Releasing a self-titled album five albums in may sound like an odd move for any band but it usually means said band has decided to move in a different direction or reinvent itself somewhat.
Hence Pearl Jam‘s “avocado album” and Blur‘s fifth album… Blur.
Although previous albums rejected an American influence pretty much entirely, this one toyed much more with that and embraced a newer, more raw style. With Graham Coxon freer to try random stuff and Damon Albarn writing more personal tracks, this looked set to be a big change for the band.
Was it a good change, though?
Seeing as it quickly went platinum, I’d say so.
The album opens with “Beetlebum”, a single which went straight to number 1 in the UK charts and, although its title sounds a bit silly, the song is actually about heroin so not quite as whimsical as it may seem. In the vein of “Coffee & TV”, “Beetlebum” purposefully has its sleepy moments and its pretty, sweeter moments with an oddly sexy vibe throughout. The melody develops beautifully and it remains one of Blur’s most memorable and bittersweet tracks.
Not quite as memorable as song number 2, though.
Or, to give it its full title: “Song 2”.
This one’s a perfect two-minute long ode to grungy minimalism and despite having been overplayed throughout the years in every single 90’s advert, it’s still a lot of fun. The fact it parodied American grunge music yet made the album popular in the US at the same is a sweet irony I’m sure the band appreciated.
Next up is “Country Sad Ballad Man”. After some mysterious string-scraping from Coxon, who is as erratic and experimental as ever with his solos here, we finally get to the chilled melody. The result is a playful song with Albarn going to a higher pitch than usual. The following song, “M.O.R.” (stands for “middle of the road”), is an upbeat, relentless track with a very 90’s chorus that may prove too whiny for some but, luckily, “M.O.R.” boasts an enjoyably action-packed video directed by John Hardwick so there’s always that.
“On Your Own” was another hit single to be released from the album. Electronic static sounds and beeps open this robotic, bluesy tune as a creative beat (to say the least) brings us to a catchy hook and reliably sardonic lyrics. “Theme From Retro” is a moody, atmospheric transition track made up of dub-style echoey voices, random beats, organ solos and guitar screeches.
“You’re So Great” is next and that one’s a complete Coxon concoction with him even taking over the vocals. It’s a cute and clumsy ballad in which the weakly sung chorus somehow works to the song’s advantage. It’s definitely a lighter effort but a decidedly charming one nonetheless. As for “Death Of A Party”, it’s a slower, more morose and sadder track peppered with off-beat buzzes and scratches. There’s definitely something eerie, almost depressing about that one but it does grow on you.
“Chinese Bombs” was always one of my favourites from this particular album. Here we have a more genuinely punky track with Albarn’s voice sounding deliberately grungy and distorted. It’s fast, fun, gritty and oddly catchy, mostly thanks to Coxon’s simple yet perfect hook. The chorus is eclectic and nutty and altogether this makes up one short but sweet little piece of madness. “I’m Just a Killer For Your Love” is a slower, moodier, more low-key track with rougher backing and riffs. The best way to describe it is to say it’s like a worthy but unpolished Gorillaz song.
The next track, “Look Inside America” is very Blur and, although it’s melodically sound, it’s a bit all over the place. It’s much more upbeat than most of the other songs on the album and, as such, it feels like it belongs more on The Great Escape or Leisure. It’s still an entertaining listen, though, and some violins are even thrown in for variety. As for “Strange News From Another Star”, it’s a more acoustic song with a Bowie-esque feel to it. Again, this one’s a bit more reflective and moody but it’s admittedly well put together. It grows into a very good song pretty quick.
As we near the end of the album, we get “Movin’ On”: an energetic, anarchic track in which Coxon basically flies his guitar to the Moon and back. One could definitely see this one end a concert chaotically. And finally, we have “Essex Dogs” (merged with hidden track “Interlude”) and it’s a long one led by a weird car starting-up type of sound. The song’s pretty darn close to being an abstract Daft Punk outing. It kind of feels like whatever sounds or melodies they had leftover they stuffed into this mostly incomprehensible last track but hey, it’s the final track, why the hell not?
All in all, it’s no surprise why this new approach worked for Blur: it’s a grittier sound with more attitude, more experimentation and a little bit of growing up. The old cocky art student vibe remains, of course, but by looking into other types of musical inspiration and writing more personal tracks, the band definitely grew with this album and, because of that, as a self-titled album, it’s a success.
While not quite as flashy or colourful as some of Blur’s other albums, this effort is packed with enough unforgettable hits and hidden gems that it deserves to be right up there as one of their best.
Blur’s “Blur” is most definitely one to check out and it gets a solid 4 Happy Cobains out of 5 from us.