Yes, Parklife would probably be the one you own, if you happened to be a person from the nineties with a modicum of taste. Blur never made a huge impact over in America ( they fared slightly better in Canada), and they never had the breakthrough Oasis had with “Wonderwall”. In the eternal battle for rock and roll supremacy, the USA attempts to win by ignoring the awesomeness from the U.K. The U.K. does dumbass things like accepting Nickelback and Kings of Leon on their earlier, better work, turning them into assholes long before they break back on their side of the Atlantic.
While I could go on for hours about Parklife or The Great Escape, the inherent Britishness and the britpop melodies, there is something very compelling about Blur’s self titled fifth album. Written at the height of laddism, and while Damon Albarn and gang were beginning to succumb to drugs, alcohol, cheese making, and general unrest, Blur is one dark fucking record.
Frankly, the band has never written a song better than the dark Beatlesesque “Beetlebum”, a song about heroin, Justine Frischmann ( Albarn’s then girlfriend, leader of Britpop girl band Elastica, drug buddy, muse, and general inspiration for the album), and basic misery. The song opens the album on a bit of a down note, particularly after the shiny pop of The Great Escape, but the new alt-rock, American style musical direction showed that Blur were both a quickly maturing band and one that really was versatile ( since a lot of people forget that before Britpop, they were essentially a shoegazing band à la Ride).
The other obvious example of guitarist Graham Coxon’s desire to expand the musical landscape and bring Blur forward was the very jock rock (cock rock) “Song 2”, Blur’s biggest North American hit, a standard at sporting events, despite being again about drugs. The song was never intended to be called “Song 2”, but the name stuck, and the song is the second track on the album, is 2 minutes 2 seconds long, and reached number 2 on the U.K. charts. These are just all happy coincidences.
With the two biggest songs out-of-the-way right off the top, the rest of the album can breathe. What’s left is a wonderful, if somewhat downbeat, masterpiece of rock and roll. They borrow from Bowie for “M.O.R.”, a blast of speed with a cool video to match. “Death of a Party” is about dangerous sex, but dates back from the Modern Life Is Rubbish sessions, so it has a shoegaze meets Britpop feel to it, a nod to the past as they move onwards. “I’m Just A Killer For Your Love”, though, makes you think. It’s Damon’s track, you can tell, as it sets up the Gorillaz beautifully.
The thing I’ve always noticed about this album and it’s follow-up, the mopey and lovely 13, was that you can hear the two primary songwriters battle for the band’s soul. The band would instead implode after recording tracks for their greatest hits package. Coxon would go solo. Damon would become a huge rock star with Gorillaz. Alex James would buy a farm and make rock and roll cheeses. Dave Rowntree would run for a seat in Parliament (and lose). THey would reform famously and perfectly in 2009, and recent talk says the band is ready to record again.
The influences that fall out of this album (Can, The Fall, Bowie, Alice Cooper, XTC) shows a band on the cusp of greatness, real greatness, not just the ghetto they created in music. Blur’s biggest hits like “Girls and Boys” and “Country House” are so defining that it’s easy to forget that they really weren’t that poppy to start, and it was never really their intent to be pop stars. As long as I can grab this album and listen to Damon Albarn’s amazing vocal on “Country Sad Ballad Man”, or feedback drenched “Movin’ On”, or the grinding “Essex Dogs”, I can tell myself that they can come back and produce something new, fresh, and not rely on nostalgia anymore. Both Coxon and Albarn have produced great albums in the decade since Blur’s demise. They, as opposed to the more limited Oasis, are the ones that makes Britpop relevant, and a shifting genre that deserves more attention.
Yeah, I can get behind new Blur albums. I miss them terribly. As much as I love the Gorillaz, I want my boys back together.