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Saturday, July 25th, 2009

CONTEST – Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur

Photo via Amazonamazon.comSo Blur threw a bucket of cold water on those of us who’d been following along with their triumphant 2009 reunion shows at home, hoping against hope that rumours from earlier this Summer that they were considering extending the love-in across the Atlantic if not this year then next would be true. The Guardian quotes bassist Alex James as telling the BBC that despite the rapturous response to the shows, the band had no plans of “doing anything else whatsoever”. Cold water, indeed.

And so it seems a bit ironic that they’re releasing a new compilation in Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide To Blur, out next week, in that if someone is to just now discover Blur – where can they take that? Certainly not to a show. Perhaps they can take it to the previous Blur compilation, 2000’s The Best Of Blur. Though a decade separates the two, there’s been only one studio album in that span – the Graham Coxon-less Think Tank – which makes the necessity of a second best-of questionable.

“But!”, the pedant might shout out, “this isn’t a best-of!” – and to be fair, Midlife does not claim to be so, but instead an introduction to the band. And in that sense, it actually succeeds quite well. Whereas the “best of” epithet mandated that the 2000 compilation boast the band’s chart-toppers and poppier material, which it did nicely – buying it persuaded me to catch up on all the studio albums while keeping the comp for quick hits and the live bonus disc – being a “beginner’s guide” allows Midlife to shed some of the ear candy for more difficult but perhaps more rewarding deep cuts, emphasizing the band’s artier side and also acknowledging the existence of Think Tank. If this were someone’s first introduction to the band, they would come away with the impression that they were an eclectic art-rock band with the ability to make big-league hooks rather than a radio-ready pop band with a weird streak. Neither of these is wrong, which is one of the things that makes Blur so interesting, with both comps taking different perspectives on the band.

And not that you need both, but if you did, there wouldn’t be that much overlap. Ten songs appear on both, but Midlife boasts 25 across two discs and in all honesty, “Blue Jeans”, “Chemical World” and “Popscene” are more welcome than “On Your Own”, “There’s No Other Way” or “Country House” are missed. If they’d only found a way to include “To The End” and “End Of A Century”, Midlife would be hands-down the one to have if you had room for only one jewel case in your CD collection (humour me and pretend you still have a CD collection), though the Best Of artwork is still far and away tops. But really, the thing to do is go out and buy their entire catalog. Except Think Tank. You probably don’t need that.

To the contest part of this post, courtesy of EMI Records, I have three copies of the Midlife compilation to give away, so if you want, leave a comment below stating which single Blur song you would use to introduce and indoctrinate a newcomer to the band and why. Be sure to include your email address so I get in touch with the winner. This contest will close at midnight, August 1, and is open to residents of North America. You in the UK, you got the live shows – you don’t get the comp. Those of us here have to make do with the recordings of the gigs, like this one that closed out Glastonbury. Le sigh.

MP3: Blur – “The Universal” (live at Glastonbury 2009)

By : Frank Yang at 10:23 am
Category: Contests

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RSS Feed for this post17 Responses.
  1. Jim says:

    “For Tomorrow” is and will forever be my favourite Blur song, and I think it does a great job of introducing someone to the band because it’s truly where their greatness starts from. The Leisure singles are great, don’t get me wrong, but I think it was with “For Tomorrow” and Modern Life Is Rubbish that the Blur formula solidified and took shape. Much like you’d suggest that Radiohead newcomers would be better served starting with The Bends than Pablo Honey. From there, I would move onto “On Your Own” from Blur, and then let the newbie fill in the blanks between with the rest of their catalogue.

  2. Kasia says:

    “End of a Century”

    End of a Century is a quintessential Blur tune fashioned from their basic stylistic ingredients:
    – simple pop chord progressions
    – an overlay of Coxon’s distorted guitar
    – anthemic lyrics that make you want to clink pints of Guiness above your head as you wail in a pub
    – and a hint of art-school boldness (come on, not every band would drop in a trumpet solo to a hit song)

    Blur were the posterboys of Britpop – England’s melodic rebellion against the power chords and flannel of American rock and tasteless Euro pop. I could go on and on to a newb about their effect on the musical landscape of the 90s. I could indoctrinate them with the zeitgeist of Britpop and their effects on future generations of musicians.

    But in the end, it’s Blur’s ability to create timeless rock-pop tunes that makes them great. And “End of a Century” is a textbook example of their musical craftsmanship.

  3. Jaime says:

    She Is So High
    Ethereal and melodic, with a healthy dollop of Damon’s trademark whine.

  4. Caz says:

    “For Tomorrow”

    I’m going to let my honesty rule me out of the competition here (seeing as Jim already selected this), but it is the clear choice for me, too.

    It really is the quintessential Blur song: Lyrically, it’s presents an almost filmic snapshot of a boy and girl in love in modern London, complete with London-y references (the Westway, Primrose Hill, making tea) and superb imagery (“trying not to be sick again”). Musically, it’s trademark Coxon guitar (playing both lead and rhythm parts simultaneously), a typically snake-y bass line from Alex, perfect sing-along chorus (“La la la…”) and Damon’s vocals at their melancholic (and cockney) best. They really had a knack for capturing melancholy but making it feel joyous. This song paints a picture of fleeting youth/innocence in the face of an even bleaker future, yet it is pure celebration. And indeed, hope (“holding on for tomorrow!”).

    No suprise that it was always a staple of their live set, too–and one that usually soared to to even greater heights in that setting than on record. Just magic. And, if I’ve had too much to drink, it can still make me cry.

  5. Caz says:

    p.s. Good call on “End of a Century”, too.

  6. MikeD says:

    um – not a big fan, wasn’t realy following music when they were popular – so I pick the “woo hoo” song. Song 1?

  7. John says:

    I would nominate Coffee &T V due to the fact it represents Blur’s past…..nods of the Kinks and The Jam and the first wave of Brit Pop and its also is a pointer to where were heading…

  8. Michael says:

    Another vote for “End Of A Century” simply because it makes one of the best cases for Blur being the new incarnation of The Kinks. It finds the right balance between their classic pop songs and Damon’s tendency for caricature. Still probably their best song…

  9. scott says:

    I think there is no ONE song to make a perfect Blur introduction… but if I HAD to pick one, I’d go for one of my all time favourites:The Universal… and NOT just because you linked it above.

    I think it encapsulates so much of the band’s sound – the swagger and almost carnival sound of the keyboard, the soaring vocals not just pigeon-holing Blur as a basic Brit Pop band, and the gently gorgeous song-writing. A near perfect song… and most people will know the “Woo Hoo” of Song 2, so this shows them why Blur mattered even though their most famous song was a pretty obvious send up of the genre it was written in – and an almost complete 180 from that sound.

  10. ryan says:

    As much as I love Modern Life Is Rubbish and it’s brilliant singles (For Tommorow, Sunday Sunday and Chemical World), I think that This Is A Low is probably the best thing they’ve ever done and makes for a great introduction to the band… so epic and rich in imagery.

    It’s the one that I’d always throw on a mix-tape when I was making them (that and To The End) and it strikes the perfect balance of Bowie and The Kinks that they seemed to be aiming for at that point in time in their career…

    I know that they aimed for “epic” elsewhere in their career, but they never got it quite this right!

  11. James C says:

    I am in no way a huge Blur fan but my interest has recently been piqued by their reunion and the media coverage inundating me at the magazine racks at my favortite record stores. I wanna get into them. I am a self professed newcomer to the band and this is how I’m going to learn more about them.

    I’m going to start with their most promintent song: “Song 2” simply because its the only one I know and it will act as a gateway song. Following that 2.5 assault on my eardrums I’m going to pick up the record that appeared on and listen to that all the way through and see where that will take me on my quest for Blur.

  12. Kasia says:

    Thanks Caz,

    Honestly, it was either For Tomorrow, Coffee and TV or End of a Century and I had to give it to Parklife in the end.

  13. juepucta says:

    Music is my Radar. I know: atypical, somewhat recent, etc. But with that amazingly fuzzy solo that gives me an eargasm. Oh wait, i was supposed ot get somebody into the band? BAH, gimme my solo – you go listen to the Jonas mofos.

    -G.

  14. bobbyk says:

    I’m partial to “Death of a Party” from their later 1990s album Blur. Although considered a bit maudlin, it was part of their transition from “pop” that a lot of groups went through. It clearly was a departure from “There’s No Other Way” that put them on the map….a nod to “End of the Century” too…..

  15. Matt Hawker says:

    Sadly my first exposure to Blur was “Song #2” and for years I assumed that was it and all. Luckily someone exposed me (hell it might have even been you Frank) to all their gifts. Country House might have been the first handful of re-exposed Blur songs I heard and I just sat there listening thinking “there is no fuckin’ way this is the same band that woo-hoo’s.

    There’s obviously the Kinks sentiment that others above have mentioned and the song wouldn’t be out of place in the Davies Bros. time honoured tradition of taking the piss out of Brit society.
    out
    But it also touches deeper than simple satire and there’s lots to love in little things. The way they stretch out the “terminally” in the first verse., etc.

    I guess I choose this song because its one of my favourite Blur songs to sing a long to. ANd if you’re indoctrinating someone whose previous familiarity is probably limited to Song #2 I thought it would be wise to trade one sing a long for another.

  16. Craig says:

    “Blue Jeans”.

    It’s sullen and sedate, a perfect middle ground between the soaring pop of “For Tomorrow” and the over-stylised “Chemical World”, all housed on album which captured the band in a state of metamorphosis between baggy chancers and the Next Big Thing. Often the best songs on Blur albums weren’t the singles, this gem in particular, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. For the first timer, the deep end looms large — “Blue Jeans” tests the water.

  17. Ryan says:

    Blackbook. The epic single that never was.

    Recorded for the “Best Of” album, but the label decided the b-side Music Is My Radar would be more radio friendly.

    The song slowly builds and has a tension and a spirit that can only be rivaled by Tender. Damon shouting “give me my soul, give you my soul” and Graham’s disjointed noisy guitar it represents everything that is amazing about blur.

    Also I wanted to add that Midlife is worth picking up even if you own all the blur records because it has alternate mixes that are quite different than the originals. For Tomorrow and Chemical World stand out the most. These are not the mixes that appear on the American (more guitars) or UK versions of Modern Life.