Review by Darren Gawle
"Everyone's going on about Blur being the new Beatles and us being the new Rolling Stones. We're the Beatles AND the Stones, and Blur's just Herman's fookin' Hermits."- Noel Gallagher, 1995
So what happened, then? It seems that, having lost the gunfight at Britpop corral, Blur cried uncle and ran off to sulk in Iceland. Or did they? They certainly seemed content to let the rumours of breakups, Prozac, and "nervous exhaustion" circulate unchecked -- and why not? Maybe it was best to let the smokescreen spread as Blur disavowed the very sound that gained them their popularity and prepared to reinvent themselves for the second time in their career. Blur could have ended up being Parklife Volume 3; instead, the band has realized that they owe it to their own sanity to make an album that marches to the beat of its own drum. In other words, this is Blur's "experimental" album.
Be prepared, then, to hate this album the first time you listen to it. God knows I did. Then listen to it again, and realize that there is nothing in the album that's really very different from anything else they've ever done. In fact, Blur sounds almost like Modern Life is Rubbish's more exotic cousin. Realize, also, that you're being afforded a rare opportunity inside the minds of a band in transition.
Contrary to whatever rumours you've heard, Blur do NOT sound like Pavement on this album. In fact, the only instance where they sound like anyone other than themselves is during the Guided By Voices-inspired "You're So Great." Otherwise, they're taking some of the more left-of-centre ideas from their back catalogue and adding trip-hop beats ("I'm Just a Killer for Your Love") or wigged-out psychedelia ("Theme from Retro" and "Death of a Party") and they only just fall short of being stunning.
Still, all is not lost, Parklife fans. Opening single "Beetlebum" and album tracks "M.O.R." and "Look Inside America" carry on where 1995's insipid The Great Escape left off. These songs don't, however, sit well with the rest of the album, and compared to the band's past gems, they don't even seem that good at all.
All told, this is not a truly great album -- by no means is it Blur's best -- but it shows that Damon & co. know where their music has to go in order to survive. And, compared to Noel Gallagher's string of shameless Beatles ripoffs, this album shows that Blur are more inventive and original than Oasis can ever hope to be. "Herman's fookin' Hermits"? Get bent, Gallagher.
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