Blur (Virgin)

Blur

By Bob Bahr

Over the course of several albums, Blur developed a fairly distinctive sound. It is nowhere to be found on this self-titled effort. In its place is a startlingly wide variety of sounds, styles and textures, exploring several directions at once, some of them stolen. The surprise is, a few of them work. But to what end?

"M.O.R." sure sounds like the Clash, but not nearly as much as "On Your Own," which REALLY sounds like the '70s London punkers, from Albarn's Cockney accent to the sighing, rolling background vocals. Elsewhere on the record, you hear traces of the Kinks, techno, and even a rather American-sounding cut ("Song 2") that straddles grunge and noise rock. A Morrissey flavor is unmistakable in "Death of a Party," while "Chinese Bombs" and "I'm Just a Killer for Your Love" will make anyone who was in a heavy garage band in the late '60s/early '70s era realize that music trends are indeed cyclical (and make them think perhaps they should shop around those old demo tapes they laid down way back when).

But the strongest influence, the one that dominates several tracks and touches several others, is the Beatles -- especially their white album-era and later. "You're So Great" couldn't sound more like the Beatles English country shtick if Lennon were singing it -- there's even a Harrisonesque slide guitar solo. "Beetlebum" and "Strange News from Another Star" are also unimaginable in a world that had never heard the Fab Four. The British press concocted a rivalry between Blur and Oasis some time ago. Oasis finally broke big in the U.S. by riding the coattails of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr. Now, it seems that Blur is following their countrymen into the cult of Liverpool. Sigh.

The last four songs (two of which are bonus tracks) end the album with a psychedelic, atmospheric whimper that seems to come out of nowhere. This record sprawls. Maybe it's an English thing -- Blur is dominating the charts across the Atlantic. Will it fly here? Nah. It's unlikely to convert Americans to the joys of Albarn and company. We just bought all those damn Anthology discs last year.