Format: 12" Single
Catalogue Number: 12FOOD37
Year of Release: 1992
A2 I'm Fine
B2 Garden Central
Here's some back-story for the title track of this great EP from the sadly now defunct blurcentral website (which I have cunningly recovered from Google's cache):
"From Blur: 3862 Days, the official history © 1999 Blur and Stuart Maconie.
Pop music isn't cricket. Reducing it to statistics and averages tells only half the story. Marketing men and cynics who contend that records that don't 'ship units' are worthless trinkets for anoraks may have a small bitter point but anyone with a heart, anyone who's ever been passionate about pop, knows that some of its greatest moments went almost unnoticed at the time. Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left or the Scott Walker solo albums, some of pop's most cherishable moments, failed miserably to trouble the chart scorers when first released. Thus, Popscene.
Popscene was one of the new songs that had fired Blur with creative zeal before the loss of all their money, the sacking of their manager, the negative responses of their record company and the exhausting Rollercoaster tour had frayed their nerves to ragged edges. But Popscene, Blur's first single in almost a year, was going to make everything all right; of this everyone was sure. It had been debuted at the Kilburn National Ballroom on 21 October of 1991 and they had performed it on the risible Channel 4 pop show The Word shortly after. It had become their explosive opening number on stage. The version released as a single at Easter 1992 had been recorded at Matrix Studios in February with Steve Lovell, Street being inexplicably out of favour with Balfe [David Balfe - Food Records founder], and was the first instance of the group using brass on record.
A scathing attack on a culture and industry they felt increasingly at odds with, Popscene is Blur's great lost single, perhaps even the great forgotten British pop song of the 90s. It begins with a curdling guitar note played through a flanger and then picks up an ominous, thundering bass line and a drum rhythm modelled on Can's Mother Sky. It remains a tremendously original and unorthodox single; vibrant, sharp, laceratingly intelligent and utterly at odds with the musical culture of the day, which then was swamped by the horrid, horny-handed witlessness of American grunge. Such music had become fêted by practically every British pop journalist and consequently they dismissed Popscene with an ignorant flourish. The Melody Maker, barely believably, mocked it as 'a directionless organ-fest in search of a decent chorus'. Since the writer could not even tell an organ from a horn section, it was no surprise they were so wrong about the record, one that they would be venerating in two years when it was fashionable to do so. Worse, it failed to connect with the record-buying public and only limped to 32. This was a grave disappointment to all concerned, even Balfe thought it was a winner and blames its poor showing on the tame nature of pop radio then. The resentment over Popscene lingers to this day.
DAMON ALBARN: Popscene was the beginning of a new phase in our music. It had an edge and presence that we hadn't had before and that no one was attempting at the time. I think it's a great song. I still think it's a great video and I still feel very disappointed it didn't do a lot better.
ANDY ROSS: They had this track Popscene which we thought was great - this f***ing song is a huge hit. Then it went in at 32 and we thought, Ah, this isn't going right at all. They had a song called Never Clever that we thought was equally brilliant and the cunning plan was to have a big hit with Popscene, capitalise with Never Clever and then we'd all be rich. But it didn't happen. 'Never Clever' didn't come out as a single and it was back to the drawing board. With hindsight, the world wasn't ready for punk rock with a brass section.
DAVE ROWNTREE: In a way, it was no surprise that Popscene flopped because no one gave a f*** about us. But it's still a milestone for us. Steve Lovell did it in a few days at Little Russell Street, Matrix. We came up with the most powerful, amazing sound, just right for before you go out to the pub or club. It still sounds amazing now. It hasn't dated at all. But no one got it. The music press in England are a bit like the sixth form at school. The new bunch of journalists have to mark their own territory and say, 'We're very different from the old guard', so we fell foul of that.
As a matter of principle, Popscene has still never appeared on an album. 'Though that might change,' laughs Dave Rowntree, presumably alluding to any future Greatest Hits [it didn't turn up of the Best Of, but was in the 10th Anniversary Box]. When Modern Life Is Rubbish was released a year after, Popscene wasn't included because the band felt, as Graham puts it, 'If you didn't f***ing want it in the first place, you're not going to get it now.'"
As a precocious, and no doubt very annoying, 14-year-old I didn't care what Melody Maker said (even though I preferred it to the NME). I knew Popscene was genius. There's not much I can add to the above, but Dave the drummer is right - it hasn't dated at all.
And if on Popscene Dave is channelling Jaki Liebezeit, then on EP closer, the magnificent 6-minute Garden Central, he's definitely paying homage to Nick Mason. Over these drums churns an epic instrumental, a vaguely country-rock twang from Coxon's guitar to open with, which builds, falls, and builds again into a great wall of sound and a simply stunning way to finish off the record.
Pink Floyd could be invoked on Mace as well, this time Syd Barrett, as there a definite naivety to the vocal delivery and tales of riding on bicycles that borrows from early Floyd. Again the guitars are a stand-out part, the jerky melody created from echo effects adding to the energy of the tune.
I'm Fine is possibly the only track of the four that reminds you of what they'd done before - and possibly only then if you'd heard all the other b-sides. It's fine, and has some similarly great guitar work to the others, but on this EP it's swamped by the sound of a band hitting their first real creative peak - it's just a shame no one was listening.