Monday, 23 May 2011

Blur - A brief guide

Along with Oasis and Suede, Blur were the band who spearheaded the Britpop scene that changed the course of my life during the mid 1990's. The nostalgia I feel every time I revisit the 'Parklife' album is overwhelming, and since the album was released I have eagerly followed Blur throughout their career. And now I just wish they'd decide to regroup properly and re;ease some great new music....


Blur first caught the attention of the public when they released the singles 'She's So High' and 'There's No Other Way', both typical of early 90's indie. The debut album 'Leisure' followed, but the band were just beginning to shape their sound and hadn't found their voice just yet. Still, 'Leisure' did have some great moments...


But it was with the single 'Popscene' and the 2nd album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' that Blur carved an identity for themselves, with unmistakably British songwriting and smart, instant melodies....



But it was 'Parklife' that introduced me to the band, just as it introduced them to millions of other people. As the Britpop revolution took the country by storm, Blur won no less than 4 Brit Awards in February 1995 and a few days later I finally bought my own copy of 'Parklife' on tape from WH Smith's in Swindon. My life has been all the better for it since. Witty and intelligent snapshots of 1990's Britain all set to some of the best music in living memory....



Following 'Parklife''s major success the band were the biggest group in Britain... well almost. Oasis were also increasingly popular and despite being two completely different types of bands, Blur and Oasis fought it out publicly in a chart battle. The Blur single 'Country House' was released the same day as Oasis's 'Roll With It', and caused hysteria amongst the record buying public. After crazy hype and much news coverage Blur's single made number one to the delight of the band, but when third album 'The Great Escape' was released in the summer of 1995 it was eventually eclipsed by the second Oasis album which went on to be one of the biggest selling records of all time. 'The Great Escape' may have been a bit underwhelming compared to 'Parklife', but it still had some beautiful snapshots of the heady Britpop days, reflected brilliantly in 'Best Days' and 'Country House', as well as the stunning 'The Universal'...



After Oasis became globally massive, it seemed that Blur challenging them had backfired big time, as they suddenly became very uncool. A change of direction was needed and in 1997 the band returned with the dark and noticeably rawer self titled album 'Blur', which swapped brassy Brtpop for distorted guitars and lo-fi. And what an incredible reinvention it turned out to be....


A couple of years later and Blur had recorded '13', another progression from the previous album that was defined by its often dark and sometimes rather sad tone as well as some rather mad sounds. A record that was at time difficult to accept back then, but an album of absolute genius in hindsight.

After '13' it was a matter of where Blur were going to go next. An indication of their future intentions to make more groove-based music was present on the one-off single 'Music Is My Radar', recorded for inclusion on their 'Best Of Album' in 2000....

A few years later and guitarist Graham Coxon had left the band, reducing the group to the three piece that made 'Think Tank', an uneven album of noticeably more electronic sounds and much more like Albarn's Gorillaz project than most Blur fans would have wanted it to be.... Coxon was greatly missed and the void was definitely obvious on most of these tracks. However there are a few brilliant songs on 'Think Tank': these ones....

After 'Think Tank' the band splintered off into their own separate lives, and never offcially split up but apparently made an attempt at recording more material in 2005. In late 2008 Damon Albarn announced that the band would be reuniting with Coxon to play a series of gigs, and after a few low key shows the band headlined Glastonbury 2009, where they stunned many with an incredible performance. I remember watching it on the telly with tears of joy in my eyes as it brought back wonderful memories....


And then in 2010 they surprised everyone by recording a brand new track 'Fool's Day', which was released as a limited edition 7" vinyl for Record Store Day, one of the 1000 copies owned by me. Talk was that Blur entered the studio earlier this year and apparently the group come together every now and again to see what they can come up with. Perhaps it will be along time before Blur release another album, but if they ever do it should be well worth the wait AND an opportunity to make it up to us (and themselves) for the bad quality of 'Think Tank'....






It has to be said that Blur's B-sides were often very inconsistent in quality. And even though during the 90's i HATED taking sides in the Blur vs Oasis debates, it was obvious that while Oasis were releasing generation-defining classics as B-sides, Blur would often throw any old crap on there. Like the ridiculous 'Alex's Song', 'Red Necks' and the plain silly 'One Born Every Minute'. However if you dig deep you can find some pretty good stuff on their B sides, like these...





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