Blur
Blur


4.0
excellent

Review

by Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (116 Reviews)
October 29th, 2013 | 27 replies


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 27)

Here’s an idea. What if, on that fateful day in August 1995, instead of Blur winning the Battle of Britpop, Oasis’ “Roll With It” came in at number one while Blur’s “Country House” landed in the second spot. What if The Great Escape had proven a far greater success than anyone could have predicted, selling 22 million copies worldwide, 4 of which were sold in America after “The Universal” wound up a freak hit, breaking the top 10 on the Billboard pop charts. Meanwhile, Oasis’ What’s the Story (Morning Glory) had a strong initial showing but was epically overshadowed by Blur’s generation defining album.

Basically, what I’m getting at here is what if Blur had won?

The runaway success and global celebrity could have sent Damon Albarn’s ego into the stratosphere. His will ends up dominating the bands direction as Graham Coxon slips further into alcoholism as he watches his band spiral out of his control. With massive label pressure mounting to release another hit record, Blur’s follow up to The Great Escape, lets call it Cheerio!, is an even more inflated piece of Britpop. More horns, more strings, more characters, more hooks and choruses. Released only two years after The Great Escape, Cheerio! arrives on a tidal wave of hype and goes on to become the fastest selling album in British music history. Despite initial acclaim, Cheerio! quickly reveals itself as an overinflated wreck, crammed with an oppressive level of cheer and songs that seem to stretch on forever, the album is widely regarded as the end of the Britpop era.

Now, what if, on the Oasis side of things, losing to Blur was exactly what the Gallagher brothers needed? Noel gets his runaway ego in check and Liam backs off the cocaine to preserve his voice. Instead of more 60’s grave robbing, Noel rethinks his narrow approach to songwriting while preserving his melodic instincts. Their follow up to What’s the Story (Morning Glory) is titled simply, Oasis, and is a marvel of stripped down arrangements and song craft. The success of Oasis kicks off a brilliant second half of Oasis’ career, with each album that followed more adventurous.

But that isn’t what happened. Instead, in the wake of a very public loss to Oasis, Blur retreated. Damon absconded to Iceland while rumors of a breakup were common. In Febuary 1996 Blur were scheduled to appear on the Italian TV program the San Remo Festival. Damon Albarn and Dave Rowntree were the only ones who showed up; Graham and Alex were replaced by a cardboard cutout and a roadie respectively. Constant media attention was further driving a wedge between the band as their every move was reported in the tabloids.

The band was pulled back from the brink when Damon, with his formally huge ego having recived a nice puncture by the embarrassingly public loss to Oasis, spoke to a close friend and said, “Bollocks to the arenas, bollocks to being as big as Bon Jovi, it’s got to be about the music – about the art. I want to be taken seriously.”

Britpop had become a three ring circus and Blur wanted out. In retrospect, this was the second time Blur had the brilliant foresight to see the culture shift again. The first time was when they had made Modern Life is Rubbish, predicting a changing tide away from the American nihilism of grunge. The second time they saw this coming was in 1997. Around the time shoegaze gave way to Britpop, Shoegaze was often mocked as “The scene that celebrates itself”. By the end of the decade, Britpop had ended up in that same place but in a much more annoying way. It was a constant assault of cheeriness and big choruses. You think you like the singles off What’s the Story (Morning Glory) or Coming Up? Try hearing them multiple times a day, everyday, everywhere you go. When they released the American indie inspired Blur, they correctly predicted a cultural shift for the second time.

Blur albums set everything up in the opening 5 seconds. Where their previous three albums opened with crisp acousic guitar strums, chirpy dance synths, and bulldozing power chords, Blur kicks things off with 16 lonely flicks of a muted guitar. “Beetlebum” sounds unlike anything Blur had made since Leisure’s “Sing” all the way back in 1991. But it isn’t a total washout of their style though. Blur are far too good of popsmiths to go full avant garde, “Beetlebum” runs through quiet, tempered verses before building to a moon shot chorus that bursts like elegantly bummed out stars going supernova.

You might think you’re sick of “Song 2”. Let me assure you, you’re not. Somehow, after endless usage in commercials, montages, television programs, sports arenas, and alternative rock radio the song holds firm. It’s often pitched as a parody of grunge but I’m not hearing that. It sounds like Blur, after spending years rejecting grunge’s primordial stomp, going all out with sloppy grins on their faces. Plus, it packs a handful of great hooks into 2 minutes, hard to hate on anything that compact.

Blur has garnered a reputation as a messy album. And yes, at first glance, this sounds like the work of a scrappy indie band bum rushing their local recording studio with their first budget. The string section on “Look Inside America” sounds like they were woke up at 3 AM to record their parts, “Country Sad Ballad Man” lazily floats the notion of country music before dropping it entirely to rock out the bridge, “Chinese Bombs” cant even be bothered to hit the one minute thirty second mark while closer “Essex Dogs” sprawls out for over 10 minutes. This is all an illusion. Blur does not do sloppy. Blur simply presents the illusion of sloppiness, the gentlemen behind the curtain are in full control the entire time. Listen close enough and its clear that these guys worked hard to sound this loose. It’s a good illusion though and Blur finds these guys more at ease than they had in years. They’re sighing here but it’s a sigh of relief.

At just under an hour, Blur runs on a little long. For a long time, I considered it a glaring flaw and, indeed, this album would benefit from some more time in the editing room. But Blur is a focused effort to shear off the bands bandwagon fanbase by releasing a record that buries its highlights, puts all the singles in the first half of the album and dares you to call it frontloaded. This is possibly Blur’s most rewarding album to really dedicate time towards figuring it out. Repeated listening uncovers highlights like Graham’s wounded lead vocal on the beautiful “You’re So Great”, the haunting way the chorus of “Death of a Party” lingers on the line “Go to another party/And hang myself” before issuing a redact, “Gently on the shelf”, or the UFO synth on the stellar “Strange News From Another Star”.

Like Modern Life is Rubbish before it, Blur was a success on their terms. It’s the sound of a band taking control of their direction and avoiding stagnation. Unlike Modern Life, Blur was also a big commercial success, spawning the band’s second number one and producing 3 more top 20 hits. Even more amazing, it was the bands breakthrough in America. Though “Song 2” is actually the bands 3rd biggest hit in the states, it was their first to become omnipresent culturally. Blur sold over 500 thousand copies in America and won them their first big foothold there. By 1997, the Blur vs. Oasis debate was over. There are only two types of people now; those that believe Blur to be the better band and those who are wrong.



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user ratings (485)
Chart.
3.7
great
other reviews of this album
Porter W. Richards (2)
Even if Blur tried to set themselves apart from their peers with this album, there's not much to lik...

(4.5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
October 29th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Full series: http://badgersenate.com/

New review every Tuesday and Thursday

Twittuh: https://twitter.com/HolidayKirk
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/ben.thornburgh

SnakeDelilah
October 29th 2013


7254 Comments


For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 500)



Radiohead's 9th studio album in 2017

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KILL
October 29th 2013


71795 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

never dug this record

leisure>

Pheromone
October 29th 2013


3511 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Ouch, best review I've seen all week.

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StallionMang
October 29th 2013


5644 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"There are only two types of people now; those that believe Blur to be the better band and those who are wrong."

Pos'd just for that.

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KILL
October 29th 2013


71795 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

actually MOR is good

hiyabootchie
October 29th 2013


350 Comments


This one is alright and somewhat of a turning point for them but their next album 13 is by far my fav by them.

RobbaqPL
October 29th 2013


160 Comments


I absolutely love Beetlebum for some reason, but the album as a whole never really clicked.
I came to really like your reviews, I think you hit the sweet spot between focusing on the background too much and too little. Well, most of the time at least. Anyway, your series is probably the best non-staff thing on Sputnik right now.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
October 29th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah backstory is being scaled down going forward

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
October 29th 2013


16023 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nice review, best Blur album for me

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ZackSh33
October 30th 2013


299 Comments


Nice review. Pos cause this series is awesome.

WarmInTheWinter
October 30th 2013


78 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"There are only two types of people now; those that believe Blur to be the better band and those who are wrong"

(Stands up and claps slowly)

Great review though for a great album. I don't really think Blur lost the battle though. Maybe they didn't sell as many albums or have as many fans, but they made the most daring and interesting albums of their career and respect for them kept growing and growing. Oasis sort of just became more of a joke every year. At this point, most people I know even the supposedly "good" Oasis albums. Fine by me though. If it makes more Blur fans than I'm satisfied; the world needs more of them.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
October 30th 2013


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Lost the battle, won the war is what I always say.

jefflebowski
April 11th 2014


8243 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review, probably my favourite blur despite being overlong

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HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
April 11th 2014


1626 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah. If I may tootle my own horn I'm very proud of this review.

zakalwe
April 11th 2014


8141 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Tootle on dude.
Modern Life Is Rubbish has always been my best Blur.
Rose tinted specs aside them Britpop years produced 95% dross and 100% arseholes.

KILL
April 11th 2014


71795 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Modern Life Is Rubbish has always been my best Blur.

yes! love leisure as well fuck the retards who dont

Futures
April 11th 2014


10803 Comments


Beetlebum is incredible

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jtswope
April 11th 2014


2155 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this album always hits the spot

jefflebowski
April 11th 2014


8243 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this and 13 stand way above the rest of blur's catalogue for me, but parklife and modern life are both solid and the great escape is hugely underrated

'Educated the expensive way, he knows his Claret from a Beaujolais' from charmless man is one of my favourite rhymes of all time



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