So Blur is back again with a brand new studio album The Magic Whip (their first in 12 years, and their first as a complete foursome in 16!) and a killer lead single “Go Out.” It’s just over a week later and I am just now regaining consciousness. This is huge! See, Blur is one of the most important groups to ever come out of the UK, and unlike worldwide sensations like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and so on, Blur became international superstars by staying true to their roots and their homeland. In fact, they are largely credited as the inventor and catalyst of the massive Britpop movement of the 1990s with incredible album after incredible album and incredible hit after incredible hit. After guitarist Graham Coxon left the group, the remaining trio of bassist Alex James, drummer Dave Rowntree, and their prolific leader Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Maili Music, The Good The Bad & The Queen, solo, etc.) only managed to crank out one more album before quietly parting ways altogether. Since then, the group has reunited only a handful of times, first in 2009 just for the hell of it, and then again in 2012 into ’13 for some special occasions including the Olympics, the BRITS (where they received the Outstanding Contribution To Music award,) and Coachella. All in all, over the last decade plus, we’ve only been gifted 3 new Blur songs, as their performances have largely been nostalgia-fests (that’s hardly anything to complain about.) So now, whether they drop the album and run, or continue this into something greater, Blur are back to cement their legacy once more, and there couldn’t be anything more exciting.
For those of you unfamiliar Blur due to obstacles like age or America’s mostly apathetic view of the group, here are 20 songs that will make you fall in love with this iconic band. From some of their biggest hits to some of their most landmark experiments, this is the launchpad into their catalog you need in your life. This list is in no order other than how you should listen to it for the maximized experience.
Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)
This is an important song to begin with because it was kind of their “big bang.” The official first single to their historical Modern Life Is Rubbish LP more or less defines he beginning of the Britpop era. This mid tempo not-quite-ballad tells a simple, but relatable story that, while being so blatantly British, feels strikingly universal. The horns are hypnotic, the dumbed down hook is memorable, and the overall effect is anthemic. Even though it wasn’t particularly even a hit, it is easily one of their most important tracks. Aside – If you’re going to listen to the song, you have to go for the Visit To Primrose Hill Extended version… it’s really the true version.
This is the one you all know, the famous “Woo Hoo Song” you’ve heard at every sporting event you’ve ever attended. It would be totally remiss to not include it here for what it brings to their catalog. Blur have always had a punkiness about them, but they’ve mostly kept that side of them to a minimum in favor of more palatable tracks, but “Song 2” lets it all rip. This compact, 2 minute monster is simple, but explosive, and it has stood out as an epic landmark in ’90s alternative rock that even America couldn’t ignore.
When you listen to “Parklife,” you’re going to get instantly swept away by its diverting charm, but if you think about what you’re listening to, you’ll have to wonder how they pulled it off. The track has spoken, narrated verses by actor Phil Daniels that whimsically dance on top of one of the group’s most memorable guitar riffs and are interspersed with the simple, but anthemic “Parklife!” hook. When that infectious chorus kicks in, it is easy to see that this track is a pure stroke of genius that could have gone terribly, terribly wrong. Blur pulled it off, and it’s become their greatest Britpop anthem.
COFFEE & TV
This track is one of the group’s most beloved for many reasons. This poignant, but hopeful track sees guitarist Graham Coxon handle lead vocals here, a true anomaly for their catalog, and discuss his battle with alcoholism. It sticks out on the groups otherwise dark and experimental 13 album as something more musically akin to their “Britpop hey day.” By remaining a bit more straightforward and poppy, the group manages to exemplify a restraint and self-awareness they had yet to showcase up to this point, all the while finding ways to sonically keep in step with the rest of the record.
GIRLS & BOYS
“Girls & Boys” is a landmark track for Blur. Not only did it re-introduce them into the mainstream (they only had one proper hit by this point,) but it cemented their, and Britpop’s, legacy there. The lead single from their iconic Parklife album is a hypnotic, keyboard-heavy tune with a circular, gender-bending chorus that somehow, despite it’s playfulness, is taken seriously. Alex James’ funky bass line is the dark-hose-best-element here that truly brings its dancy aspect to life and almost single-handedly makes it universally palatable. “Girls & Boys” is Blur at their most relevant and their most game-changing.
The Great Escape (1995)
This track is Blur at their most gorgeously indulgent. “The Universal” is a larger-than-life ballad, often used as a concert closer, that features an orchestra, additional backing vocals, and horns, overshadowing the band’s own contributions almost completely. For a track so incredibly over the top, it is an undenaible masterpiece that showcased a range for the group that had seemingly become in direct competition with their own catalog. This is truly a track that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stick straight up every time.
OUT OF TIME
Think Tank (2003)
Following the departure of guitarist Graham Coxon, the group’s future seemed bleak, but the remaining members proved otherwise. “Out Of Time,” the lead single from their lone record as a trio, Think Thank, is one of Damon Albarn’s all-around greatest works. The mid-tempo track has a worldly quality about it that heightens its lyrical poignancy and also its beauty. What’s lacking in the “Coxon Department” is quickly made up for in unique instrumentation, almost as if the group was blatantly doing their damnedest not to replace him in any way.
In hindsight, “Beetlebum” is the song that saved Blur’s legacy. To the group, the track might have seemed like a natural progression, but to the public, this was an abrupt change in almost every way. Gone was the earnest whimsy of their Britpop hey day in favor of a more sonic-driven mentality. The song feels as hazy as the drug references it contains, despite maintaining a passable structure and cohesiveness that clearly made it an easier pill for the public to swallow. The climax at the end is an absolute whirlwind that sweeps you away and leaves you breathless after the abrupt ending, but it remains one of the group’s most glorious moments.
Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)
This may come off as somewhat of a left-field inclusion, but “Colin Zeal” is one hell of a hidden gem. One of the best pieces on their Modern Life Is Rubbish album, the track is wise beyond its years, almost acting as a precursor to their latter-day “alt rock” sound, all the while not straying from the cohesiveness of its catalyzing parent album. The harmonies are so incredibly tight and intricate that you’ll almost want to cry, but you’ll probably be too busy singing along. That’s the inherent genius of Blur.
Every legendary act has that “opus” that seems larger than the band that created it. “Tender” is Blur’s opus. Fittingly coming right towards the end of their career as a foursome, the track is 7 minutes of hook-after-hook magic that sees a rare play-off between Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. Every inch of this song is a sing-a-long, almost the climax of the concert experience. From the gospel choir, to the simple arrangement, to the heart-wrenching lyrics, “Tender” is truly Blur’s crowning jewel.
Think Tank (2003)
“Sweet Song” feels like kind of an epilogue to “Tender” in a way. One of the most memorable moments on the Graham-less Think Tank LP, the track is a clear lament to their former guitarist, and it is one of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching moments in their entire catalog. This beautiful ballad, once again, makes a deliberate effort to fill in the void of Graham’s absence without replacing him, and they succeed on every level.
Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)
The second single lifted from Modern Life Is Rubbish doesn’t hold the same legacy as its predecessor, but the track is an amazing stand out. “Chemical World” is another track on the record that seems prophetic in a way, foreshadowing to later in their career without being out of touch with their current sound. There’s something magically restrained about the chorus that keeps it just shy of feeling full-on “epic,” but somehow it makes it that much better. Aside – I included the “Reworked” version here that is just a tad bit superior to the album version.
YOUNG & LOVELY
B-Side To “Chemical World” (1993)
We’ll flip the side right into one of “Chemical World’s” b-sides, “Young & Lovely.” The track, a long time fan favorite, is one of those hidden gems that is so good, it ends up finding a life of its own. They couldn’t have pleased their fanbase more than when they pulled it out at their performance at Hyde Park that coincided with the Olympics closing ceremony. The track has that euphoric chorus the group became renowned for and even features Damon’s true-to-form nonsensical fill-ins (He’s got more “La la la” hooks than you can ever count.) “Young & Lovely” truly walks the tightrope between beautiful and bubbly.
Single Only (1992)
“Popscene” is an underdog of a song. Released as a single inbetween their first and second albums, the track failed to make an impact with critics or the public, but ultimately set them up for a come-from-behind victory. In hindsight, critics across the board will cite it as one of Britpop’s pioneer tracks, and one of the group’s most important. With its fast paced, horn-blaring, whirlwind delivery, the track is a live staple, a fan favorite, and a showcase of just how willing these guys were to stick to their guns and not get sucked into the times.
The Great Escape (1995)
Leaving “Country House” off of this list would be kind of just rude. It isn’t their greatest song by any stretch of the imagination, but it is forever an iconic piece of British culture after it won the highly publicized “Britpop Battle” in ’95 against Oasis’ “Roll With It.” The lead single from their The Great Escape takes the ideas and sounds of the comparatively restrained Parklife and cranks them up to 11. “Country House” is rather eccentric and English-to-a-fault, but it’s a daringly fun track that will work as a concert sing-a-long forever.
I really struggled to decide between including their hit single “To The End” or “Badhead,” a lowly album track from the Parklife record, but the choice seemed pretty obvious. The latter track isn’t as masterful, as polished, or as classic, but it has a special simplicity to it that feels particularly magical. The horns add a calming element to the song, a contrast from how Blur usually uses them (height,) but Damon’s poignant lyrics and sweet melody would endear anyone to him and you just have to indulge in it a bit. Aside – It’s definitely still worth putting on “To The End.”
“Trimm Trabb” is the peak of Blur’s experimentalism that resulted in their (formerly) final album as a foursome. The track has many elements to it that seem loosely strung together as a stream of consciousness, but it very clearly reads as a singular song. Graham’s guitar work here is absolutely phenomenal, not because he plays aerobics with the instrumental, but because he ups his sonic ambitions in a thoughtful, concise manner. Pair that with a distant vocal from Damon, and you’ve got yourself an intricate masterpiece that never ceases to feel predictable no matter how many listens you give it.
DEATH OF A PARTY
After the group abruptly abandoned their Britpop ego for a low-fi sound, the Blur album really had many highlights in both the commercial and critical realms, but “Death Of A Party” will always come off as its corner stone. This was their most balls-to-the-walls moment to date, which is striking considering how subdued of a track it is. Between Graham’s experimental guitar and a haunting organ, the devastatingly beautiful track has so many nooks and crannies to nestle into, but you’re better off indulging in the entire experience that they somehow made sense in the end.
THIS IS A LOW
“This Is A Low” was never released as a single, but it holds a standing as popular and important as any of the tracks sent to radio from Parklife. The song is a bonafide masterpiece that many hail as one of the greatest the band ever recorded. It kind of acts a puzzle piece that brings their entire career together and makes some sense of it all from a cohesiveness perspective. “This Is A Low” is truly Britpop at its most musically artistic, and each band member really shines in their own way. Not only is the climax is remarkable and chill-inducing, but this is probably Graham Coxon’s best, if not his most important, guitar solo.
On the whole, the group’s first album, Leisure, is just kind of “okay.” While there are some great moments in there, it largely doesn’t hold up to their subsequent works. However, there is one track that truly sticks out from the pack in a big way. “Sing” is quite possibly the only song in their entire catalog that could have fit perfectly on any one of their studio albums. The 6-minute epic is a rather circular track that loops a clunking piano progression that only diverts (to a second clunking piano progression) for the chorus. This provides the perfect landscape for the other members to really deliver some incredible parts, and the end result is astounding. Today, it remains one of the most important facets of their catalog.
THE FULL PLAYLIST
The Magic Whip (2015)
If you haven’t heard the group’s fantastic new single, “Go Out,” after listening to the playlist would be a great time to do so!