Blur Modern Life is Rubbish 1993, Food Records
Pressure on Julian
Turn It Up
*Note that the US release of Modern Life is Rubbish has a significantly changed tracklist.
Blur, who were to become one of the cornerstones of Britpop had formed in 1988 with Damon Albarn on vocals, Graham Coxon on guitar, Alex James on bass and Dave Rowntree on drums. Their line-up remains unchanged, although they now play together only rarely. Despite hailing from the south of England, they were heavily influenced by the Madchester sound initially, however although their first album was successful, their live performances in support of it were not and their record company considered dropping them. A change of direction for Modern Life is Rubbish saw them look further into the past for their influences, taking a lot from bands like The Kinks, The Who and The Jam whose music told a story. This is seen to be one of the first proper Britpop albums and though it was the least successful of Blur’s Britpop trilogy of albums (both Parklife and The Great Escape were number 1 albums), it did reach Number 15 in the chart.
For Tomorrow is a light, bouncy start, with a bit of the melody stolen from Ziggy Stardust. Advert has thrashing guitars and takes on the theme of the album title along with a dissatisfaction with mindless consumerism with a punkish sensibility in Albarn’s vocal delivery. Colin Zeal continues this theme with more of a Jam-like touch to the storytelling. Star Shaped has the quintessential mid-1990s Blur sound that their next two albums would make so familiar. It’s a definite precursor to their hit single Charmless Man but there’s also an oboe in there, just in case you thought they’d forgotten about Graham Coxon’s creative sensibilities. Blue Jeans is slow, ponderous and forgettable. Chemical World which is psychedelia inspired, is a major improvement, with strong guitars and interesting echo on Albarn’s voice, the track ends with a piano based instrumental that climaxes in a mess of guitars and drums. Sunday Sunday includes some fun trumpet, it’s Jam-like again with a music hall twist, an upbeat melody and downbeat lyrics about how weekends run away from you. This one sounds a bit Charmless Man-ish too. The quiet and gentle Miss America is a bit of a surprise, it’s just a little tiny bit countryfied and surreal. Villa Rosie about an imaginary gentleman's club has a fun, funky vibe. Coping is a perfect blend of guitars, synth and punchy vocals. Turn it Up is standard early Blur fair but Resigned bears much more similarity to tracks from their later album 13.
The album is both an homage to England and a commentary on how the band felt their homeland was being ruined by Americanisation. (while they were working on the album they called it Britain Versus America) The problems they had experienced on the US tour that immediately preceded the recording of the album had given them a dim view of America. It’s also very obviously music created by a group of people who are homesick for a home that doesn’t even really exist anymore. It was supposed to serve as an antidote to the imported American grunge sound that was popular in the UK in the early 1990s.
What is most interesting about this album is that it seems to represent all of Blur. You get hints of the commercial heights they are about to hit with their next two albums, but the arty, experimental side that they nurtured from 13 onwards is already in evidence here. It shows that they were never happy being just one thing and though this has led some critics to suggest that they would just jump on any bandwagon, it does make them a bit more interesting to the casual observer.
I don’t think of myself as a Blur fan because I do think of myself as an Oasis fan and during the media-created “Britpop wars” of the mid-90s I was at exactly the kind of impressionable age that bought into that kind of thing. There’s really nothing bad about this album though. There’s a few weaker tracks but overall, it’s bouncy and enjoyable (It’s a lot more fun than either Blur or 13, that’s for sure). It’s always fun to listen to a band finding their sound and although you’ll find more Britpop classics on their next two albums, Modern Life is Rubbish is certainly well worth a listen.