It is, isn’t it? They are the twentieth-century boys of course. Modern Life is Rubbish gives Blur a clean break from the Madchester illusions of Leisure and a crack at the world around them. Hold each other tightly and crash through their impressive second album, one which gives weight against the argument of the band being known just for their singles. Ignore the fact For Tomorrow is the best piece of the early tracks here, it is just happenstance. Frustration bubbles under the surface of this second record, and off the back of debts, failures to break America and the media perception of the band at the time, their whiplash effect of British memorabilia, steam trains and holding on for dear life is not just a bold step in the right direction but a necessary one which may have saved the band.
Knocking the British aesthetic but also warming to its inevitable and needed embrace, Modern Life is Rubbish straddles the view of the band and the image projected to their fans. Damon Albarn stands at the front of this reinvention, tracks like Advert come to life under Graham Coxon’s guitar work. They need a holiday somewhere in the sun, they cry out for a break from cobbled streets and hatched roof work, but also find a charm and essential Brit core in there. On another go around, the deeper cuts are what brings the best of Blur out in the open. Colin Zeal and all the pent-up animosities which flow from the “pleased with himself,” repetition, followed up nicely with Coxon’s guitar solo placeholders which spawn a delightful back-and-forth between him and Dave Rowntree, are the real and great focuses of the band.
Little delights like Blue Jeans sit softly in the midsection of Modern Life is Rubbish, tender and acoustic-driven with the twee charms of Albarn floating through. It is a nice shift away from the harsher and clearer mockery of holiday packages and zesty cultural typecast. Blue Jeans is a dark horse for the album though, a desire to stay right where they are but knowing their change in image will lead to a change in momentum. Fred Perry jumpers and Sunday Sunday were the future. Light little numbers which draw the listener in, the lad culture overlap, but clearly have a darker meaning lying underneath. Miss America feels clear though, the lust for a crack in the expectant boom of performing over there.
Despite the well wishes, the cracks and stress Blur were already experiencing come clear on Modern Life is Rubbish. Their bold risk of reinvention pays off and leads to the not-so-great Britishness featured on Parklife and The Great Escape. Thematically clumped together and the feeling is all the same, although, on the first of the trilogy, it feels despondent. Completely detached from the positivity and mockery which would be drawn on further down the line. Zeal captures the breakdown and surefire worries of a band deeply in debt and trying to claw their way out. There is an almost frantic and desperate energy, to throw it all out there and get it through with a clean and thorough vision in mind. The likes of Villa Rosie and Resigned bring out their fears but turn them into dependable, essential tracks. Modern Life is Rubbish is full of those essentials, and the title still rings true.