not a member? click here to sign up
Outstanding retrospective collection from britpop icons
Paul Nolan, 30 Aug 2012
While it remains unclear if Blur will continue beyond their Olympics-closing concert at Hyde Park in August, they have taken the opportunity of their short run of gigs to compile and release Blur 21, a massive retrospective that contains virtually all of their recorded output to date, as well as four discs of rarities, encompassing demos, alternative versions, B-sides, live recordings and radio sessions.
Most serious Blur fans will already be familiar with the band’s seven albums, a formidable body of work that bears comparison with any artist from the past 20 years. The stylistic eclecticism of their canon is truly incredible, and in the band’s lyrics and imagery, Damon Albarn always attempted to get to grips – more often than not successfully – with the prevailing cultural issues of the day.
The rarities discs are divided up between different eras of the band, with the first based around their original incarnation as Seymour, and their debut album Leisure, released as Blur after their record label made a name change a pre-condition of their deal. Of note here are an early rehearsal room demo of their first single, ‘She’s So High’, and an embryonic ‘Sing’, a haunting track which, in its finished version, would eventually be used to memorable effect in Trainspotting.
Aside from terrific demo versions of ‘Popscene’ and ‘Death Of A Party’ and the previously unreleased tunes ‘Beached Whale’ and ‘Pap Pop’, the main source of interest on the Modern Life Is Rubbish disc are the recordings the band made with XTC’s Andy Partridge. Though fine productions in their own right, the Partridge-helmed takes on tracks like ‘Coping’ and ‘Sunday Sunday’ do feel a bit muted, and lack the visceral, aggressive edge they attained when the band’s long-term producer Stephen Street came onboard.
The Parklife and Great Escape disc features numerous demo versions for the former record, one of the greatest albums of the ’90s. Perhaps even more fascinating, though, are the recordings associated with the severely underrated Great Escape, a dark album which at times had an almost dystopian feel, and somehow seemed to anticipate the car-wreck Britain was heading for under Tony Blair.