There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said (or typed) about Blur. From the early-90’s Britpop to the mid-90’s psychedelia, the late-90’s American Indie and the ’00’s African/Electronica experimentalism. The haughty youth, the depression, the in-band fighting between Damon and Graham, the rivalries with Oasis and the comparisons with Radiohead, the eventual removal of Graham and his consequential solo albums. And, of course, Damon’s brief top 40 success with the ministration of cartoon band mates. All leading up to a 2009 reunion tour and this, the quintessential 2-disc anthology collection, complete with remixes, revamps and deep album cuts.
But the predictable commercial foibles of a greatest hits compilation are largely avoided here; each of the tracks have been carefully selected by the band and many of them are touched-up or alternative versions. And rather than skim the band’s lengthy array of hits, the playlist feels more like a record in-and-of itself, favoring quality over familiarity, and leaving the listener with a balanced perspective of both the band’s ability and their legacy.
Naturally, this replaces what one would expect to discover within the amalgamation. The hip, sardonic beats of “Girls and Boys” are overshadowed by nearly eight minutes of gospel-chorused hippie fuzz on “Tender”. “Song 2″‘s rowdy woo-hoo’s are no match for the punked-out horns in “Popscene”. In fact, there’s such an effortless ebb and flow between the breezy and the brainy that you’d hardly guess this was a retrospective aside from wavering audio fidelity and the suspicious unending supply of high-caliber tunes.
Even still, aged fans might question the band’s emphasis; the majority of the music here is art rock, more Elbow or Super Furry Animals than the Kinks or Madchester. Which is not to say Blur didn’t do art rock fiendishly well, it just wasn’t their career’s calling card. Albarn made countless efforts to be more accepted, more mainstream, and to unlock the English music charts’ secrets before retreating into his cave of artistry, and followers may notice the lack of attention to this specific detail within the set.
All nit-picking aside, it’s a brilliant mixture of songs, devoid of clunkers, and Blur’s importance as a musical outfit is neither underscored nor exaggerated by it. In fact, it’ll probably stand by itself as one of the few retrospectives that wasn’t a label’s ploy for money or a band’s attempt to revitalize a sagging fan base. There’s certainly enough of the old here for casual fans to enjoy, with enough new arrangements and remixes to make it relevant to the hardcore base.