Blur practically invented Britpop.
It was the media that invented the term, of course, but the impetus lay in albums like Blur’s sophomore album, 1993’s “Modern life is rubbish”. Written in part as a reaction the Grunge scene and the alternative explosion in North America, frontman and principal songwriter Damon Albarn wrote a poppier rock record influenced by British artists with songs satirizing British life. These British-centric themes and ideas carried forward into 1994’s “Parklife” and then, released during the height of Britpop mania in 1995, “The great escape” saw Blur almost parodying themselves in technicolour cartoons.
When it came time to record album number five, the four members of Blur had become disenchanted with the scene and really, with themselves. Albarn finally bought into the lo-fi influenced rock (think Pavement) that guitarist Graham Coxon was becoming more and more enamoured with. Coxon convinced Damon that it was time to write ‘music that scared people again’. The band convened to Reykjavik, Iceland and “Blur” was born.
Many of you who read these pages frequently will know by now that I have been a fan from the beginning so it may not surprise you to see this album in my top five for 1997. However, when I first heard the lead off single “Beetlebum” and then the rest of “Blur” later on, I didn’t recognize it as the band I loved and was initially unsure of the change. It was so jarring, so different from the zaniness of “The great escape”. Of course, it didn’t take super long for me to buy in, maybe a few go rounds in my CD player, and I didn’t look back. “Blur” is crunchy, noisy, and aggressive and it’s not surprising that it finally gave the band their first hit single in the US.
I imagine most of you already know “Song 2” (often misnamed “The Woo hoo song”) so I didn’t include it as part of my three picks for you below.
”M.O.R.”: David Bowie and Brian Eno get songwriting credits since Damon and company lifted the chord progression from two songs on “Lodger”, which themselves shared the same progression as an experiment of sorts. “M.O.R.” is a song that builds through each verse structure to the explosive chorus. The call and response vocals are fun, each taking turns under distortion effects. The drums are punchy and the guitars wailing. It’s most certainly constructed for pogoing and shouting along with and just having a blast.
”Beetlebum”: As mentioned above, this was my first exposure to the new album, being the first single released and also the opening number on the playlist. Writers have called it a tribute to The Beatles and you certainly can hear their influence buried deep within all the crunchy guitars and feedback but it could just be laziness on the writers’ parts, making assumptions based on the name. Damon Albarn has admitted that it was influenced by his own experiences with heroin and other drugs and that definitely sounds spot on. It is droning and flailing and free falling. It would have easily fit on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack had it been recorded a year or so sooner.
”On your own”: Yes! This is actually my favourite song on the album. It’s a singalong, for sure, but not in the traditional sense. It becomes one in the way the thumping drums and Coxon’s wailing guitars frame the vocals so wonderfully. And Albarn’s singing is so personal and lazy, like he doesn’t care who’s listening but knows we all are. The backing vocals join in midway through the verse and the chorus becomes a defiant shout. You just want to pump your fist in support. This is the new Blur. They don’t give a fig if you don’t like it but somehow know you will. Wicked.
Check back next Thursday for album #4 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out albums #10 through #6 here and you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.