An unashamed Britpop fanboy, I find myself defending a genre that I still haven’t gotten the most out of. Blur, Suede, Stereophonics, even the likes of Radiohead and Black Grape, I still haven’t given them the time of day. Too busy riding the high of Pulp and mocking Oasis from time to time, I haven’t had the opportunity to experience what Britpop truly has to offer. Where else is there to start than with The Great Escape? Anywhere else would’ve been better to be fair, but this was the album I chose for myself at complete random in the spur of the moment. There’s no better way to do it.
Blur was one of the few mainstream bands to successfully survive the cull of the post-Britpop era. Pulp hung on by a thread. Oasis fizzled out after two albums worth of songs and never recovered. Some bands like The Verve just folded entirely and it took them decades to recover. Blur was the only band flexible enough to provide successful, catchy hits in the post-Britpop scene. The Great Escape comes from the very heart of the genre, but there are small nods to which direction the band would inevitably be heading in.
I’ll be rightly crucified for admitting Country House is still as enjoyable as it was on my first listen. The smarmy, false cockney mockery is either grating or charming. I fall into the “charming” camp, with Albarn’s lyrics residing in a bubble of irony, yet a nicely fitting tribute to their former manager. The strength of Albarn’s lyrical style and vocal range is subdued somewhat by the recognisably strong guitar riffs and rhythmic basslines that are peppered throughout the song.
But soon the enjoyable drum beats and Albarn’s self-defeated style grow weary. Mr Robinson’s Quango in particular, the weakest song on the album, shows the grinding halt that soon approaches an album riddled with similarly sounding pieces to that of Parklife and Modern Life is Rubbish. The latter half of the album fizzles out entirely, not helped at all by the frankly dumb lyrics of He Thought of Cars, the repetitive, dull beat of It Could Be You and the botched storytelling of the horrible Ernold Same which reminded me of carnival music mixed with the paced storytelling techniques of Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers album, but instead of sleazy content it’s baseless and quite horrible. Closer to The Hoosiers’ Goodbye Mr A than to Pulp’s Have You Seen Her Lately?.
A solid album, one that is severely let down by the second half. Some of the bands greatest hits and best songs come from the starting half, with The Universal, Country House, Charmless Man and the forgotten opening song Stereotypes. All are extremely memorable, but the album as a whole is too loose to work. It doesn’t come together in as solid a state as you would expect, falling to the same issues Parklife had with a quantity over quality stance to what appears on the album. Still, The Great Escape is far better than the majority of Blur’s album projects, and while it is clumsy through much of its second half, there are redeeming qualities to it throughout.