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Best Blur Albums: Their Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed
List & Guides

Best Blur Albums: Their Studio Discography, Ranked And Reviewed

The best Blur albums took the group from Britpop heroes to bold experimentalists, and defined British 90s rock in the process.

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From landmark works of the Britpop era to daring excursions into experimental art-rock, the best Blur albums expanded the scope of possibilities for British rock and pop music in the 90s, and they continue to remain touchstones for all bands seeking blueprints for creative freedom.

Listen to the best of Blur here, and check out the best Blur albums, below.

9: ‘The Magic Whip’ (2015)

The reunion shows had taken place as early as 2009, but even with guitarist Graham Coxon back in the fold, Blur weren’t to be rushed over new material. A handful of single releases (Fool’s Day; the double A-side Under The Westway/The Puritan) proved they still had it in them, but a full album only began to come together in May 2013, when the band found themselves with five days’ worth of downtime in Hong Kong. The basic tracks for what would become The Magic Whip were laid down there and then, but it took a further two years for Coxon and longtime Blur producer Stephen Street to finish off the music, with input from bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree, before presenting the results to frontman Damon Albarn. A solo trip to Hong Kong inspired Albarn’s final lyrics, and the long-awaited comeback delivered a mix of classic Blur bounce (Lonesome Street; Go Out) and moments of ruminative beauty (My Terracotta Heart; Thought I Was A Spaceman) amid tunes which saw Albarn shift his songwriting focus from British society to modern-day Hong Kong (Pyongyang) and the world at large (There Are Too Many Of Us).

Must hear: My Terracotta Heart

8: ‘Leisure’ (1991)

Released while British guitar music was at a crossroads – stuck somewhere between post-Smiths indie jangle and the dance-rock crossover of Madchester bands such as The Stone Roses and Factory Records tearaways Happy Mondays – Blur’s debut album, Leisure, found the group at a similar juncture. They were still in search of their voice, but songs such as There’s No Other Way proved they could make of-the-moment hits, while follow-up single Bang edged towards the observational songwriting Damon Albarn would make his own on one of the best Blur albums of the early 90s, Modern Life Is Rubbish. Add the Velvet Underground-inspired Sing, and Blur’s post-Britpop evolution really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Must hear: There’s No Other Way

7: ‘Think Tank’ (2003)

Writing in his memoir, Verse, Chorus, Monster!, Graham Coxon is open about his reasons for leaving Blur during the Think Tank sessions. Though reduced to a three-piece, the group set upon expanding their sound in Marrakesh, with album opener Ambulance and the Clash-indebted Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club drawing upon rhythmic influences from such extracurricular Damon Albarn projects as the Mali Music album, and Brothers And Sisters and Gene bearing traces of Gorillaz’s fingerprints. While the Norman Cook-produced Crazy Beat found them flirting with electronic rock, the world-weary singles Out Of Time and Good Song were about as bare-bones as Blur got, and were all the more affecting for it. Fittingly, the departing Coxon takes a bow on album closer Battery In Your Leg, plugging in for some soaring guitar work on Albarn’s heartfelt “ballad for the good times”.

Must hear: Out Of Time

6: ‘The Great Escape’ (1995)

Country House would eventually carry Blur to victory in the “Battle Of Britpop”, but they felt somewhat under siege while recording The Great Escape. With the Parklife album turning the group into one of the biggest bands of the 90s, Albarn and co were suddenly in the British tabloids as much as they were the music press, and the relentless focus only added extra pressure as they set about recording a follow-up to what’s still regarded as one of the best Blur albums of all time. Album tracks such Dan Abnormal and Entertain Me grappled with the situation in a way that was equal parts sardonic and exasperated, while the character sketches on singles Stereotypes and Charmless Man had a merciless edge compared with those found on The Great Escape’s predecessors. Country House – and its notorious promo video – may have fixed the public image of Blur for many, but the group were chafing at the restrictions of their Britpop tagging. With its widescreen ambition, the string-laden ennui of The Universal proved there was plenty more territory for Blur to conquer.

Must hear: The Universal

5: ‘The Ballad Of Darren’

Blur’s ninth studio album brought to end an eight-year silence. With it, the group that had once satirised mid-life crises found themselves with plenty to say about grief and the losses that must be endured with age, fashioning The Ballad Of Darren into a cathartic meditation on trauma and music’s ability to heal the soul. At just 36 minutes, it’s the shortest album in the Blur catalogue, but with Albarn trading in pure emotion on songs such as Far Away Island and The Heights, and Coxon’s ever-inventive guitar textures sharing space with orchestral ensemble The Demon Strings, it also emerges as one of the most expansive. A generous gift to fans who have been in it for the long haul, and a heart-on-sleeve reckoning with the life experiences that come for us all, The Ballad Of Darren is a late-period masterpiece that deservedly ranks highly among the best Blur albums of all time.

Must hear: The Heights

4: ‘Parklife’ (1994)

“Who’s that gut-lord marching?” If that and other phrases (“It gives me a sense of enormous well-being”; “He gets intimidated by the dirty pigeons – they love a bit of it”) meant nothing to you in the mid-90s, you needed to cut down on your pork-life, mate – get some exercise. Released in the spring of 1994, Parklife offered more than a breath of fresh air for British rock; it proved guitar bands could be fun and serious and inventive all at once, and that “pop” needn’t be a dirty word, either. Filling his wide-angled observations of late-20th-century British life with minutely detailed characters, Albarn’s lyrics moved confidently from melancholy explorations of long-term relationships (End Of A Century; To The End) to witty satires on package holidays (Girls & Boys) and midlife crises (Tracy Jacks). Musically, too, the range was impressive, taking in everything from lounge pop to boisterous rock and end-of-the-pier vaudeville. Look to album tracks such as This Is A Low (inspired by the BBC’s Shipping Forecast) and the winsome Far Out for hints that Blur wouldn’t be shouldering the Britpop mantle forever.

Must hear: Parklife

3: ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ (1993)

Written after a disappointing US tour that left them feeling dejected and homesick, Modern Life Is Rubbish was Blur’s unabashed attempt to reconnect with their homeland while they figured out their place in the world. A creative leap in every direction, it’s the album on which Damon Albarn found his voice and the group as a whole established themselves as contenders. Whimsical indie-rock (Star Shaped), critiques of the nine-to-five grind (Advert) and vignettes of lives balanced on the edge of uncertainty (For Tomorrow; Chemical World) sat next to bombastic statements of intent whose sceptical view of middle-class Britain would fuel many of the best Blur songs of the next few years (Sunday Sunday). Off-kilter oddities weren’t far from the surface (Oily Water; Miss America), anchoring the group in an art-rock tradition they would turn to at a crucial juncture.

Must hear: For Tomorrow

2: ‘Blur’ (1997)

Feeling burnt-out and pigeonholed at the end of the Great Escape era, Blur weighed up their options: implosion or a complete rethink of what the band could be. Opting for the latter, they put aside their uneasy relationship with US culture and, with Graham Coxon’s record collection as a guide, embraced the kind of lo-fi stateside alt-rock that had, for years, seemed to be at odds with everything Blur stood for. The result was a revelation among the best Blur albums. Emboldened by the group’s newfound musical freedom, Albarn allowed himself to write more obviously personal lyrics, with songs such as Beetlebum and Strange News From Another Star exposing the man within, as opposed to his views on the world around him. Unreservedly jettisoning their past, the gleefully nonsensical Song 2 may have been the global calling card for Blur’s self-titled album, but the inscrutable Theme From Retro and Essex Dogs edged into ever more leftfield areas the band would explore with their next record.

Must hear: Beetlebum

1: ‘13’ (1999)

With producer William Orbit (Madonna; All Saints) settling behind the recording console off the back of a remix of the Blur album track Movin’ On, Blur’s sixth album, 13, was both the record no one saw coming and also the logical progression of the experimental phase the group had entered with its predecessor. Albarn’s heart-on-sleeve songwriting was even more to the fore on the singles Tender and No Distance Left To Run, while Graham Coxon took the lead on his own confessional gem, Coffee & TV. Elsewhere, the record that tops this list of the best Blur albums offered downbeat space-rock (Caramel), looping jams (Battle; Trailerpark) and a level of musical sophistication that ensured Blur’s place among the best bands of the 90s.

Must hear: Trimm Trabb

Buy Blur vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 8 May 2023

Updated: 21 July 2023

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