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Blur - Leisure (1991)

The 'baggy' scene with bands such as Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Charlartans and Happy Mondays was on its way out by 1991. Shoegazing was a scene looking to replace 'Baggy', although if truth be known it was so brief even the death throes of Baggy outlasted all but one or two shoe-gazing bands. Blur were fairly interesting back in 1990-91, being one of the few bands that could legitimately claim to sound both baggy and shoe-gazing - not at the same time mind, but on alternating songs.

A now-defunct UK music magazine called 'Select' gave this Blur debut album five out of five at the time of its release. They look pretty foolish now (well, they don't - they look out of business now, but never mind that!). For the UK music press in general - for each and every new band that came along - it was always 'will they be another Stone Roses, or another Happy Mondays?' - usually after two singles the answer for said new band was an emphatic 'no'. But as I said, Blur were pretty interesting back then.

Their first single "She's So High" cracked the Top 50 singles charts, and their second, "There's No Other Way" went Top 10 - a pretty dramatic rise to the top! "There's No Other Way" tied itself firmly to the 'baggy' mast with a vaguely Stone Roses Fools Gold kind of feel to the song's rhythm. In contrast, "She's So High" was very staring-at-shoes, singing flatly - no tune - but the guitars created a dreamy kind of sound. I like both of these early Blur singles. And just to prove how fickle the music business can be, the third Blur single "Bang" was proclaimed a disappointment by everyone, including the band themselves oddly enough. But again, I quite like it, for whilst the lyrics are pretty average, the guitar sound is nice and the same kind of indie/dance crossover rhythm section performance is employed as on "There's No Other Way".

So, there's the two types of song, the poppy-funky indie/dance crossover of 'Baggy' and the cascading layered guitars amid 'blank' sounding vocals and lyrics of 'Shoegazing'.

In the Shoegazing camp this album includes "Slow Down" and "Repetition", neither song is particularly entertaining. In the Baggy camp there's a little "Bad Day", and that is good - another happy little popsong, though the production is rather flat. That's a problem with the album as a whole, actually - the sound is rather flat and murky. Still, let's move on ...

The six minute track "Sing" proves Blur had ambition. You may think 'what's ambitious about creating a six minute long drone with no tune?' - but "Sing" is a brave piece, the guitars sound thick and watery, layer upon layer, floating. Yeah, "Sing" is another shoe-gazing kind of thing! It's also experimental to an extent, certainly in terms of structure - it has something.

The second side of Leisure disappoints rather. "Come Together" sounds like an indie-rock Monkees, except not as good. Several very undistinguished songs follow until the end, though the last song "Wear Me Down" is rather cool, with a strong chorus full of melody, and verses that go for the layered droning-guitar effect.

But Blur were hardly the finished article yet, so they can be forgiven for a debut album like Leisure. Well, provided they get better of course.

Rated:
by Reviewer: Adrian Denning

Posted: Saturday 19th Apr 2014 3:53 PM

review
Blur survive a flop fourth single ("Popscene", although it was actually a rather spiffing tune) to find their second album NEARLY produced by Andy Partridge of XTC, only apparently nobody liked his early mixes of several of the songs they worked on together. So in comes former Smiths/Morrissey producer Stephen Street with a bit of professional guidance, and lord knows they needed it after such an average debut offering.

For a start, Modern Life Is Rubbish has glorious artwork and packaging. Second, Blur were getting pretty fed up with the Grunge invasion of England, and wanted to offer listeners in England something that was actually inspired by English bands, rather than American ones. So Blur set to work on sounding like The Kinks (The Kinks being the overriding influence on Blur through their Britpop years).

But wait! The whole thing with Britpop was about bands being proud to be British, and creating music that sounded British too. Except the term 'Britpop' hadn't been coined at the time of Modern Life Is Rubbish, so subsequent events lent the album a pioneering air, as if it invented the Britpop scene. Other new bands promoting the scene were Stone Roses and Suede, but the Stone Roses were as good as defunct by 1993, though their classic debut cast a mighty long shadow over bands that followed in their wake.

I'll talk about the singles first, as that seems a very Blur thing to do. And I don't mean the band any disparagement in saying that - Blur through the years have been a pretty great singles act.

Prior to "For Tomorrow", the music critics - especially those at 'Select' - worried that Blur were just going to fade away completely, then breathing a huge sigh of relief and reaching for their dictionaries to find enough superlatives for the band, who were seemingly coming back from the dead. "For Tomorrow" has great sound and production, and the importance of Stephen Street cannot be stressed enough, he made a huge, massive difference. "For Tomorrow" doesn't do so much through the verses, but the chorus is very catchy and sticks in your brain long after the song has finished playing. To combat Grunge, Damon gets going with story-telling lyrics depicting eccentric English characters drawn from both his own imagination and from personal experience.

"For Tomorrow" is good, but much better is "Chemical World", with Blur in full effect - it's the song that made me a fan. The guitars are fantastic-sounding and melodic, the lyrics are funny, and the harmonies - oh, those Kinks inspired harmonies! And the Glam / Suede-inspired guitars!

About Suede (well, guitarist Bernard Butler at least) ... Bernard Butler and Suede had only released a couple of singles at the time, but the music press were falling over themselves to hail Bernard a new guitar hero. And yeah, he had a special sound. Thing is, Graham Coxon the Blur guitarist ably matches that sound with "Chemical World". And Blur had something Suede didn't - a great lyricist. Blur also had the talented Coxon - along with bassist Alex James - providing vocal harmonies, another thing Suede never had. Blur's "Chemical World" is better than pretty much Suede's entire career, and I say that as a big fan of early Suede!

Was there a third single? I think "Sunday Sunday" was released as the third single here in the UK, can't quite remember now. "Sunday Sunday" keeps the guitars and lyrics, but it sounds more like Madness than The Kinks or the Glam guitars of "Chemical World". Madness were of course another influence on Blur at this stage, Madness being a particularly English-sounding band.

Apart from the singles, there's a few other good songs that could've been singles, "Colin Zeal" for one, which I prefer to "For Tomorrow"; "Pressure On Julian", a song reputedly about singer Julian Cope; "Star Shaped", an absolutely fabulous English-sounding popsong with very literate and clever/funny lyrics.

It's not all popsongs though. There's the gorgeous "Blue Jeans" on Side One, and the equally gorgeous "Resigned" towards the album's close, with a spine-tingling guitar sound throughout, plus a mellow organ/keyboard to match, and very lovely soft vocals. The guitar sound is the thing though, "Resigned" could've been an instrumental and it would still have struck gold, such is the sound of the backing track. Inbetween those songs are the highlight of the guitar-led poppy "Coping", and a couple more decent songs with "Miss America" and "Oily Water".

Pretty good this album then, yeah? Well yeah, but there are reservations again. It's not so much that the second side of Modern Life Is Rubbish doesn't match the first, so much as Modern Life Is Rubbish being a little too long for its own good. You get a little tired come the end of the album, quite frankly. Still - decent songs, decent album - had it been trimmed a little, it might've been a great album.

Rated:
by Reviewer: Adrian Denning

Posted: Saturday 19th Apr 2014 4:26 PM

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