Parlophone, 1997

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Woo hoo!

That’s not the name of the song, or the album, or anything, but it’s the catchphrase from “Song 2,” which is what most casual fans think of when you mention Blur. Which is a shame, because the two-minute ditty is a fun blast of true Britpop but not indicative of both the band and its eponymous fifth album, and those expecting the rest of this album to sound like that are in for a surprise.

To be fair, everyone was surprised by Blur, as it subverted expectations and took the band’s sound in a new direction. Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife were fine albums, but there wasn’t much left to say along those lines after The Great Escape. So where “rivals” Oasis simply expanded their sound and noise on 1997’s Be Here Now, Blur went off in a new direction, one less pop-oriented and a little more interesting than the previous three albums.

Calling this experimental is a stretch; outside of the noisy avant-garde of “Essex Dogs,” wisely used as the closing track, this is all enjoyable and intelligent, if a touch melancholy. But it pushes the boundaries of anything Blur had done before, drawing on classic Beatles and Bowie but adding strong influences from American lo-fi alternative bands (“Country Sad Ballad Man” is the best Pavement song Blur every wrote). It was a canny choice, one that kept the band popular in Britain and introduced them to mainstream America.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

More importantly, it brought them back together. Problems with drinking, the band’s perception in the public eye, singer/songwriter Damon Albarn’s control of the group and a growing dissatisfaction with the sound were threatening to tear the band apart. The change in sound and style revitalized them and it shows in the propulsive, fascinating songs, one good one coming after another. “Beetlebum” was the first hit and shows a strong White Album debt, “On Your Own” is a song only this band could pull off (even if Albarn sounds a bit like Ian Hunter here) and “Song 2” is, as said above, a timeless, thoughtless romp.

The most American alt-rock influenced song here is guitarist Graham Coxon’s “You’re So Great,” which is just him singing (a first!), an acoustic guitar and the worst recording equipment available (on purpose). It directly contrasts the shimmering acid house trips “Theme From Retro” and “Death Of A Party,” as well as the 90-second rock rave-up “Chinese Bombs,” all distorted power chords and garage rock. From the normally mannered, hit-chasing Blur, all of this was a big surprise and retains a signature individuality unlike any other in their discography.

“Look Inside America” is a nice road-trip tune with strings added for effect and “Strange News From Another Star” is a dense, knotty piece that starts off as a confessional ballad, but “I’m Just A Killer For Your Love” is quite repetitive without saying much and “Essex Dogs” is tough to get through. Still, these are toward the end of the disc, and a couple of missteps during a reinvention is forgivable, especially when the rest is so good.

When Modern Life Is Rubbish appeared in 1993, there wasn’t anything else like it on the scene. Blur carries on that tradition and, one could argue, is probably the last truly great album of the band’s classic lineup (although Vish Iyer makes a great case for 13, the melancholy disc that followed this one) and one of the only worthwhile offerings of the dying gasp of the alternative rock movement, which at this point was being taken over by pop-friendly, mediocre rock bands who wouldn’t dream of something as individual, eclectic and detailed as Blur.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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