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Blur - Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur

Blur, A Beginner's Guide to Blur

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

AS BLUR finally get back together in original form ahead of their summer touring schedule, EMI have rather cleverly put out this double CD Greatest Hits collection, imaginatively labelled, Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide To Blur.

But while you’d have to be a real music novice not to know at least three Blur tracks, it’s a good excuse for revisiting some of the best indie and Brit-pop tracks of recent years.

Blur – aka Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and company – were a product of one of the best eras in recent British music history, mixing it with the likes of Oasis, Shed Seven, The Stone Roses and The Charlatans and frequently coming out on top.

Yet while their early material was synonymous with Brit-pop and breakthrough hits such as There’s No Other Way and Bang became instant classics, it was Blur’s ability to change and modify that stood them out from their peers and ensured longevity.

Ironically, the Leisure tracks chosen aren’t as obvious as you’d imagine on this collection… and somehow feel missed, as they’re an integral and essential part of the Blur story. Only Popscene, a one-off track from that time, and She’s So High, seem like obvious selections, although the six-minute Sing, which is couched in piano, remains a classic and [quite possibly] an undiscovered one at that to all but the most ardent, pre-Parklife Blur fans.

By the time sophomore album Modern Life Is Rubbish rolled on by, however, Blur had already started to transform themselves in a way that only the best bands can.

The urgency and boisterous nature of their first songs was replaced with a gradually more composed, thoughtful approach to songwriting, as born out by tracks such as For Tomorrow and Blue Jeans – both featured here.

Then came 1994’s Parklife and the album that really put them on the map. Certified quadruple platinum in the UK and deserving winner of Best British Album at the 1995 Brits, it was loaded with hits and diversity, from the cheeky boys’ own romp of Girls & Boys, to the low-key hangover anthem Bad Head, to the Phil Daniels’ featuring Parklife and the epic comedown track This Is A Low – little wonder all feature here as well.

1995’s The Great Escape remains, arguably, their weakest LP to date, but was notable for the No.1 hit Country House and the war of words and battle of the charts with Oasis. Blur won the singles battles, Oasis the LP war. But it’s hardly surprising that Country House doesn’t feature here. Instead, seminal Blur track The Universal stands as that album’s brightest achievement.

1997’s eponymous Blur was a killer return to form, however, which again showcased Albarn’s ability to mix the sombre, reflective likes of Beetlebum with the jump around the living room anthem Song 2 – a track that unshackled Coxon’s guitar playing to joyous effect.

And 13, their final album with Coxon, had Coffee & TV and Tender among its highlights. Think Tank, meanwhile, ushered in the post-Coxon era and showed there was still life yet (with key tracks including Out Of Time and Good Song), but it was to prove the band’s final LP until their hiatus, as Albarn went off to pursue solo projects with the likes of Gorillaz.

Given the enduring quality of their music, however, the reunion is cause for rejoice… and A Beginner’s Guide… is the chance to really revel in it. Let’s hope they produce many more tracks of this quality to ensure another greatest hits compendium further down the road.

Download picks: Song 2, Beetlebum, Coffee & TV, Out of Time, Tender, The Universal, She’s So High, Blue Jeans, For Tomorrow, Bad Head, He Thought of Cars

Track listing:
Disc 1

  1. Beetlebum
  2. Girls And Boys
  3. For Tomorrow
  4. Coffee And TV
  5. Out Of Time
  6. Blue Jeans
  7. Song 2
  8. Bugman
  9. He Thought Of Cars
  10. Death Of A Party
  11. Universal, The
  12. Sing
  13. This Is A Low

Disc 2

  1. Tender
  2. She’s So High
  3. Chemical World
  4. Good Song
  5. Parklife
  6. Advert
  7. Popscene
  8. Stereotypes
  9. Trimm Trabb
  10. Bad Head
  11. Strange News From Another Star
  12. Battery In Your Leg