It was inevitable that Noel Gallagher would take a poke at Blur. Back in 1995 Gallagher was never one to let down a journalist in search of a headline, but even when it seemed he’d crossed the line in wishing death on his then-rivals it didn’t quite seem out of line. Blur were easy targets.
They seemed like art school boys. A little too clever for their own good. But clearly something was lurking beneath the surface.
Blur’s debut “Leisure” was notable, if not something I fell in love with.
And I recall being at dinner with friends in London around the time of the release of Blur’s second album, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”. The promotion for the album seemed to be everywhere and when the subject of the album came up there were many rolled eyes. It wasn’t clear why — it was a decent sophomore effort — but Blur engendered that sort of response.
Then came “Parklife”. I was hooked. It was everything I wanted a modern English band’s music to be, and then some.
But then came “The Great Escape” and “Blur” and “13” and “Think Tank”. There were moments. But none of them captured the sustained heights of “Parklife”. And more often the tracks seemed experimental to the point of excess, or perhaps simply for the sake of being experimental, and just didn’t engage me as a listener.
So when I heard Blur was preparing a 21 disc (18 CD/3 DVD) boxset, it struck me as overkill. Honestly, I’m not sure I listen to all of the tracks on any of the Blur “best of” sets. But still, Blur is one of those bands that is intriguing enough that I sought it out. Funnily enough, “Blur 21” doesn’t disappoint.
“Blur 21” is the kind of treasure trove-laden compilation usually reserved for the Bob Dylan’s and Neil Young’s of the world. But sitting with all this material over the past week or so (the 7 original studio albums with companion bonus discs boasting 65 unreleased tracks — also released individually — plus 3 scorching live DVDs) I was struck by just how good Blur were, if only because they tried so damn hard.
In retrospect, Blur were a band who were never content. In the great tradition of the best English artists, they were constantly searching for new and different and unique sounds. As the albums rolled along in the 1990’s, it was often frustrating as a record-buyer. But looking back, there’s a Sandanista!-effect going on here. Blur worked hard at what they did; tried a little of everything and the results, strewn across this comprehensive box set, are impressive.
While the B-sides included here on the bonus discs accompanying each studio album don’t rival those of Gallagher’s legendary Oasis output, there are gems a-plenty, not to mention lots of trainspotting for the serious fan. It’s clear from the early demos featured on the bonus discs that as a unit the band clearly pushed each other. Check out Damon Albarn’s demo for “Beetlebum”. It’s pretty obvious he knew what he wanted from the band. But they (especially Blur’s secret weapon, guitarist Graham Coxon) jettisoned his ideas and improved the track 10-fold.
Best of all, these remasters sound fantastic. My 1994 CD copy of “Parklife” pales in comparison to the rich, full-bodied sound the band has achieved on the discs here. The LP remasters — in a gorgeous box or individually — are even better.
So if you’re a fan, this is a must-have. And if you’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Blur like me I think you’ll be impressed with the scope and breadth of what the band achieved. I know I was.
This article is copyright 2012 by Jeff Slate. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.