Oh God, The Great Escape was a hateful whine of an album, uniting clunkingly obvious observations, gratingly desperate hooks and a production so shallow it seemed to be deliberately flaunting the emptiness of the songs. Sure, all the big Britpop bands were having some issues: Pulp made This Is Hardcore, an (amazing) Roxy-ish album full of grind and discontent; Oasis made something dreary. But The Great Escape was especially depressing because it made everything I’d liked about them before seem appalling. The pop smarts and the whimsical Britishness were curdled and foul.
“Charmless Man” probably isn’t the worst song on that album, but I’m not listening to it to find out. And as it’s the Blur song I’ve heard most recently (on the Adam And Joe Show this weekend), it’s the one I hate most. Even the thin, buzzy fade-in is annoying. Once the actual song starts, it’s unbearable. Albarn’s clanking music-hall piano and smug na-na-na-na-na-na-nas alternates uncomfortably with Coxon’s politely noisy lo-fi cribbing guitar – like bickering musical parents who’ve divied up custody of the band’s sound. And the lyrics are hateful: if you can swallow the witless Smith’s reference in the song title, you’ve got a feeble bit of social satire to come, in which Blur (by now, four sickeningly rich cockney-slumming London socialites) stick it to the Charmless Man, a sickeningly rich cockney-slumming London socialite. If there’s a degree of self-awareness in there somewhere, Albarn’s chirpy bleating does nothing to convey it.
Watch the video, and remember everything that was stupid about the clever-clever nineties.