Modern Life Is Rubbish


Parlophone, 1993

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Modern Life Is Rubbish marks the birth of Britpop and, presumably, the death of the brief, baggy Madchester scene in British rock music.

Blur’s 1991 debut Leisure was a swirly Madchester entry along the lines of Charlatans UK and the Stone Roses – perhaps with a little Happy Mondays thrown in – and didn’t really establish the band in any way outside of “She’s So High.” Realizing an original approach was needed to succeed, Blur completely reinvented itself as a guitar rock-pop band, one distinctly British in sound and spirit and one that drew on both past and present traditions in sound while the intelligent, sardonic lyrics required further review.

There wasn’t much else like it in 1993, and Blur’s standing rose considerably, positioning them as a sort of intellectual opposite to the heady classic booze-rock of Oasis. Which was a bit unfair to Blur, since they could rock just as hard; their best single, “Popscene,” wasn’t even on the British version of this album but was slotted on to the American version, and it is as kinetic and forward as anything on Definitely Maybe. Certainly, it is now considered the first Britpop song, and it deserves the honor.

But drawing comparisons to a “rival” band reduces the band to clichés just so that opposites can be found, and Blur’s music doesn’t deserve that. The songs are vibrant, dense and unique, establishing the Blur sound that would come to define every album since. That it wasn’t a huge commercial success is beside the point; it started a movement every bit as much as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Definitely Maybe did and remains a highwater mark in the Britpop canon.

The title gives away some of Albarn’s sarcastic commentary; the jangle and layered production make the messages more positive than they really are, such as the wry commentary on the superficial among us in “Colin Zeal:” “He’s an immaculate dresser, he’s your common aggressor… Looks at his watch, he’s on time yet again / He’s pleased with himself…He’s a modern retard, he’s terminal lard…he’s an affable man, with a carotene tan.”

“Pressure On Julian” improves on its ‘60s British Invasion verses with a forward-thinking instrumental break that is both droning and hypnotic, while “Star Shaped” and second single “Chemical World” are cheerful jangle pop, even if the latter has somewhat darker themes about shady people and cheap highs (“These townies, they never speak to you / Just stick together so they never get lonely / Feeling lead, feeling quite light-headed / Had to sit down and have some sugary tea / In a chemical world, it’s very very cheap”).

A goofy carnival intermission splits the album in two before roaring into the stomping riffs of “Sunday Sunday,” which satirizes our big dreams on the weekends: “Sunday, Sunday, here again in tidy attire / You read the color supplement, the TV guide / You dream of protein on a plate…Then bingo yourself to sleep.” The original intent of Modern Life was to compare British life to American life, but the themes universally apply to all comfortable first-world middle-class people, so the album resonates.

Not every song works, especially the dull “Miss America” and “Villa Rosie,” but even the mediocre songs are still crackling with life and guitarist Graham Coxon shines throughout. Blur was criticized for carrying on without Coxon when he left the band, and it’s easy to see why, just as his return in The Magic Whip was cause for celebration and made that album one of the band’s best since Blur.

But by the time of the joyous “Turn It Up,” the only song here that nods to the band’s Madchester roots, you’ll wonder why this was largely unappreciated at the time of its release. It’s not perfect, it has a couple too many songs and others that run a bit long, but somehow Modern Life Is Rubbish pulls it all together in a colorful, energetic wash full of lyrical and musical depth.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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