“Blur’s Blur is such a blur,” caused such an audible groan the entire review was nearly scrapped. A good talking to in the mirror and a smack around the head and it was back to work. Blur, as most British mid-90s bands found, were in need of a reinvention. Most were up to the task, of fighting back against the wave of lonely 3 am background noise. Titan-like releases from Radiohead and the pop march of Robbie Williams cast a major shadow on so-called Britpop, and by the time Spice Girls were draped in the Union Jack and enlisting Meat Loaf as their tour bus driver, most of the big bands called time on this particular era. So too did Blur, and after trying and failing to commercially break America for so long, and keeping grunge out as they did, they turn to the very genre in a self-titled album.
Bands burn themselves out and react to it, takes some time to process it all. Beetlebum and Song 2 are the heavy hitters from this one, and while both are reliant on Graham Coxon’s fine guitar work, the deeper the plunge into Blur, the darker it gets. Casting off the image of The Great Escape but still enjoying the pluckier rhythm through the well-worked opening track, there is a sense of sombre severance from an old image to form the new. Even now the sheen of Song 2 has worn off, and the more obvious comedown and hook-up to the grunge seen which had been and gone, is a warm feeling. Nostalgia beckons for this one, the “woo hoo” of the early years now overplayed into clubs and pubs but rekindled with some respect after being thrown around a sweating Newcastle crowd.
Sticking Country Sad Ballad Man and M.O.R. is a definitive way of cementing this need to break from the conclusion of their Brit-living and loving trilogy. Deeply soaked in sarcasm as those earlier releases may be, Blur features isolation-fearing On Your Own and the haranguing of their own albums on Theme From Retro. Tracks like those, which give Dave Rowntree and Alex James their rightful dues, are frequent here. You’re So Great gives Coxon a chance to work over what would soon be a recurring theme of his solo works, murky little numbers of feeling light in the multitude of frowning towns he tours as part of a massive musical unit with spots of rough guitar work blending the emotive core of his lyrics into the fabric of the album.
Reject the very big house in the country, and embrace the terrors of biographical earnestness found in Essex Dogs. The grand thumps and knowing title Death of a Party gives a clear indication of where Blur find themselves. Mourning for a period which, at the time, had not quite ended. Cool Brittania was not yet bludgeoning its main players into murky oppression, but it is upon relistening to Blur, settling into the sinister instrumentals, the darker turn of phrase Damon Albarn roots around for, that the end comes clear. Had their need to break anew not come clear enough on Look Inside America, the tonal changes, the optimism at singing around pastures new is evidence enough. Blur hit out with Blur, an album set on terrifying their listeners as they once did. No room for Phil Daniels, just a lot of focus on extremely satisfying compositions and confrontational messages.