Tune in to opbmusic on Tuesday, Oct. 3 as we play songs from Blur’s 1997 self-titled album all day throughout the broadcast.
But lost in that commotion was another monumental anniversary from an English rock band. In February, Blur’s 1997 self-titled album turned 20.
The group, fronted by singer Damon Albarn, came to prominence during the Britpop explosion of the early-90s alongside acts like Oasis, Supergrass, Suede and Pulp. They were wildly successful in Britain; however, Blur struggled to gain a foothold among American listening audiences, where contemporaries like Oasis and the aforementioned Radiohead had become truly big deals.
Blur’s fifth record changed that.
That album, “Blur,” came fresh off the heels of the critically and commercially (at least in Britain) successful album, “The Great Escape,” which found the band at its pop zenith. But the group was personally unhappy with the sound and direction of “The Great Escape” and longed to explore new creative territory.
Recorded mostly in Iceland, long before the island became a music hotspot, the self-titled record featured more personal and direct lyrics from Albarn and demonstrated a clear stylistic shift for the band away from pop and towards a guitar-driven sound that was heavily influenced by American indie rock. Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, an obsessive fan of the lo-fi rock band Pavement, had a heavy hand in the new sound.
James Hunter of Rolling Stone summed it up nicely:
With Blur, this glossy pop band rethinks its craft. Claiming that their current inspirations include Beck and Pavement, Blur have made an album that singer Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon say was done off the cuff. The scrupulous sonic contouring and porcelain finishes of Blur’s last two albums have vanished. Blur’s melodies, moreover, have abandoned much of their old Kinks-y fuss. Take “Song 2”: It starts with a flaky rhythm track, piles on distorted guitars, yelps “whee hoo,” then traipses off into a surrealistic monologue before returning to rock out on the choruses.
Don’t let Blur kid you, though: What still makes them great is their deep grasp of style and genre. What they haven’t done on Blur is roll out of bed, strum a few chords and loudly free-associate about the first thing that pops into their heads. This is a record that inhabits current American rock biases as cogently and intelligently as Parklife corralled the last few decades of British rock.
At the time, these changes seemed like a huge gamble, and the band publicly and privately expressed concern that the new sound might alienate their existing fanbase. But it didn’t. If anything, it expanded the reach of the group. “Blur” was eventually certified platinum in Britain, featured excellent songs like “Beetlebum,” “Look Inside America,” and “Song 2,” and was the band’s most successful release in the United States to date.