Old music: Blur – Country House

The runt of Blur's litter turns out to be a sturdy beast when you look more closely – Shed Seven could never have done it

You can see why Country House winds people up. Thanks to the 1995 chart battle with Oasis's lumpen Roll With It, it was released on a tidal wave of hype unrivalled in British pop. Added to that, it's got oompah-brass, cor-blimey vocals, Damon Albarn's pleased-with-himself lyrics and a video seemingly set inside Alex James's head. Even the band didn't seem to like it – once they moved on to to the noisier fare of 1997's Blur album, Country House was banished from the live set, much to the relief of Graham Coxon who'd been attempting to "turn it into thrash metal" on a nightly basis.

It's worth another look, though. Far from being a knocked-out knees-up, Country House is deceptively complex and completely bonkers. It's the second chorus where things get weird – Albarn's chirpy hook about "a very big house in the country" is backed by a falsetto counter, "blow, blow me out I am so sad, I don't know why", both disconcerting and wonderfully melancholy, leading into Coxon's queasiest guitar solo, a discordant, seasick riff of scarttershot notes and fractured scales seemingly beamed in from Sonic Youth or Pavement. The effect is a splash of genuine art-school creativity oddly absent from Damien Hirst's accompanying video, and totally at odds with what Britpop was supposed to be about by that point. Shed Seven could never have done it. The "Blow, blow me out"s return for the breakdown, underpinned by Coxon's chiming guitar to create a ghostly harmony that's more Pink Floyd than Lily the Pink. Even the late arrival of a Madness brass section can't wreck the magic.

When you read Liam Gallagher's famous dismissal of Blur as "chimney-sweep music", this is the track that comes to mind and you can see what he meant. But Country House has everything that made (and makes) Blur fascinating: the common touch, the terrace chorus, the arched eyebrow, the weirdness, the art-school sound, the desire to annoy and to fit in and to lead the field, to be the outsider and the everyman, all at once. It's never completely satisfying, but it's the confidence and the contradictions that save it.

Country House made an unexpected live return for the band's reunion shows in 2009 and on every occasion, quite rightly, the crowd went bananas. That's Blur – willfully awkward but eager to please. It's certainly what they were at the Brit awards this year. Treasure their stubbornness, their awkwardness and their imperfections, it's what makes them ace, and it's all on show here.


Marc Burrows

The GuardianTramp

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