Sound — 8
After the Battle Of Britpop and the decidedly lukewarm response to their fourth album, The Great Escape, Blur decided to drastically reinvent their sound and image. Heading to Iceland to recuperate after a very public falling-out on Italian television, the band wrote and recorded an album that, along with the coked-up hubris of Oasis' Be Here Now, would signal the end of Britpop. To someone familiar with the band's earlier output before purchasing this record, it came as something of a shock. In stark contrast to Parklife, Blur is a profoundly uncommercial record. Not that'd you'd immediately realise it. 'Beetlebum' is a Beatles tribute set at a sluggish tempo, while 'Song 2' is a knowing parody of grunge. Then comes 'Country Sad Ballad Man.' With it's warped, bluesy guitar and desiccated falsetto, it sounds like truly demented country music. Those fans that preferred 'Country House' will surely stop the CD about here. But the rest of the album provides terrific little songs like the otherworldly ballad 'Strange News From Another Star, ' the proto-Gorillaz 'Death of a Party, ' the clever inversion of 'End of a Century' that is 'Look Inside America' and the violent Hoover-powered drone of 'Essex Dogs.' The band is in top musical form here. Graham Coxon's guitar work, basically MIA on The Great Escape, is back in full force. Alex James provides excellent bass work as usual, supporting the poppier songs and keeping the more experimental ones firmly rooted in melody. Dave Rowntree will never be known as one of the great drummers, but he does his job well.
Lyrics — 10
Lyrically, this is my favorite Blur album. Albarn is fascinated with the US, and it's rather interesting to hear a foreigner sing so fervently about things like KROQ and Pepsi, two things that I'm sure most Americans don't really think much about in their daily lives. Elsewhere, you get a sneering put-down of the '90s slacker aesthetic in 'Song 2,' a classic Blur character vignette in 'Death of a Party' and a nightmarish return to his childhood in 'Essex Dogs.'
Overall Impression — 9
Blur is among the band's best work. I think that the fact that this album, the antithesis to Parklife, can be it's equal is a testament to how truly gifted this band was. British pop may never produce the like again. If it were stolen, I would definitely buy it again.