We're not like this.' With Oasis, it was a bit of light-hearted rivalry to start with and we didn't realise how seriously people were going to take it."

So back in school, what did I answer when asked THAT question approximately 130 times every hour? For me it was and still is impossible to choose between Blur and Oasis, because both have had such an equally huge impact on my musical life. There's no way for me to know who was the better band, especially because musically they both employed completely different approaches. But there are still Blur fans out there who dislike Oasis, and plenty of Oasis fans who dislike Blur, so asking any of them what band was the most superior would only result in biased and perhaps unrealistic opinions. 

So judged by a 50/50 Blur/Oasis fan, all of Blur's seven albums will be rated, as will the seven Oasis albums. Blur's first album 'Leisure' will be meeting the classic Oasis debut 'Definitely Maybe' in the first round. At the end of the seven rounds the scores will be added up, as well as the points out of 10 scored for each album, and there will also be a look back at some of the tracks the bands released as B sides over the years. 

ROUND 1: 'LEISURE' vs 'DEFINITELY MAYBE'

BLUR - Leisure (1991) Blur's debut album is a pretty good reflection of what 1991 was like musically: baggy sounds combine with shoegaze styles, but under the surface Blur's trademark sound of the mid 90's was beginning to develop. 'Come Together is not unlike the Stone Roses covering The Kinks, 'Sing' already displayed Damon's gift for powerful melancholy, and 'There's No Other Way' was destined to become an indie disco classic. 7.8 

OASIS - Definitely Maybe (1994) This phenomenal debut was an album that thrilled, moved and inspired people in equal measure. 11 perfect songs penned by a man who dreamed of escaping from the grim council estates of Manchester and taking on the world. 'Rock N Roll Star' and 'Bring It On Down' were direct, adrenaline fuelled bursts of excitement, 'Supersonic', 'Shakermaker' and 'Columbia' were packed with that trademark swagger and rousing attitude, while 'Live Forever' and 'Slide Away' became powerful life affirming anthems. Quite possibly the greatest debut album ever? 10

WINNER: OASIS


ROUND 2: 'MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH' vs '(WHAT'S THE STORY) MORNING GLORY'


BLUR - Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993) Modern Life Is Rubbish came at a difficult point in the band's career. If they didn't get this one right, there's every chance that they would have been dropped by their label and probably unable to evolve into the legends they would soon become. In a musical climate dominated by American grunge, Blur reinvented themselves as the musical embodiment of pure Englishness. Combining Bowie with Syd Barrett and The Kinks with The Jam, yet still not having the slightest hint of imitation, the second album suggested that Blur had found an identity of their own. There were big singalongs like 'For Tomorrow' and 'Sunday Sunday', excitingly noisy punk moments like 'Advert' and the brief insanity of 'Intermission', as well as sumptuously lovely tracks like 'Blue Jean' and 'Resigned'. 8.8 

OASIS - (What's The Story) Morning Glory. Do I really even need to explain this record? With the debut album becoming the fastest selling UK debut of all time, Oasis had broken into the big time, but the second album was to become bigger than anyone could have ever imagined. Not as energetic and attitude packed as the debut, it made up for it with huge choruses ('Don't Look Back In Anger'), irresistible melodies ('Champagne Supernova') and in tracks like 'Wonderwall' and 'She's Electric', unforgettable anthems that went on to become the soundtrack to a whole generation's lives. 10

WINNER - OASIS


ROUND 3 - 'PARKLIFE' vs 'BE HERE NOW'

BLUR - Parklife (1994) Parklife continued 'Modern Life...''s unmistakably British approach and took it to the next level. There were the instantly infectious hits like 'Girls And Boys' and 'Parklife', stunning moments of reflection such as 'Badhead' and 'To The End' as well as the enjoyably mental likes of 'Jubilee' and 'Bank Holiday'. The album perfectly defined English culture, painting musical pictures of typical British places and a range of eccentric characters. It would be the album that kickstarted the Britpop revolution and transformed Blur into household names. 10

OASIS - Be Here Now (1997) At the time of its release Oasis were the biggest band the UK had seen since The Beatles, and their third album 'Be Here Now' generated a massive amount of hype in the lead up to its release. When it hit the shops it even made the TV news headlines and the front pages of many tabloids. Crazy times. And the fact that it didn't turn out to be the greatest and biggest record of all time is what gives it a bad reputation today. There was no sense of progression, just louder songs that went on for longer. Co-producer Owen Morris had doubts about the quality of the new material and suggested to Noel that the songs could be a lot better, but his opinion was dismissed and was just "cut down" by Noel. So instead of raising any further issues he "just carried on shovelling drugs up my nose." There was the first Oasis song that I didn't like (Magic Pie), the weary sounding ballad ('Stand By Me'), the lively track with the woefully shit chorus ('I Hope I Think I Know') and the one with Johnny Depp playing guitar on it ('Fade In/Out').  'All Around The World' is a very different character, the album's climax and the big epic that Noel had been keeping up his sleeve for years. By the time it came to making their third album the band were rich enough to finally record this track with all the trimmings they wished, including a 36 piece orchestra and a crazy amount of guitar overdubs. 'It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)' was built on the same Status Quo-like pub rock as 'Roll With It' but a hundred times bigger and with sentiments that sum up the mood of those crazy times perfectly. The song just has this wild, hedonistic sound that suggests it was recorded entirely during one of their big cocaine parties. It's an amazing song if you fade it out at about 4 minutes 50 seconds. Because if you listen to the remaining 2 minutes and 10 seconds of it, all you get is more lazy guitar solos and "we're getting better man" sung no less than 29 times. But there are also some great moments: Opener 'D'You Know what I Mean' was like some powerful, lumbering monster. Packed with exciting backwards guitar and massive, slow echo-drenched drums and with strange psychedelic lyrics, the track was almost like a fierce, snarling relative of 'Wonderwall' but minus any sentimentality. When 'My Big Mouth' bursts in with an alarming wall of guitars and thumping drums, Liam's vocals are incredible, and the crunching hard rock riff is straight forward but offers an exciting menace that there should have been a lot more of on this record. It had a sound and length that was certainly aware of its own self-importance, but it turned out to be the moment where Oasis fucked it up and took years to recover. 7.8

WINNER - BLUR



ROUND 4: 'THE GREAT ESCAPE' VS 'STANDING ON THE SHOULDER OF GIANTS' 


BLUR - The Great Escape (1995) So what do you do when you have a successful formula? Blur did more of the same on what is considered to be the third and lesser past of a classic British trilogy. This time the character based songs were more prominent: 'Country House' was the silly but infectious tale of a millionaire with an empty life, 'Charmless Man' concerns an upper class fool who hides behind his lifestyle, and 'Stereotypes' is a superb bit of commentary on sex and suburbia. 'Entertain Me' is a relative of 'Girls And Boys', with an irresistibly funky bassline from Alex and a Mark E Smith-esque vocal from Damon. Despite the presence of two of their greatest tracks, the misty-eyed melancholy of 'Best Days' and the classic 'The Universal', overall the album certainly wasn't as consistant as the previous two, and in places the cheeky Britpop sound began to wear thin. 8.5

OASIS - Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (2000) To call this a turbulent chapter in the Oasis story would be an understatement. It was in fact a difficult, frustrating and agonising period where this mighty rock and roll band seemed like a mere shadow of the group they once were. Noel had come off the drugs and struggling to adapt to a sober lifestyle probably isn't the ideal thing to accompany struggling to write great songs again. 'Go Let It Out' was a fine single, and 'Gas Panic' one of the band's best moments, but aside from 'Where Did It All Go Wrong' and 'Roll It Over', there was very little here to suggest that Oasis were back on form.Then there was Liam's diabolical songwriting debut, 'Little James'. Some made excuses for it, praising Liam's "sentimental" side, but there was very little that could disguise the fact that this was soppy and very lame sub-Beatles barrel scraping. What was Noel thinking, letting Liam put the Oasis name on this atrocity, let alone allowing it onto the album... Maybe the elder Gallagher wanted something so bad that it would make even his most piss-poor efforts sound good in comparison. Which is perhaps why it followed the aimless 'Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is', one of at least three disappointingly low quality tracks Noel tossed out on to the tracklisting, the dreary and tired 'Sunday Morning Call' being another culprit. While 'Be Here Now' was celebratory, over-confident and as one journalist quoted "rides high on it's own self importance", the follow up was darker, slightly bruised and unsure of itself. This was a transititional Oasis album during a rather transititional time for music. The hangover 'Where Did It All Go Wrong' is not only the album's working title (which was tellingly scrapped for the eventual release) but also the name of the album's most revealing song as Noel clears the last of the party-goers from Supernova Heights and looks to the past with regret. The closing 'Roll It Over' also gives an insight into Noel's disillusionment with fame and the hangers on that came with it. 7

WINNER - BLUR


ROUND 5: 'BLUR' vs 'HEATHEN CHEMISTRY'

BLUR - Blur (1997) (Review from Q Magazine) "To some it will be a surprise, and not necessarily a pleasant one; to fans who've been there since 1990, it will sound a lot like a progressive regression, a necessary retreat. Simply, it takes the abiding punk guitar instinct of Graham Coxon and the all-round artfulness that has always driven the band, and plays them upfront, leaving the music hall comedians and The Kinks and the commuters and the trumpeters and Phil Daniels on the bench. In this Stalinist rewrite of history, it's like Country House never happened.

They re-grouped. Went to Iceland to record. Nailed down what they were really into. This process of retrogression was informed by exposure to much hardcore US punk. And this American influence drives the album. Ironically so, after the calculated Britishness of yore, Blur have more in common with Sonic Youth and Sebadoh than The Small Faces. The seated intro to 'Country Sad Ballad Man' is a rustic mess from which arises a simply beautiful, lazy riff, 'Theme From Retro' presents Blur in dub. The voice is spread all over it like paint, the bass stalks, the cheesy organ dances, and the remainder is untreated noise; interference, feedback, sustain, afterburn. It's an unyielding, lovely row. The downtempo 'Death Of A Party' is a genuinely creepy piece, especially when Albarn becomes a distant, wordless wail..." 9 

OASIS - Heathen Chemistry (2002) The moment where Oasis got it terribly wrong. After 'Be Here Now' was dissed for being too big and bloated and 'Standing On The Shoulder...' was considered to be a miserable hangover, on their fifth album Oasis were looking to revive the unmistakeable sound of their first two albums. And yes they did manage to make an album that SOUNDED like Oasis, but they clearly forgot about the part where you have to come up with some good tunes. This was lazy, uninspired and bereft of a single classic moment. Beginning with the piss-takingly banal 'The Hindu Times', we then get the turgid 'Force Of Nature', the boring and unimaginative 'Little By Little', and 3 Liam-penned songs that makes you wish Noel banned him from writing for the group. Only 'Hung In A Bad Place' comes close to recapturing the band's former glory, and even that was a third rate rip-off of Iggy And The Stooges' 'No Fun'. Workman-like by numbers. Way below standard. 5

WINNER - BLUR


ROUND 6: '13' vs 'DON'T BELIEVE THE TRUTH'

BLUR - 13 (1999) Those hoping for a return to the pop singalongs would be disappointed, although the album's opening track, beautifully uplifting country-gospel ballad 'Tender' has since become the anthem that vocally unites entire crowds at live shows. Elsewhere There were the scuzzy guitars and drill noises of 'Bugman', the powerful, emotionally fragile heartbreak of 'Caramel', the decayed ambience of 'Battle' and the utterly mental 'B.L.U.R.E.M.I'. 'Mellow Song' is an underrated classic, brief but perfectly executed, while parts of 'Trailerpark' epitomise the sound of seedy urban squallor. 'Trimm Trabb' is also an incredible moment, climaxing with a landslide of savage guitars. It was an incredible progression in terms of ideas and sound, and it sounds even better now than it did back then. 9.5

OASIS - Don't Believe The Truth (2005) - After desperately trying to rediscover what made them great first time round, the sixth Oasis album was a blinding return to form. Sounding confident, refreshed and not trying too hard, this pissed all over 'Heathen Chemistry'. The Observer said: "First single 'Lyla' appropriates a riff from the Stones' 'Street Fighting Man' before stumbling into the bar-room territory of the Faces; 'Mucky Fingers' is a one-chord homage to the Velvet Underground; 'The Importance of Being Idle' is very Kinks, which at least makes a change from the Beatles; while the way in which 'Part of the Queue' borrows shamelessly from the Stranglers' 'Golden Brown' completes a process akin to 'triangulation', which makes you believe you have the best of all possible worlds on offer. Don't Believe the Truth isn't a novel - or novelty - record but it makes you care about Oasis again, and makes you believe they can matter again. So our bond with them is renewed." 8.3 

WINNER - BLUR


ROUND 7: 'THINK TANK' vs 'DIG OUT YOUR SOUL'

BLUR - Think Tank (2003) Blur's seventh album proves that when one member of such a close-knit unit leaves, you have a different band. Apart from his swirling atmospherics on muted closer 'Battery In Your Leg', his absence from the rest of the tracks leaves a gaping hole which the band had to fill with new sounds. And quite often these new sounds involved machine-like beats, additional musicians and often unsuccessful experiments. However the two opening tracks 'Ambulance' and the stunningly sad 'Out Of Time' are as good as anything the band ever produced. But immediately afterwards you're faced with the clumsy, poor quality 'Crazy Beat', the Fatboy Slim produced Clash parody 'Gene By Gene' and the aimless noodling of 'Jets'. Out of the 13 tracks, only four really hit the mark, including the brief but enjoyably rowdy 'We Got A File', made up of a basic, sharp punk riff, drums that sounded like someone hitting a bucket, and the title shouted repeatedly throughout. 'Caravan' is also brilliant, showing that by stripping things back this 3 piece Blur could still produce moments of magic, even if it did seem to be mostly Damon's work. But overall this seemed like Blur 2.0 rather than the band we knew and loved before, lacking the magic that could only happen with all four of those people on board. 6 

OASIS - Dig Out Your Soul (2008) (Review from the NME) If there’s one thing that strikes you immediately on your first listen to ‘Dig Out Your Soul’, it’s that it sounds like a band not exactly reinvented, but certainly rejuvenated. There’s a new-band urgency and invention to it, a sense that Oasis are no longer straining to ‘be Oasis’. In fact, ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is – more or less – the rough’n’ready rock’n’roll album the Gallaghers threaten to make every time the critics are down on their current effort but somehow never get round to. 
Opener ‘Bag It Up’ – complete with a not-so-subtle steal from ‘It’s Raining Men’, of all places – is a pounding rhythmic mess of distorted psych-rock that doesn’t sound like the work of a band in their 15th year. It sounds vibrant and cocky and a little bit cheeky, before a coda that fades into a swell of noise. It’s still unmistakably Oasis, but it’s playful, less obvious and unafraid of going into unexpected places. ‘The Turning’ continues in this vein by getting into what could technically be classed as a ‘groove’ (not to be confused with ‘going dance’, mind), that gives way to a climactic BRMC-style pseudo-biblical chorus about rapture and fallen angels. Dark and brooding, it’s only part two of a five-song streak that represents the strongest start to an Oasis album in years. 

‘The Shock Of The Lightning’ is a pretty good approximation of where Oasis are at in 2008. That same Gallagher swagger still courses through it, but it doesn’t have to rely on terrace-chant choruses to get its point across. ‘Soldier On’, meanwhile, is Liam's finest songwriting moment and a doomy, swirling psychedelic march set to a looping blues riff that closes the album in suitably atmospheric fashion. 
‘Falling Down’ is a swoonsome, blissed-out melody sung by Noel over jaunty, ever-shifting drums. There’s a feeling that ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ might actually be their best album in over a decade. In other words, not quite the fabled, oft-promised “Best one since fookin’ ‘Definitely Maybe’!” but certainly the best one since fookin’ …Morning Glory’. And you never thought you’d hear that, did you? 
8.4


WINNER - OASIS


The B Sides Blur seem to have released a lot more B sides than Oasis, but this is mainly due to Albarn and co usually having to come up with enough tracks to fill CD1 and CD2 of their singles, where Oasis would only issue the one version of their CD singles. And while Blur's 'Parklife' and 'Great Escape' era b sides would usually consist of throwaway material, the extra tracks featured on the 1994 and 1995 Oasis singles would go down in history as some of the best flipsides ever made. 'Wonderwall''s B side 'The Masterplan' was better than its A side, as was 'Acquiese', the incredible second track on the 'Some Might Say' single. However some of the B sides from Blur's 1993 output sound just as good as anything from the albums, especially the recently rediscovered 'Young And Lovely' and the pre-Blur demos that featured on the 'Sunday Sunday' single. A number of b sides from the band's 1997 era are also amazing, but Oasis undoubtedly win the overall B sides contest.

WINNER - OASIS

SCORES - BLUR 4 OASIS 4

So who wins? It appears that both bands do. Blur win 4-3 when it comes to the albums, but Oasis emerge victorious because of their classic B sides, making the score 4-4.

Or if you really want to be picky, Blur score 59.2 points out of 70 and Oasis score 56.5.