Album A&E is a new series in which we revisit underrated or maligned albums and give them some much-needed rehabilitation. Here’s a look at Blur’s debut album ‘Leisure’.
It seems a bit churlish to be arguing with the man behind a record, but Damon Albarn really doesn’t like Blur’s ‘Leisure’.
Having previously discounted the band’s 1991 debut as “awful”, in the 2010 documentary No Distance Left To Run the frontman even hinted that had it been released into today’s more rapid and unforgiving climate, Blur might not have been heard of again.
“Thank God that [the album’s release] was a time when you could make a record that wasn’t right and not be discarded the next minute,’’ he noted.
Contemporary reviews were inclined to agree. Delivering an even-handed six, NME’s Andrew Collins declared, “It ain’t the future. Blur are merely the present of rock n roll.”
And you can certainly see where that complaint comes from. Scared they’d missed out on the northern uproar that was Madchester and baggy, the art school southerners were persuaded to borrow heavily from the pallet of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays – even Albarn’s haircut at the time seemed a ‘lift’ from Tim Burgess.
It’s opportunistic and it sounds dated, yet thanks to the superior DNA Blur possessed, against the odds ‘Leisure’ is not a bad album. Sure the moments when the Blur genetic code would assert itself and see them emerging like a Hulk from their modest Bruce Banner beginnings, were to come, but it’s a far more assured first step then its creators credit.
The first two glow with a golden pop fuzz and boast a feet-shifting irresistibility that made them indie disco classics, as even while borrowing someone else’s sonics, Blur’s identity shins through – particularly through the personality of Graham Coxon’s guitar.
The Albarn-dominated ‘Sing’ meanwhile – which was revived among Blur favourites with a cameo on the Trainspotting soundtrack – is the embryonic work of the man who go on to write operas and create cartoon popstars with its cathedral-like atmosphere and cinematic scope.
However, ‘Leisure’ is greater than a triptych.
‘Bang’ is a sweet suburban shuffle that open’s Albarn’s net curtain-twitching account, providing the foundations for his best Britpop era observations, while ‘Bad Day’‘s melodica and Albarn’s curiously detached delivery raise it above the early 90s ‘indie dance’ beats is built upon.
It’s also worth saying a word about ‘I Know’, the double AA side of first single ‘She’s So High’, which replaced ‘Sing’ on the rearranged US tracklisting of ‘Leisure’. It’s not going to win any prizes for its lyrics, but it’s hard to see why the band are apparently ashamed of this neat groove, and it would have been no bad thing if it had sat alongside ‘Sing’ on both sides of the Atlantic (as it did in Japan).
The fact that we can still tinker with its running order 20 years later proves that ‘Leisure’ isn’t perfect – for a start there’s a handful of head-crunchers that seem at odds with the band’s burgeoning 60s-infused pop – and its ideas are underdeveloped compared to Blur’s later work. Yet even with its Baggy debt, it’s still an assured debut that laid strong foundations for Blur, so much so you could even detect its fingerprints within last year’s Record Store Day release ‘Fool’s Day’.
Not the strongest in the flock, but ‘Leisure’ is no black sheep either.