Few bands that were part of the Britpop explosion of the 1990s were as integral to the genre as Blur.
The six albums Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree released between 1991 and 1999 (not forgetting 2003’s Think Tank) varied dramatically in stylistic terms. Their most drastic reinvention came between the baggy abandon of 1991’s Leisure and the quintessential Englishness of 1993’s Modern Life is Rubbish.
Anyway, enough of that. Were you Blur or were you Oasis? A smart-arse would probably say ‘Neither. I preferred Suede.’ (Suede were something special, mind).
Ironically, whilst Oasis were trying so earnestly to be the Beatles, it was in fact Blur who came closest to the creative thrust of the Fab Four.
To pin a Blur badge to your school jumper suggested you were of an altogether artier inclination; someone who had a sense of humour and who enjoyed that mad eccentricity which defines all that is good and English.
To scrawl Oasis on your school books, though, proposed an appreciation of ‘Classic Rock’, football and scowling.
Me? I was always an Oasis boy but I was dragging my knuckles on the floor back then. In time I’ve grown to appreciate Blur’s inventiveness much, much more. Plus, Girls and Boys (a song which perfectly distils the tacky shag-athon of the 18-30 holiday) is one of the great British singles of the last twenty years.
The two bands’ scrap for domestic dominance (dubbed ‘The Battle of Britpop’ by a salivating NME) was standard copy for the music press during the mid-1990s. This was a tale of chart dominance which embraced the whole of Britain and everyone had an opinion. (my gran thought the Oasis boys needed a good wash.)
In Blur’s defence, they did little to aggravate the situation. Instead it was the Gallagher brothers (ever reliable for a mindless, controversial remark) who gleefully fanned the flames.
The Battle of Britpop came to a head in August 1995 when the two groups released singles on the same day. Blur’s Country House, a wry Kinks-esque jaunt, pipped the more meat and potatoes rock of Oasis’ Roll With It to the number one spot, and with that bragging rights in classrooms across Britain were settled.
Blur’s music provided a perfect soundtrack to the joie de vivre attitude of the mid-1990s.
In times of nostalgic reflection it seemed as if their music played out constantly over blazing hot summer days whilst I ran riot over the park, stuffing my face with pick ‘n mix from the newsagents (you could get so much for 30p back then, couldn’t you?). And is it me or were the scuzzy streets alive with the sound of Stereotypes, Charmless Man and Coffee and TV on an almost daily basis?
The four members have since gone on to other endeavours with Albarn’s Gorillaz the most notable project, but back in the 1990s Blur were that rare thing: an intelligent, opinionated group who infiltrated the charts. They were part of the last batch of such pop stars; playful, free of PR restraints and, gasp!, carrying a bit of personality.
By Jack Prescott