Sunday, 9 July 2017

Thoughts about Blur and "supplanted nostalgia" via remastering


'Parklife' by Blur.

I can remember Scott Wood from my second year form class buying it, and I think I listened to it around then - but you remember how it was with CDs back then:  £15.99 in Woolworth's when one only got about £2 pocket money per week.  It felt impossible to build a collection, and my money went on Pulp and Elastica tape cassettes (£9.99 each) instead.  I honestly don't know what the album sounds like, despite its fame.

However, I'm patient, and ye gods of media, technology and recycling have been kind to me.  Having spotted it in Oxfam, I thought I would treat the 13 year-old me to a gift:  the original CD, as sold in 1994.  

I later noted with some satisfaction that Spotify only offer the remastered version of the album in their library, meaning that one can't even hear the version that was swimming around radio sets back in one's youth via streaming.  

This concept has bothered me for some time.  There exists a prevailing trend of "supplanted nostalgia":  where people are duped into thinking they are listening to the sonics of their childhood, when in fact it has been messed with, "updated" and "improved", under this rather dubious umbrella term of "remastering".  It is retconning at its most invasive, because the mastering of the 90s - for good or for ill - was implicit in creating that sound, the sound that exists in the memory banks of the brain... rather than some potentially dynamically-slaughtered reissue.

So there is still a value in Oxfam charity shops selling old CDs:  you can reclaim some of the records of one's past that slipped through your fingers, as they were then, and not as Spotify (or whoever) would have you hear it now.  I want to hear what Scott Wood's copy sounded like.  I think you get the idea.

I got into Blur properly with Song 2.  That was my ground zero for anything approaching "art rock" (I'm hopeless with genre tags, so forgive me if this is completely the wrong category to put this type of song into).  The album that accompanied it seemed to be such a departure, and I marvelled at the way a "band" could do that; that it was possible for groups to change so dramatically from one record to another.  (I remember the press surrounding the record at the time talked a lot about a band called 'Pavement', who I hadn't heard of - and wouldn't, until Ryan from Nes forced their entire back catalogue onto me years later.)

It was also possible to actually own the 'Blur' album, thanks to MiniDisc copying technology.  By 1997, the electronics of the day had moved on sufficiently for me to broaden my tastes via copying the CD collections of my friends.  It's fascinating to me how my consumption of music has been so closely linked with the prevailing tech of the day...

Closing notes on Blur include two things you told me about them.  One was that you and your housemate Ian had reappraised the record as "not having aged well".  The second was that you bumped into some very pretentious-sounding person at a house party in London back in the Noughties, and they declared that their favourite record of theirs was "The Great Escape", which you thought was rather audacious.  If you only listen to the first half the record then this very "yeah man" comment almost holds water.  As for 'Blur' not having aged well - for me it's neither here or there how it's aged:  it's the contrast in sound compared to the rest of their catalogue that they'd released at that stage, that still makes it an important touchstone for me.  That, and Essex Dogs.

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This text was taken from an email to my friend Grilly, who later blogged his thoughts in reply here.