Album Title: Blur
Running Time: 56m 59s
Track listing: 1 Beetlebum; 2 Song 2; 3 Country Sad Ballad Man; 4 M.O.R.; 5 On Your Own; 6 Theme From Retro; 7 You’re So Great; 8 Death of a Party; 9 Chinese Bombs; 10 I’m Just a Killer For Your Love; 11 Look Inside America; 12 Strange News From Another Star; 13 Movin’ On; 14 Essex Dogs
Blur’s 1995 album, “The Great Escape”, spawned several massive hit singles: ‘Chamless Man’, ‘Country House’, ‘Stereotypes’ and ‘The Universal’. It has to be said though that the band and the fans were restless with this material. It sat in that unfortunate area known as ‘commercial bubblegum’. Personally I thought ‘Charmless Man’ was a cracking tune but compared to earlier work it was probably an unwelcome trip into ‘too-popular’ music.
With this in mind, Damon Albarn took on the challenge of re-shaping the band to reflect a more raw and ‘un-shaven’ sound, if you like. With more than a hint of American cult legend-in-his-own-lifetime, Beck, ‘Blur’ is a strained and tortured beauty..
The opening track and single, ‘Beetlebum’, is both powerful and melodic. Graham Coxon shoots out focused riffs which are countered hauntingly by an acoustic-tinged chorus of epic quality. The song then drifts off into the atmosphere with sincere best wishes eminating from every note. You’re probably nearly asleep now…
Not for long. One of the best songs of 1997 crashes in and assaults your ear drums in a way that may be illegal in some countries. The ‘woo-hoo’ chorus of ‘Song 2’ will probably go down in history and the two minute track is one of the most effective rockers to come from Britain. Ever.
Most of the tracks are heavy in delivery and content. ‘Death of a Party’ and ‘Theme From Retro’ are dominated by eerie organ accompaniment and the dark premise of ‘Death…’ is further emphasised by the conflicting nature of the title. ‘Chinese Bombs’ is an anarchic punk-style rocker that weighs in to decent effect at about 90 seconds and ‘I’m Just a Killer For Your Love’ crackles with Beck-style distortion and an amplifier-aided vocal style which is literally painfully good. ‘M.O.R.’ is a strutting feel-good anthem that paradoxically retains ‘cool’ status.
There is a strong mellow side to the album though too. The top-notch ‘Country Sad Ballad Man’ is a mid-tempo acoustic and bass foot-tapper which seems to poke fun at the average depressed country singer although lyrically, like ‘Song 2’, it is indeciphrable. ‘Look Inside America’ sounds more than a little like a cross between ‘Country House’ and ‘End of a Century’ from “Parklife” – it’s fairly throw-away really but has a nice mid-section. And ‘You’re So Great’ features the debut lead vocal performance of Graham Coxon who also wrote the song – a restrained electric ballad of some quality.
There are a few tracks that are less impressive by comparison: ‘Strange News From Another Star’ is a brooding but laborious acoustic melee, ‘On Your Own’ is just too clever for its own good and is downright grating, the 8 minute ‘Essex Dogs’, (probably not a socially relevant observation in any way I wouldn’t think), just turns out to be a mild diversion punctuated with occasionally spoken dialogue and lots of strange noises and ‘Movin’ On’ almost makes the top layer but a lack of imagination here and there means that it has to be make do as being the merely the topping.
‘Blur’ cannot be sneezed at. It is a fine record and a wonderful progression for the band. One can only hope that they keep the level of quality going for the next one and challenge the likes of Radiohead and The Verve.