Discography Dive: British band Blur perfects the pop album
Emerald writers love a deep dive. In the Discography Dive series, Emerald A&C staffers write in-depth about their favorite groups. This week, music writer Nic Castillon looks into the British band Blur’s lengthy history.
“Leisure” (1991) and “Modern Life is Rubbish” (1993)
Blur signed to Food Records in 1990 and released its debut album “Leisure” in 1991. Unfortunately, the record feels like an uninspired derivative of previous British acts such as The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. It would take a few years for Blur to fully develop its sound. “Leisure” is a debut record that fails to capture the band’s full potential — similar to Radiohead’s “Pablo Honey.”
“Modern Life is Rubbish” was a step in the right direction. The album would later be considered the first release in the band’s “Life” trilogy, alongside “Parklife” and “The Great Escape.” With this record, Blur began to explore a richer studio sound that later manifests itself in the offbeat production of the band’s subsequent albums.
In 1994, Blur reached a high point both critically and commercially with “Parklife.” This pushed the band to the forefront of the emerging Britpop genre. On this record, Blur found a distinct musical voice, in addition to a successful hit: the dance-driven single “Girls & Boys.” On the satirical “Parklife” and the ridiculous album closer “Lot 105,” Blur refuses to take itself too seriously. Tracks like “End of A Century” and “To The End” add a melancholic feel to the album. This record creates a distinctly British sound and remains one of the most enjoyable listens in the band’s discography. Not only is “Parklife” a defining album of the Britpop era, it is one of the best albums to come out of its decade.
“The Great Escape” (1995)
In 1995, Blur quickly followed up the success of “Parklife” with “The Great Escape,” an album that frontman Damon Albarn would later criticize as “messy.” Despite Albarn’s comments, “The Great Escape” remains a solid entry in the Blur discography. Touching on many similar themes, “The Great Escape” functions well as a companion to “Parklife,” and the lively “Charmless Man” remains one of the band’s best singles.
Blur’s choice to make its fifth album self-titled could be seen as a conscious rebirth. During the late ‘90s, Britpop was declining and Blur was seeking to distance itself from the sound of its past records. On this album, the band takes influence from American indie-rock acts such as Pavement, and it presents a relaxed, lo-fi sound that contrasts the polished pop music of “Parklife” and “The Great Escape.” Tracks like “You’re So Great” and “I’m Just A Killer For Your Love” showcase the band in its rawest form. The stripped-down and straight forward “Song 2” also ended up charting at number 6 on the U.S. alternative rock charts, which brought more attention to Blur among American audiences.
With “13,” Blur began to push its music in an art rock direction. This album continues with the same experimentation from the band’s self-titled release. On tracks such as “Battle” and “Bugman,” Blur melds feedback and noise with traditional pop elements. The single “Coffee & TV” showcases some of guitarist Graham Coxon’s mature songwriting. “13” also features some of the longest tracks Blur has ever written. The soulful album opener “Tender” pushes at eight minutes long. In retrospect, “13” is one of Blur’s greatest albums. Those turned off by the band’s earlier Britpop sound can find an engaging listen with this release.
“Think Tank” (2003)
In the early 2000s, guitarist Coxon made the decision to leave Blur. The band would go on to write and record its seventh album, “Think Tank,” as a three piece. With Coxon’s departure, Blur experimented with a more electronic sound, which polarized some fans. Despite this musical shift, “Think Tank” offers a refreshing take on Blur’s established sound and further explores the band’s proclivity for studio experimentation. Much of “Think Tank” would also foreshadow Albarn’s work on the landmark Gorillaz album “Demon Days.”
“The Magic Whip” (2015)
Over a decade passed between “Think Tank” and “The Magic Whip.” On this album, Coxon rejoined the band, and Blur returned to a more guitar-oriented sound. “The Magic Whip” proved that Blur still had the potential for well-crafted albums over 20 years later.
Check out Blur’s “Coffee and TV” below:
An earlier version of this post attributed “Coffee and TV’s” songwriting to Damon Albarn. Graham Coxon wrote the song. The post has been updated to reflect the correct information.