Blur Gives Us A Handful Of Gems--Some Genuine, Some Paste

Blur were always at their very best when their songs were ridiculously

cartoonish, pretentiously conceived, and completely immersed in English

culture to the point where they ruined any chance of success in America.

Parklife was the pinnacle of Blur's exploration in vintage pub

singalongs, and ever since, they've been creeping further into the night.

The Great Escape had some fantastic tunes that could have easily

been on Parklife but, unfortunately, the majority of them were

simply monotonous songs seasoned with engaging sounds which fashioned them

mediocre at best. Blur is a record that is stylistically diverse,

ranging from lazy ballads ("Beetlebum"), to Parklife mayhem

("M.O.R."), to dark indigestible noise ("Essex Dogs"), but never really

comes together. Those quirky sounds and very English lyrics of the past

have taken leave to a more barebone production and a global language of

nonsense.

"Beetlebum," the first UK single off Blur, starts off strolling

along to a lethargic guitar riff until progressively louder chopstick

keyboards launch its short lived climax "And when she lets me slip away"

and fittingly Beatlesque chorus. Certainly the most uninspired track on

the record, it still manages to lull the listener into an unconscious

state of singing it's meaningless lyrics. Potential smash "Song 2"

consists of a tasteful repetition of the same chords played soft then

loud, and clocking in at just over two minutes. It's their first American

single off Blur, and may well be MTV's wet dream, geared towards

their attention deficient audience, but it's an old Blur fan's worst

nightmare. After that energetic explosion we come down to "Country Sad

Ballad Man" which moves along at a lazy pace contrasting its whacked-out

nature. The song is essentially in the slacker style of "Beetlebum" but is

more ambitious with interesting guitar licks, weird sounds, and Albarn's

delighting alternating falsetto.

"On Your Own" is a song where Blur, out of nowhere, gain every ounce of

strength they've ever had and write one of the best pop songs of their

career. It is a flourish of feel-good melody and harmony bouncing around

to a martial beat that sounds especially glossy in the context of this

dark record. A potential pub rock anthem full of off the wall lyrics like

"No psycho killer, hooligan guerrilla; I dream to riot, oh you should try

it" and classic Blur belching cheese like "And we'll all be the same in

the end." "You're So Great" is a tremendous solo effort by the often

overlooked guitar genius Graham Coxon. The song is characterized by a

plain acoustic guitar garnished with '50s vinyl fuzz and toped with

beautiful coy vocals peeping through the background. A heartfelt novelty

number which produces the same sort of feel as the Small Faces' classic

"The Universal." "Look Inside America" is the last song that has it's

roots deep in the Parklife-era and at times sounds like a

compilation of all of that record's material. It's brilliant chorus "Look

inside America, she's all right" displays the fact that Albarn has indeed

been looking across the Atlantic for musical inspiration - although

clearly not for this song.

"Strange News From Another Star" successfully develops a dark atmosphere

while maintaining its listenability which other tracks on the album of

this nature fail to do. It's a relaxed acoustic number with melancholic

lyrics and mad keyboard noises, reminiscent of David Bowie's "Space

Odyssey." The murkiness of this and "Death of a Star," "I'm Just a Killer

For Your Love," "Theme From Retro," and "Essex Dogs," (A.K.A. The Gear

Changing Song) are something that Blur rarely did prior to the release of

this record. These songs seem to have the intention of creating "Art as

Noise", which may leave many Sonic Youth fans drooling and Britpop lovers

sobbing.

Blur as a record is best described with the analogy of lacking

transitional sentences from one paragraph to another (This review as a

body reflects the record itself). The contents of each song individually

are sometimes startling but, nevertheless, there is no underlying theme

consistent to the unit as a whole. This is one of those records where you

most likely won't want to play the whole thing straight but yet will still

provide a handful of gems to cherish.