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In Defence of Blur’s Self-titled Album

Blur aren’t best remembered for their self-titled album.The Britpop pioneers that dominated UK tabloids in the 1990s are better remembered today for their jaunty, spirited, and heavily London-accented songs like “Parklife” and “Girls And Boys”, as well as for their feud with fellow indie-rock juggernauts, Oasis. Despite acquiring critical acclaim at the time and breaking into the American market—something most other bands on the Britpop scene struggled to achieve no matter how many jangly guitars they layered into their mixes—Blur’s self-titled album is not a fan favourite.

After their feud with Oasis led the media to present Blur as the pretentious art school losers to Oasis’ “working class heroes”, public attitude turned against the band, and their self-titled album’s re-invention of their sound didn’t help. They went from bastions of the British indie rock sound to experimentalists borrowing from the lo-fi and garage rock scenes of the US, a turn that die-hard Britpop fans saw as a betrayal. The eponymous album sold phenomenally overseas, and many Blur fans were stuck by their artistic metamorphosis, but for others who put more stock in the band as a depiction of Britain’s musical identity, it just wasn’t very cool to be on team Blur. But since when have I cared what the “England for the English” lot thought was cool? No, in a lukewarm take, I’m siding with 90s critics on this one over football hooligans who miss the Phil Daniels sample in “Parklife” a bit too much, and I’m validating the place of Blur’s self-titled album in the 90s rock hall of fame.

For strong fans of Blur’s earlier work, the fan favourite opening single, “Beetlebum”, will probably be the best transition between their creative eras. The guitar tone is a little more fuzzy than we’re used to from the band; the grunge phenomenon that dominated the popular consciousness of the early 1990s still reverberates through this song’s snarly, plodding riffs. Lyrically, though, it’s classic Blur, giving us a rambling narrative that sketches out reality. Frontman Damon Albarn’s drawl—again, in the true grunge fashion—depicts a drug trip with just enough lyrical repetition to evoke the mental fog of intoxication.

By the second song, “Song 2”, the band are mocking their own lean into grunge, with what many interpret as a parody of Nirvana’s nonsensical lyrics on “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I’ve heard this song called a failure for that reason, with people calling it a Nirvana ripoff that doesn’t “sound like Blur”. However, the way I see it, both songs are satirical; they’re drawing our attention to the presence of meaningless lyrical content in popular music. The machinations of the music industry can sometimes disregard lyrical meaning as long as it sounds decent, and surely, applying a sardonic sense of humour to that topic is on brand for a band built on sarcasm and character studies.

It might not resemble previous Blur albums like Modern Life Is Rubbish, but it sounds brilliant. With its floor-filling drums, characteristic of the mid-‘90s, and a “Woohoo!” hook that yanks listeners into the revved-up fervour of the song, it’s no wonder “Song 2” has been adopted as a hype anthem for decades. Tracks like “M.O.R” and “Chinese Bombs” pack a similar punch, despite not being as well-remembered, with the latter taking inspiration from the frenetic energy of classic punk as well as grunge cynicism. These songs are a fierce development for the band, expanding their sound into new subgenres in a bold instance of genre non-conformism. The only real objections I’ve found to them come out of some misguided nationalist philosophy that Britpop had an innate purity that American mainstream rock lacked when, in reality, the music industry machine that folks are raging against is the same on both shores.

If you’re looking for something more upbeat on the record, though, you won’t be disappointed. “On Your Own” is a personal favourite, featuring a singalong chorus I’ve found irresistible from the first time I heard it. It’s one of those songs that deliberately obfuscates its darker lyrics with a deceptively upbeat sound; you can sway your hands to it like you’re in a football stadium at the height of summer, but there’s also a weird nihilism buried underneath the lyrics. The irony of cheerfully singing “We’ll all be the same in the end/’Cause then you’re on your own” is pretty acute. It’s the good kind of nihilism, though: the “Fuck it, things are going wrong, let’s have a laugh while we can” kind that permits freedom rather than moodiness. Amidst the grunge tinges and the balladry of songs like “Country Sad Ballad Man”—a sadder track made almost whimsical through the use of unique sound effects and startling pitch bends—it’s another development of the sound that made the band so beloved.

This self-titled record isn’t a complete diversion from that quintessential Britpop sound that many people fell in love with, as some critics would have you believe. The twang of Albarn’s vocals, the meandering, narrative character studies, and an attitude that says “Come on, let’s have it” are all maintained from their previous works, but they’re paired with a maturation in both influences and lyrical diversity. Face it, Blur didn’t betray anyone; they evolved, and it’s the haters’ loss if they’re too caught up in nostalgia to evolve alongside them.

Written by Teddy Webb

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