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[Brit-pop]

Reevaluating Blur: a buyer’s guide to the new reissues

Image
A pile of new reissues has us feeling Blur-y again.
Photo: Pennie Smith
Annie Zaleski

The Details

Blur
Three and a half stars
Leisure
Three stars
Modern Life Is Rubbish
Four and a half stars
Parklife
Four stars
The Great Escape
Three and a half stars
Blur
Three and a half stars
13
Three stars
Think Tank

Blur was a pillar of the Brit-pop movement, but the band earned enduring respect with its out-there interpretations of pop music. That’s evident when absorbing its seven reissued studio albums, each packaged with a disc of bonus material.

The candy-coated psych-pop of 1991’s Leisure, inspired by The Stone Roses, Ride and The Charlatans, transcends on the hypnotic, piano-driven “Sing.” Leisure’s second disc has several drab extended remixes, though “Inertia” recalls The Smashing Pumpkins’ early snarls, while “Won’t Do It” is a Sonic Youth-like squall.

Modern Life Is Rubbish, from 1993, remains a keyboard-laden triumph of cartoonish power-pop. But from its bonus disc, only the horn-blasted “Popscene,” the grungy “Hanging Over” and a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” leave a real impression.

The starry-eyed new wave and jaunty British wackiness of 1994’s Parklife have also held up amazingly well, and the album’s kaleidoscopic bonus disc is fun—from the Pet Shop Boys’ techno-riffic redo of “Girls & Boys” to the jazzy “Beard.”

Underrated 1995 album The Great Escape embraces Blur’s Brit-pop forefathers (Squeeze, XTC, The Teardrop Explodes) for the final time. Disc 2 is also consistently interesting, with brilliant live cuts and tunes touching on Achtung-era U2 (“No Monsters in Me”), futuristic synth-pop (“Tame”) and lo-fi fuzz (“St. Louis”).

The latter song informs 1997’s Blur (which contained the band’s biggest U.S. hit, “Song 2”) and 1999’s 13. Both delve into askew indie rock, twang-fried folk and beat-driven experiments. 13’s second disc has the edge (exotic electronic remixes, plus the Bowie-esque pop gem “All We Want”), although Blur’s second disc boasts lovely acoustic numbers, a hyped-up version of “M.O.R.” and the post-rock dirge “Bustin’ + Dronin’.”

And finally, the smorgasbord of influences on 2003’s Think Tank—The Clash, dub, French-pop, garage-punk, etc.—comes across better than it did initially, and the album’s electronic-leaning bonus cuts are the densest and most experimental of the bunch. In the end, while Blur’s knack for clever hooks is nearly unparalleled, the band’s stubborn individuality is more impressive.

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