Can’t get far enough away:The Great Escape by Blur (An album a [[insert length of time here]] #17)
It’s the mid 90s. Blur’s last album was Parklife. There’s a press beat-up pitting them against Oasis. The Great Escape first gets rave reviews and then there’s a backlash, some critics even repudiate their earlier laudatory comments. Blah blah blah.
Who cares? Let’s look at the album free of that context. It’s pretty good, but it’s not great. There are some really neat tunes on it — first ‘Country House’ and second ‘Charmless Man’, but they’re not alone. There are some songs that drag. There are quite a few that seem to shout at you between bursts of loud music-y noise. There’s one or two that are kind of touching (‘Yuko and Hiro’, ‘He Thought of Cars’) and a bunch that have a slightly judgemental, superior edge; not that some of the targets don’t earn it (‘Mr Robinson’s Quango’). It’s as if on Parklife Albarn was looking at ‘us (himself included)’ but here he’s looking at ‘them’, except it’s all too easy to be one of ‘them’ from his point of view. It’s witty, it’s tuneful, in some places it’s heartfelt, if sad or disappointed (I do like ‘The Universal’) but there’s a critical distance which gives the lyrical content a jaundiced edge and makes it an odd match for something that was so firmly categorised as pop (Well, Britpop) that it came to embody the term. It sounds like pop music, but the lyrics are not aiming to be popular. They’re not even aiming to be likeable. They are in general admirable (incisive, witty, that sort of thing), but I’m left with the impression of a librettist who’s a bit of a whiner.
Still, I’d not want to be without half a dozen of these tracks. Knocking it back to 10 or 11 tracks might have been a good idea, keeping it a little tighter; but I suspect no two listeners would agree on which 4 or 3 tracks to cut.