Most people only know Blur from the catchy commercial success of “Song 2,” otherwise known as “‘Whoo-hoo!” or “That fucking song that I’m sick of hearing.” Some may also remember the 90’s promiscuity anthem “Girls and Boys” or the silly Britpop swordfight versus Oasis.
Though I think it’s clear who I prefer between the two, in terms of chart hits, Oasis won hands down. Oasis is the Beatles while Blur is … I dunno, the Kinks, probably.
After a 12 year hiatus, Blur returned in 2015 all new album called The Magic Whip. Yes, that’s a new full length album, not a remaster of old songs, slapped inefficiently onto a greatest hits collection. (Looking at you, Soundgarden…) And you know what? It’s solid. I wouldn’t call it perfect; if this album heralds their return, I hope they find their footing a little better on the next one. I can overlook some things for now, like the fact that a few songs would feel more at home on a Gorillaz album, much like 2003’s Think Tank.
But hey, there’s enough reviews out there about the new album. I highly recommend you listen to it eventually, but for now let me help you get acquainted with the songs you missed in the last 25 years.
Blur 101: An introduction
Click here for the playlist-it’s also embedded below
For the truly uninitiated, start with some of the songs you may have heard. Their commercial peak was in the early to mid 90’s. The Great Escape, Parklife, and Modern Life is Rubbish are not only the most popular and most accessible, but my personal favorite. For me, these albums have the perfect balance of artistic vision, musicianship, and sugar-coated cynicism.
Their sound never quite took off in the USA, though. Blur could be quite poppy, especially at a time when the brooding Grunge sound ruled the alt-rock airwaves. In fact, frontman Damon Albarn himself declared “Girls and Boys” an assault on grunge. And Blur is pretty astoundingly British– something only the truest Anglophiles can appreciate.
“Country House” is the tune that fueled the battle vs. Oasis, who released “Roll With It”on the same day in 1995. Is it coincidence that one of the verses contains the line “He’s got morning glory, life’s a different story,” perhaps in reference to Oasis’ album title What’s the Story Morning Glory? Yeah, probably coincidence.
Blur 201 : Advanced Studies
Congrats, you’ve gotten acquainted with the band and are ready to hear some more. Either check out this follow-up playlist or start delving in to some albums.
If you like mid-60’s British guitar groups like the Kinks, the Hollies, the Who, the 93-95 Blur era provides the same quirky, cynical look at society.
If all you’ve ever heard was the maddeningly ubiquitous “Song 2,” give the self-titled Blur a shot first. I’m a bit biased because that particular song became so overplayed that I tend to avoid the entire album, but there truly are some gems like “Beetlebum” and “Strange News From Another Star.” Their sound shifted to appeal more to American audiences and the lyrics are more introspective than on previous albums. Blur serves as a great transition between their more guitar-oriented songs of the early 90’s to the electronic influenced later era, so it has a little something for everyone.
Many people prefer to start at the beginning and work their way though chronologically. That’s not a bad plan, in this case. Blur’s sound was constantly evolving, and you can hear the subtle progress from one album to the next. If you skip around and go from Leisure and Think Tank, you’re in for a culture shock.
Hell, it was odd for me to hear Leisure and I was only a couple years late to the game on that one. This is more of a shoegazey, dream pop sort of sound that you’ll like if you’re already a fan of the Stone Roses. Then again, if you listen to the Stone Roses, you probably don’t need me telling you about Blur.
If you’re already a fan of the Gorillaz, you might consider starting with Think Tank or The Magic Whip as an introduction. They’re the most modern albums and quite a bit less distinctly British. In fact, Magic Whip was conceived in Hong Kong and definitely has a more urban spin. As I mentioned, Think Tank is not the best example of a Blur album, since the band started dissolving during production. Produced by William Orbit, it’s more electronic and overall a bit darker than previous albums. Yes, I think it’s even darker than 13.
Speaking of 13, that’s the sort of album you listen to on a rainy day, or when you’re going through a breakup… which is exactly when it was written. Damon Albarn was dealing with his split from Justine Frischmann and the songs are pretty much what you’d expect from a breakup album. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are solid and not nearly as morose as they could have been. In fact 13 may be Blur’s most underrated album. “Coffee & TV” is a classic with the saddest music video I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I can’t even look at a milk carton without feeling a hitch in my throat. This album was the first produced by William Orbit.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my attempts to
indoctrinate familiarize you with one of my favorite bands of all time. Let me know if you add them to your regular listening rotation!