The 10 Best Blur Deep Cuts [Deep Cuts Week]

Our Deep Cuts journey continues with ten superb and often-overlooked songs from the 90s British rock band Blur.

The first time I really heard about Blur being awesome, I was seated around a dining-room table with a bunch of British public school prefects at Uppingham School in England. I’m seriously not making this up. It was 1995, and I was there on sort of an exchange-y type of thing, dining and conversing with a bunch of fellows a bit older than I was, and they were pretty keen to know what bands I thought were good. I offered some of the standardbearers of American rock of the era — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Weezer. But in return, they mentioned only one band — Blur. Basically, they were adamant that Blur was the greatest band going and Parklife the greatest record.

In retrospect, I find it hard to argue with those prefects, certainly with regard to the British musical scene that they knew best.

Singer Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon grew up as childhood friends in London and founded Blur, originally called Seymour before they got a record deal, while attending college. Bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree formed the other half of the ensemble. Although the band caught on fairly quickly, scoring a record deal and changing their name at the label’s request, their first record Leisure (released in 1991) was a rather uninspired retread of the then-huge Manchester “baggy” scene. Trippy songs like “There’s No Other Way” were notable, but hardly mindblowing.

But Blur’s course changed dramatically after they returned from a horrific tour of the USA — where their psychedelic sound fell on deaf ears — and learned that in their absence, musical styles had shifted back home. A rival band, Suede, was all the rage, which incensed the incredibly competitive Albarn. (To be fair, Suede’s debut record was really good.) He began his counterattack by stealing the Suede frontman’s girlfriend, fellow musician Justine Frischmann. Then, channeling Ray Davies and harboring a dislike of American culture after experiencing it abroad and noting its influences in England, Albarn decided to push the group towards a distinctly British point of view, beginning on the record Modern Life is Rubbish. Continued pursuits on this theme led the group to produce its masterpiece, a slice of contemporary London called Parklife, which dropped in ’94.

NME described these great albums as “London odyssey crammed full of strange commuters, peeping Thomases and lost dreams; of opening the windows and breathing in petrol … It’s the Village Green Preservation Society come home to find a car park in its place.”

Albarn’s experiment went awry with The Great Escape, which attempted to satirize upper crust lifestyles but ended up being mostly annoying. After ginning up a massive press-fueled rivalry with Oasis, Albarn stood by and watched as the Gallagher brothers became massive worldwide successes with their hacky, Beatles-esque tunes; meanwhile, his band’s observational pop remained a solely British phenomenon.

It was the dissatisfaction of the guitarist, Coxon — who had grown utterly sick of the “Britpop” movement his band had spearheaded, and much preferred listening to Pavement and other lo-fi American groups — that jarred Albarn and his bandmates to shift gears and find a more interesting sound. The result was the 1997 Blur self-titled, which became a significant success on the heels of a first-ballot HoF jock jam, “Song 2” — apparently Blur’s tribute to Pavement hype man Bob Nastanovich.

Blur’s sound continued to evolve with 13, a collection of mournful tracks that dwelt at length on the dissolution of Albarn’s relationship with Frischmann. And as the band’s run wound down — Coxon frequently feeling out of place with the rest of the band and eager to try something new, as Albarn’s latest musical ideas annoyed him more and more — Blur still managed to release one more solid album in 2003, the largely Albarn-crafted Think Tank. Extra points in that record’s favor for a great Banksy cover.

While Blur has been effectively broken up since the early aughts — reuniting for the occasional concert or friendly jam, but largely pursuing their own projects — their seven-album catalogue is a feast of 90s rock delights. Their tracks are frequently more interesting, more rewarding, and more enduring than most American rock released at the time. Damon Albarn has continued to be awesome, arguably even stepping up his game with Gorillaz and other projects — but Parklife remains a true gem, and every other album Blur put out contains at least a few superb songs. Let’s dive into the crates, shall we? Read more of this post

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