Blur :: My Favorite Artists

I was a little late to the party when it came to Blur, stumbling onto the whole Brit Pop scene a few years after it really began, introduced to it by one of Blur’s enemies/frenemies, Oasis, who a past love of mine was obsessed with. We were on our way to the outs, parting on not so good terms, so for awhile I could not deal with listening to Oasis music because it was so associated. That said, they led to some artists that I very much could listen to, and became obsessed listening to, namely Lush, Suede, Pulp, Primal Scream and especially this band – Blur. Though he seemed to be a bit of a prat in his personal life (oh those Brit Pop slag-off wars), I loved Damon Albarn’s voice, and developed quite a musical crush on Graham Coxon, who sang lead vocals on my favorite Blur track, Coffee and TV.

My first Blur album was 1997’s self-titled, which had songs like Beetlebum and Song #2 that I immediately fell hard for. Then I heard Coffee and TV on the Cruel Intentions soundtrack and I was in love. I rushed out immediately after the credits ran on the theater screen and bought not only the movie soundtrack, but the album, 13. It was not long after that I bought Parklife, which would become my favorite Blur album, with songs like This is a Low and End of a Century, and yes, Parklife, that made me into the fan I am today. Modern Life is Rubbish came much later, around the time I was falling head over ears for The Libertines. If I recall correctly, the album’s title was part of a conversation I had with another Libs fan, or perhaps it was their livejournal moniker (anyone remember the era of livejournal?), but it had me back on the Blur music-train, and back to listening again, and I completed my collection, filling in the missing albums.

I’ve never stopped listening since, and actually think I’ve grown to love their music more this past two years. I can’t seem to get enough of them lately, in a very good way. I know that the British TV series My Mad Fat Diary, which has a soundtrack brimming with keen 90’s Brit Pop, helped keep the love going strong, too.

So, bring on the music obsessive love, and bring on this week’s “My Favorite Artist“, Blur.

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Childhood friends Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon met Alex James when they began studying at London’s Goldsmiths College, in 1988. Albarn was in a group named Circus, who were joined by drummer Dave Rowntree that October. Circus requested the services of Coxon after the departure of their guitarist. That December, Circus fired two members and James joined as the group’s bassist. This new group named themselves Seymour in December 1988, inspired by J.D. Salinger’s Seymour: An Introduction. The group performed live for the first time in summer 1989.

In November, Food Records’ A&R representative Andy Ross attended a Seymour performance that convinced him to court the group for his label. The only concern held by Ross and Food was that they disliked the band’s name. Food drew up a list of alternatives, from which the band decided on “Blur“. Food Records finally signed the newly christened band in March 1990.

From March to July 1990, Blur toured Britain, opening for The Cramps, and testing out new songs. In October 1990, after their tour was over, Blur released the She’s So High single, which reached number 48 in the UK Singles Chart. The band had trouble creating a follow-up single, but they made progress when paired with producer Stephen Street. The resulting single release, There’s No Other Way, became a hit, peaking at # eight. As a result of the single’s success, Blur became pop stars and were accepted into a clique of bands who frequented The Syndrome club in London dubbed “The Scene That Celebrates Itself“.

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The band’s third single, Bang, performed relatively disappointingly, reaching only # 24. Andy Ross and Food owner David Balfe were convinced Blur’s best course of action was to continue drawing influence from the “Madchester” genre. Blur attempted to expand their musical sound, but the recording of the group’s debut album was hindered by Albarn having to write his lyrics in the studio. Although the resulting album Leisure (1991) peaked at # seven on the UK Albums Chart, it received mixed reviews.

After discovering they were £60,000 in debt, Blur toured the United States in 1992 in an attempt to recoup their financial losses. The group released the single Popscene to coincide with the start of the tour. Featuring “a rush of punk guitars, ’60s pop hooks, blaring British horns, controlled fury, and postmodern humor“, Popscene was a turning point for the band musically. However, upon its release it only charted at # 32. As a result of the single’s lacklustre performance, plans to release a single named Never Clever were scrapped and work on Blur’s second album was pushed back.

During the two-month American tour, the band became increasingly unhappy, often venting frustrations on each other, leading to several physical confrontations. The band members were homesick; Albarn said, “I just started to miss really simple things … I missed everything about England so I started writing songs which created an English atmosphere.” Upon the group’s return to the United Kingdom, Blur (Albarn in particular) were upset by the success rival group Suede had achieved while they were gone. After a poor performance at a 1992 gig that featured a well-received set by Suede on the same bill, Blur were in danger of being dropped by Food.

By that time, Blur had undergone an ideological and image shift intended to celebrate their English heritage in contrast to the popularity of American grunge bands like Nirvana. Although skeptical of Albarn’s new manifesto for the band, Balfe gave assent for the band’s choice of Andy Partridge of the band XTC to produce their follow-up to Leisure. The sessions with Partridge proved unsatisfactory, but a chance reunion with Stephen Street resulted in him returning to produce the group.

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The band completed their second album Modern Life Is Rubbish in December 1992, but Food Records said the album required more potential hit singles and asked them to return to the studio for a second time. The band complied and Albarn wrote For Tomorrow, which became the album’s lead single. For Tomorrow was a minor success, reaching # 28 on the charts.

Modern Life Is Rubbish was released in May 1993. Modern Life Is Rubbish peaked at # 15 on the British charts, but failed to break into the US Billboard 200, selling only 19,000 copies there.

The success of Parklife (1994) revived Blur’s commercial fortunes. The album’s first single, the disco-influenced Girls & Boys, found favor on BBC Radio 1 and peaked at # 5 on the UK Singles Chart, and # 59 in the US Billboard Hot 100 where it remains the band’s highest-charting single.

Blur began working on their fourth album The Great Escape at the start of 1995. The release of the album’s lead single Country House played a part in Blur’s public rivalry with Manchester band Oasis termed “The Battle of Britpop“. Partly due to increasing antagonisms between the groups, Blur and Oasis ultimately decided to release their new singles on the same day, an event the NME called “The British Heavyweight Championship“. At the end of the week, Country House ultimately outsold Oasis’ Roll With It by 274,000 copies to 216,000, becoming Blur’s first # 1 single.

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My Top 10 Favorite Blur Songs

1. Coffee & TV
from the album, 13

Your ears are full but your empty,
holding out your heart,
to people who never really care how you are

2. Country House
from the album, The Great Escape

“He’s got morning glory,
life’s a different story,
everything going jackanory,
in touch with his own mortality.”

3. Sing
from the album, Leisure

“I can’t feel cos I’m numb.”

4. The Universal
from the album, The Great Escape

“Every night we’re gone,
and to karaoke songs,
how we like to sing-a-long,
although the words are wrong.”

5. Blue Jeans,
from the album, Modern Life is Rubbish

“Whatever I say,
whatever I say,
I don’t really want to change a thing.
I want to stay this way forever.”

6. End of a Century
from the album, Parklife

“And we all say,
don’t want to be alone.”

7. This is a Low 
from the album, Parklife

“Sail on by with the tide and go asleep.”

8. Song 2
from the album, Self-Titled

“It wasn’t easy,
but nothing is,

9. Tender
from the album, 13

“Tender is the night,
lying by your side.
Tender is the touch,
of someone that you love too much.

Tender is the day,
the demons go away.
Lord I need to find,
someone who can heal my mind

10. She’s So High
from the album, Leisure

“She’s so high,
I want to crawl all over her.”

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2 thoughts on “Take me away from this big bad world :: Blur :: My Favorite Artists

  1. Parklife is my favorite, as well. I remember when the video for The Universal came out and I was obsessed with it. I’ve always loved Sing because of it’s inclusion in Trainspotting.

    1. Yeah, I forgot to mention the Trainspotting connection. I love the movie so much that the song is way up there in my favorite list.

      I love The Universal video 🙂

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