(Copyright © 1999-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Leisure , 5/10
Modern Life Is Rubbish, 6/10
Parklife , 6/10
Great Escape , 5/10
Blur, 6/10
13, 5/10
Graham Coxon: The Sky Is Too High , 6/10
Graham Coxon: The Golden D , 5/10
Graham Coxon: Crow Sit On Blood Tree , 4/10
Graham Coxon: The Kiss of Morning , 6/10
Graham Coxon: Happiness in Magazines (2004), 5/10
Graham Coxon: Love Travels At Illegal Speeds (2006), 6/10
Graham Coxon: The Spinning Top (2009) , 4/10
Graham Coxon: A+E (2012), 5/10
Blur: Think Tank (2003), 4/10
Damon Albarn: Democrazy (2003), 3/10
Gorillaz: Gorillaz (2002), 6/10
Gorillaz: Demon Days (2005), 4.5/10
Gorillaz: Plastic Beach (2010), 4/10
Gorillaz: The Fall (2010), 4/10
Damon Albarn: Dr Dee (2012), 4.5/10
Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (2014), 4.5/10
Blue: The Magic Whip (2015), 4/10
Humanz (2017), 4/10
The Now Now (2018), 4/10
Song Machine Season One (2020), 4/10

(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)

Blur emerged among the leading lights, for better or worse, of Brit-pop in the 1990s. With Oasis, they were the most overrated band in that genre.

Their main merit is that they sang melodic choruses, as millions of them did around the world, when the British record industry was promoting that genre around Europe.

Blur came to prominence with the October 1990 hit She's So High, endowed with a slow, enveloping melody, followed closely by There's No Other Way, far more upbeat, with an almost Southern boogie rhythm and riff, and Bang, equally crackling but more languidly Merseybeat. These are unimaginative songs that merely repeat rock music stereotypes (in the best cases Byrds, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix).

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

With the album Leisure (SBK, 1991) Blur tried shamelessly to speculate on rock's tradition. The songs are generic imitations of the original models, that rarely release any emotion. Blur are all form, and no content.
The languid, mellow, flowery, affected psychedelia of She's So High and Bad Day is actually not completely epigonic (other than drawing inspiration from the Paisley Underground), but it is also terribly tedious. The band can be more entertaining with the slightly more aggressive blues and soul shuffles of There's No Other Way and I Know, but too often they stumble on half-baked rock and roll numbers that "would" make reference to the Who (Come Together).
Blur were yet another Brit-pop band that has nothing to say but they said it in a sophisticated manner.

The (more virulent) single Popscene led to the second album, Modern Life Is Rubbish (Food, 1992 - (SBK, 1993), a decisive shift towards the more robust sound of the Who and the Kinks (For Tomorrow, and above all Chemical World). Amateurish and derivative, this album simply proved that Blur had little or no musical talent.

(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)

That of Parklife (SBK, 1994), which debuted at No. 1 in the UK charts, is an almost perverse exercise in retro, bordering on parody, beginning with the single Girls & Boys (yet another variation on Wire's I Am The Fly motif), the quintessence of their (deliberate or not) farcical musichall stupidity.

David Bowie's dramatics exert a strong influence on the album, as Jubilee also demonstrates. Elsewhere the spectres of pedantic songwriters a la Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson (London Loves, Clover Over Dover) surface.

The group redeems itself artistically in such peripheral episodes as the exotic orchestral undercurrent of To The End or the marching band instrumental of Debt Collector or the Devo-esque dementedness of Trouble In The Message Centre. The album as a whole composes a small fresco of the English middle class, and in particular of its vices, a kind of Kinksian concept. But overall it is an album of poorly played and poorly sung mediocre songs.

The Great Escape (Food, 1995) is a (sadly) faithful photocopy of it: a hyper-realistic and sometimes sarcastic sequence of Kinksian populist vignettes such as Country House, Stereotypes, Mrs Robinson's Quango, Charmless Man. Plus the pompous ballad The Universal.

Blur (Virgin, 1997) changes course dramatically. Blur rebuilds its virginity with a sound that is much more rock and arrangements that favor noise. The album's protagonist is the American alternative rock of those years: the melancholy single Beetlebum (only superficially related to Lennon's Don't Let Me Down ) is a ballad worthy of Matthew Sweet; You're So Great (Coxon's track) has the grunge-psychedelic tone of Dinosaur Jr; Song 2 (perhaps the best track) is a dissonant vaudeville halfway between the Rolling Stones and Sonic Youth; M.O.R. is stolen from Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging; Chinese Bombs (the most impetuous track) is halfway between Green Day and Elastica; Country Sad Ballad Man is an homage to Beck. And a bit of trip-hop (Death Of A Party, I'm Just A Killer For Your Love) contributes to the suspense.

Their traditional melodic sound is delegated to peripheral compositions such as Strange News From Another Star and Look Inside America. Damon Albarn wastes the opportunity, however, because of one of the most pedestrian vocal ranges in Brit-pop.

Although it has lost the verve of the past (and the media spotlight), the group has undoubtedly matured: Song 2 is the second Blur song (after Girls And Boys) not to be forgotten after two days. Now that the great Brit-pop scam is melting like snow in the sun, it turns out that perhaps one of the two most pathetically epigonic groups was also one of the few that had any musical gifts (singer aside).

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Blur became rock musicians, and not mere Brit-pop icons, with their fifth album (regardless of whether it is also their best or not). Suddenly, they showed talent for composing and performing complex songs and a fair knowledge of the history of rock music. Thanks to production by electronica-wizard William Orbit, 13 (Wiiija, 1999) expands on that landmark recording, metabolizing more of the alternative-rock jargon. Each song is carefully crafted by layering and sequencing countless sonic elements, including machine noises and beats. Gone are the 3-minute witty and quirky pop ditties, replaced by extended compositions that take their time to develop a theme. The track that works well is Tender, a hybrid of gospel and country music that churns out some intriguing jamming. Bugman attempts a Song 2-kind of scoop but sounds mainly like a noisy remix of David Bowie's Jean Genie. Coxon's Mellow Song is another tribute to Beck. Coffee And TV is a cute tune (with Graham Coxon's best guitar solo) that harks back to Parklife. The Swamp Song sounds like one of those Residents' parodies. Battle and Caramel are intricate collages with no center of gravity that holds them together. No doubt this album would rank with the boldest efforts from the alternative scene, but there is nothing that countless (lesser-known) bands haven't done (better) before. Except that Orbit's production overfills each track of sounds. Overall, this is a confused album, that rarely succeeds in rising from its futile, fake-experimental volitions. To the band's credit, they have dived head down into a field that couldn't be further removed from their roots.

Surprisingly, Blur's guitarist Graham Coxon is a much better songwriter, as displayed on his first solo, The Sky Is Too High (Transcopic, 1998), in a low-key, spare vein that recalls the suicidal agonies of Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen rather than the bombast of Brit-pop (Where'd You Go, A Day Is Far Too Long). The fact that the two best songs (That's All I Wanna Do, I Wish) are the exceptions (distorted rock and roll a` la Neil Young) lends the songwriter even more credibility: the man is not just another whining, alienated, introverted singer songwriter.

Unfortunately, The Golden D (Transcopic, 2000) is the record of a completely different artist. The album sounds like a tribute to the (noisy) sounds of his teenage years: punk-rock (The Fear, Jamie Thomas), dark metal (Satan I Gatan, My Idea Of Hell), new wave, hip hop, etc. Coxon pays homage to his idols Mission Of Burma, but maybe should have also mentioned the Pixies. An incompetent survey of styles of the 1970s.

Coxon's third solo album, Crow Sit On Blood Tree (Transcopic, 2001), is a half-baked collection of subdued folk-rock ballads that could have easily summarized on a single or EP, as only one song (Empty World) stands out. His fourth solo album, The Kiss of Morning (Transcopic, 2002), improves quite a bit by setting Coxon's noisy folk-blues singalongs at the crossroad between Nick Drake and Syd Barrett (Escape Song, Mountain Of Regret). After the success of the bubblegum hit Freakin' Out, Coxon delivered yet another hodge-podge of folk (All Over Me, Are You Ready), hard-rock (Spectacular, People Of The Earth), country-rock (Girl Done Gone), power-pop (Bittersweet Bundle Of Mystery) styles, Happiness in Magazines (Parlophone, 2004). Love Travels At Illegal Speeds (2006), on which Coxon played all instruments, was no less entertaining (Standing On My Own Again), and finally a bit raunchy too, often worthy of the Buzzcocks, and therefore his best effort yet.

Gorillaz is a collaboration between Damon Albarn and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura. The EP Tomorrow Comes Today (2001) features a number of high-caliber guests and is devoted to pop music played according to a cartoon aesthetic. Gorillaz (EMI, 2002), also known as Tomorrow Comes Today (Virgin, 2002), contains an eccentric and cartoonish mixture of funk, dub, hip-hop, folk and rock (Tomorrow Comes Today, 19-2000, the comic rap Clint Eastwood, with the spirit of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and the lethargic dub number Slow Country). G Sides (EMI, 2002) and D-Sides (2007) collect rarities (notably Faust and Ghost Train on the former; and We Are Happy Landfill and Hong Kong on the latter). Laika Come Home (Astralwerks, 2002) contains remixes.

Gorillaz's Demon Days (EMI, 2005) was de facto a solo Albarn album (despite the production of studio wizard Brian Burton and guests such as Neneh Cherry, Martina Topley-Bird, Shaun Ryder, a couple of choirs and especially guitarist Simon Tong) but no less inventive, just serious instead of comic, offering the same whirlwind of party music (Feel Good Inc, which would remain their biggest hit, Dirty Harry, that weds a children choir intoning an African chant with Kraftwerk-ian machine music and, after two minutes, mutates into a trivial rap), hip-hop (Dare, one of their classics, November has Come), rock (Kids With Guns, in which the vocalists dialog lazily over a simple guitar pattern that works as a rhythm section while the amount of noise increases until it drowns the vocals), blues (Every Planet We Reach Is Dead), pop, electronica (Last Living Souls, with a shrill bouncy beat, dub-like echoes and dreamy vocals), etc.

Blur's Think Tank (Virgin, 2003), following Coxon's departure, is a confused hodgepodge of styles that simply proves how little inspired Blur have always been. A couple of upbeat songs (Ambulance, Jets) are not enough to sustain the interest throughout the indulgent proceedings.

Damon Albarn's Democrazy (Honest Jon's, 2003) collects demos.

Coxon continued to release pointless albums: The Spinning Top (Transgressive, 2009) even marked a regression to primal folk tunes.

The facile songs of Gorillaz's Plastic Beach (2010) relied on rhythmic tricks (the bouncing synth-pop beat a` la Safety Dance of Stylo, the swampy African polyrhythm of the rap Sweepstakes, Superfast Jellyfish), vocal tricks (the anemic rigmarole of Rhinestone, the easy-listening laments of On Melancholy Hill and To Binge) or instrumental tricks (the smooth orchestral rap of Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach, the lively Middle Eastern dance with industrial beat that battles the rap of White Flag) to sustain interest. Shamelessly derivative, the magniloquent synth-pop of Empire Ants was nonetheless a major addition to their radio-friendly ditties.

Albarn composed music for the Chinese opera Monkey Journey to the West (2007), using Gorillaz's style of high-tech arrangements, and then composed the Renaissance-era opera Dr Dee (2011) using classical instruments. Albarn recorded Gorillaz's The Fall (2010) on his iPad in between gigs, penning nonetheless Revolving Doors (doo-wop for pirates) and Hillbilly Man Changing style completely, the single Apple Carts & the Marvelous Dream (2012) sounds like a Renaissance song.

The truth is that Gorillaz's The Singles Collection 2001-2011 is their only album that is truly worth having.

Meanwhile, Coxon returned to his harmless power-pop routine on A+E (2012).

Damon Albarn's Everyday Robots (2014) appropriates world-music in the toolbox of the English singer-songwriter, but the results are hardly spectacular: a melancholy doo-wop litany (Hostiles), a Caribbean-tinged lounge-oriented ballad (Lonely Press Play), a Paul Simon-esque exotic shuffle (Mr Tembo, that perhaps is more reminiscent of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville), and assorted, lifeless laments.

Blur reunited for The Magic Whip (2015).

After a long hiatus, Gorillaz returned with increasingly boring albums, despite the notable collaborators on each one: Humanz (2017), with the atmospheric hip-hop Saturnz Barz, The Now Now (2018), with Humility, and Song Machine Season One (2020), with Aries that harkens back to dance-pop of the Pet Shop Boys generation.

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