PREVIEW/BUY PARKLIFE HERE
PREVIEW/BUY MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH HERE
PREVIEW/BUY LEISURE HERE
PREVIEW/BUY 13 HERE
PREVIEW/BUY THE GREAT ESCAPE HERE
PREVIEW/BUY BLUR HERE
PREVIEW/BUY THINK TANK HERE
PREVIEW/BUY THE BLUR 21 BOX SET HERE
Choose Damon. Choose Graham. Choose Damien Hirst’s cheekily agit-pop country house or Sophie Muller’s teen-spirit-stinking squat. Go pop, then spend a decade slowly deflating; study the songbook so you can tear it up with precision. Choose irony, choose sincerity. Choose your own worst NME: a Gallagher, any Gallagher, or maybe just yourself (“Do you feel like a chain store? Practically floored?”). Choose fame, or flee from it fast as you can in a milkman’s suit. Choose Ray Davies, choose Stephen Malkmus; choose la-la-la or wooo-hoo. (And before you answer this next one know that the Queen is watching.) Choose Britain. Choose America.
Or, you know, don’t choose. Blur have been a band for 21 years, and their story is long enough to speak a bunch of contradictions. That’s what happens to bands that house four egos and a pair of dueling geniuses. They rarely move in straight lines. One example of many: Blur arrived in New York for the first time on the day Nevermind was released. When asked on radio what they thought of the new Seattle sound, Graham Coxon said, “I fucking hate it.” Later he’d be the one to lead the band toward a post-grunge, indie-tinged sound, a nugget of which will be blared alongside “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at sports arenas until the end of time. Another? In 1994, Damon Albarn wrote a snide little number about the cultural allure of the West (sneeringly: “La-la-la-la-la/ He’d like to live in Magic America/ With all the magic people”). Three years on, he was a bit more forgiving (one more time, with earnestness: “Look inside America/ She’s alright/ She’s alright”). It’s not despite but because of these pivots and complexities that it feels appropriate to call Blur a defining band of the past two decades.
Up until now, listeners have been urged to take one of two positions: 1) “Great pop band, until they went to America and sold out!”; or 2) “The early stuff is too British, but I love all that weird shit they did later on.” There was a sense that you couldn’t love it all– the witty, theatrical, Kinks-inspired character sketches perfected on 1994’s Parklife and the impressionistic elegies of their 1999 sad-bastard masterstroke, 13. And the choice was loaded. Think I’m exaggerating? Just read some of the reviews of their last two greatest-hits collections, 2000’s Best of Blur and 2009’s Midlife, both of which favored their later stuff. “Let Blur bash their way on towards the margins,” Steve Sutherland wrote defensively in a 2000 issue of NME. “Just because these [early] songs embarrassed them once they started listening to broadsheet critics and retreated wounded from the big-sales battle with Oasis doesn’t mean that we’re morons to love them.” Nine years later, Scott Plagenhoef observed on this site, “Few bands from the 90s increased their stature this decade among America’s self-identifying indie set as much as Blur.” Midlife, he said, “can be seen as a more Americentric look at Blur’s career, which makes some sense as they still have a lot of fanbase growth potential in the States.”
Three years after Midlife — and with the whole world turned to their second reunion at the London Olympics closing ceremony — it’s time for a truce. So here it is, Blur 21, the inevitable box set comprising all seven albums, three DVDs, and five-and-a-half hours’ worth of rarities. And even if you can’t afford the thing on vinyl, its very existence presents us with the perfect opportunity to rethink the band’s history. Because for its breadth and complexity, the box actually tells a simple story: Blur are a band that did an astonishing amount of different things really, really well. — Pitchfork