The ones we like best - the big pop anthems, the soundtrack to our very own twin summers of love - are monuments to the power of pop.
There’s a story going round that Blur had so much trouble agreeing on the line-up of this album that eventually the record company lost patience and left it up to public research groups. Which is, of course, just how it should be. After all, in the recent past, Blur have not exactly kept shtoom about the fact that they don’t want these songs any more. In fact, they even paid them the ultimate insult by bashing them out, with no feeling whatsoever, in chronological order at the awful A-sides tour last year; a gesture which disrespected their fans by sulkily giving in to what the plebs wanted so that the band need never do it again. Their loss. These songs are ours now and they’re brilliant. Well, most of them.
The ones we like best – the big pop anthems, the soundtrack to our very own twin summers of love – are monuments to the power of pop. The ones the band still like – the sulky, moody, half-baked, experimental ones – are a bit lame. Oh well. At the very least, this magnificent collection reminds us that, at their peak, Blur were a band who had the balls to be significant, to mean something other than just doing it for the music, ma-a-a-n. This was a band with an agenda: to nail the state of the nation and to make a difference. Can you believe the audacity of this? To [I]matter[/I]. And in the deepest throes of his love/hate relationship with this rotten little xenophobic island of ours, Damon Albarn created some of the proudest pop songs of his or any other era. That’s pop, by the way, as in popular.
Blur at their best spoke to the masses. I know it’s hard to believe now that they’ve prematurely retreated into their navel-gazing middle-ages (well, all except Alex, who is, in a warped kinda way, still trying to affect the way we think, albeit crudely, through the satiric Fat Les) but Blur were once right in there at the heart of our culture, infecting the blood. The magnificent ‘Parklife’, beating its chest, half critique, half celebration of our petty thug culture; ‘Girls & Boys’, sheer prophecy when you think about all the [I]Ibiza Uncovered[/I] bollocks that the heads of TV think we wanna watch now; and ‘The Universal’, which could have been written as a consolatory soundtrack for all those who gagged at [I]Big Brother[/I].
Back then, in the days when Damon was burning to get inside our skins, he sang some wonderful things. “She says there’s ants in the carpet/Dirty little monsters…” – did a song that was played on the radio all day, every day ever begin so surreally? “Well you and I/Collapsed in love…” – was the worthless, wasted romanticism of a big night out ever so wonderfully captured for all eternity? And did there ever exist a song that summed up the blight and beauty of not-so-great Britishness as the triumphant melancholy of ‘This Is A Low’? The answer to all these questions, should you be thick, is no.
Some of us have had a problem with Blur since then. Not so much that they moved on, musically, spiritually, socially etc, which is their perfect right. But their sheer disregard for the boldest and best of this body of work. Just because these songs embarrassed them once they started listening to broadsheet critics and retreated wounded from the big-sales battle with Oasis doesn’t mean that we’re morons to love them.
So, let Blur bash their way on towards the margins. Damon’s got naff-all to say anymore anyway if the soppy clichés of ‘No Distance Left To Run’ are anything to go by. And as for the will-this-do Talking Headsy clunkalong of ‘Music Is My Radar’, the one band choice on this album… ‘Best Of’? You’re ‘avin’ a laugh, boys! All together now: “He lives in a house/A very big house…” Remember them this way.