I am in mourning. Easter was tarnished (ish) by Damon Albarn’s announcement that Blur are splitting. Again.
The singer said the Olympics closing concert in Hyde Park will be band’s final gig. And here I was, thinking a succession of seminal gigs and recording sessions would lead to a new album. I wasn’t at the Brit Awards ceremony, but I felt the passion, goddamnit. So I thought it time to reminisce. What has been the highlight of the band’s career? What is Blur’s best album?
I called up a couple of friends and asked their opinion. “It would have to be 'Parklife',” one said. “'13',” another added. “Damon’s honesty is heartbreaking.” For me, it was a toss-up between the two. Do I go for one of the most culturally significant albums of the last century, or do I do what I usually do - choose the underdog? Well, I went for the underdog. And then I changed my mind.
In 'Parklife', Damon becomes the Martin Amis of the music world. With a few lines, he manages to highlight both the country’s pre-millennial anxiety and London’s blooming, '90s renaissance. Add narrative on the “travels of the mystical lager-eater”, and you see Blur breaking out of the indie-ghetto they were once classed in. 'Girls & Boys' and 'Parklife' inspired a whole generation of anthem-singing, binge drinking lads. But it’s not all jump and hump. Coxon’s melodic guitar playing brings a layer of complexity and depth, as demonstrated on 'End Of A Century' and 'To The End'. Lovely.
Blur’s most underrated and experimental work. Written after Albarn’s break up with Elastica singer Justine Frischmann, the album is a darkly honest description of solitude and heartbreak, and finds Albarn “breaking through the barrier of self-consciousness.” From the opening, eight-minute long 'Tender', where the singer croons “Love’s the greatest thing that we have” to 'No Distance Left To Run'- “It’s over, you don’t need to tell me”- it is a tale of sadness and resignation. I think it's time to admit we all cried at the reunion gigs.
Where '13' seems to be Damon’s album, 'Blur' screams Graham. The band drop their well-honed Britpop mantle in favour of lo-fi and alternative rock. A thrashing 'Song 2' appealed to an American audience that had previously turned its head. And on acoustically shaded, vaguely psychedelic tracks- 'Country Sad Ballad Man', anyone? - various across-the-pond influences are apparent. Though Albarn’s lyrics are relatively toned down, we still have the brilliant, resonating pop of tracks like 'Beetlebum'. The album also features the first song Coxon wrote lyrics and provided lead vocals for – 'You’re So Great'. Which is a gem.
I enjoy this album for its timely significance. The Madchester backlash over the first album, an unsuccessful US tour and the rising popularity of rival band Suede was diminishing Blur’s status in the UK. So the band underwent a makeover. 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' is a melodic first attempt to reinvigorate classic British pop. It’s the calm before the storm. It’s Blur finding their identity. Albarn’s anglocentric rhetoric on songs like 'Sunday, Sunday' poses the album as the younger sibling of 'Parklife' – an investigation into the hopes and fears of middle England.
Who doesn’t love a spat? The hyped Oasis-Blur feud came to a head when 'Country House' reached Number 1 in UK singles charts, beating the Manchester fivesome’s 'Roll With It'. There is even a reference to Oasis’ second album - “Now he’s got morning glory, life’s a different story.” Albarn emphasises the loneliness of detachment in the shape of 'Charmless Man' and 'Stereotypes', providing an uncomfortable depiction of a world devoid of emotions, a world where everything is perfect. 'The Universal' adds an essential touch of poetic-pop balladry. In some ways, however, the album almost sounds like a glossy, overproduced sequel to 'Parklife'.
Embodying a mixture of dance, hip hop, dub, jazz and African music, 'Think Tank' is nearer to the sound of a Gorillaz album than classic Blur. And it might have something to do with losing a lead guitarist (Coxon only played on four tracks). Recorded at a time when war with the Middle East was looming, the album is an exploration of love and politics. The recording sessions in Morocco, which produced 'Crazy Beat', 'Gene By Gene', and 'Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club', signal Albarn’s shifting musical interests. But er… where’s Graham?
'Leisure' clings onto the coat tails of a dying scene. Influenced by the juxtaposition of the shoegaze and drug-fuelled culture of the late 80s, it is a group of boys in floppy fringes and baggy trousers, declaring their fondness for pop romantics. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Damon when he calls it “awful”, though. 'Leisure' has its merits. Psychedelic rock meshed with dance rhythms - in the form of 'Sing' - made perfect sense on the Trainspotting soundtrack, for example.
That's my list. I'll probably change my mind later on. What's yours?
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