Why the ‘Blur 21’ Box Set is Worth Your Time

Blur 21

You should see how crazy things are getting in the PopMatters forum right now.

There, the writers and myself are going about, arguing over what the best all-time Blur songs are. There are a lot of common ground to be found (“Coffee + TV” is a turning point for a lot of people, but “Tender” also makes it up there, along with early pop triumphs like “There’s No Other Way”), and a lot of debate to be had as well (I still argue that “There’s No Distance Left to Run” is their outright-finest moment, and when I suggested that “Sunday Sunday” is their worst single, one writer notably took exception to such an outrageous claim). [Fun fact, that was me — Ed.]

Now, however, with the band closing out the Olympics, having just released two new songs (the fairly “typical” Blur tracks “Under the Westway” and “The Puritain”, and numerous rumors about the band working on and off again on a new album, there seems to be no better time for their label to release Blur 21, a box set celebrating the group’s entire output since its debut album Leisure came out 21 years ago.

While yes, a remastering would be appreciated on the band’s first three discs wholesale, the real thing to entice fans is how every single album is paired with a whole disc filled with b-sides, rare cuts, and radio sessions that have frequently never found their way onto official releases (keep in mind, it wasn’t until 2009’s double-disc Midlife retrospective that we actually got their landmark single “Popscene” on disc outside of the America=only pressing of Modern Life Is Rubbish). These include aborted sessions with Andy Partridge, unheard Alex James-penned songs, and a track called “Sir Elton John’s Cock”. Obviously.

Yet digging through the archives is going to be one heck of a ride, if not because the band themselves are already looking forward to it. When I asked Graham Coxon in 2006 if he listens to the older material at all, he had this to say:

“I listen to Modern Life Is Rubbish-era B-sides. Those singles I think were some of the best things we did. “Oily Water” and “Resigned” … “Miss America” … “Peach”. I think the songs from around that time were great. Great recordings—and done in such a great spirit. Sort of a spirit that got lost a little soon after that when we kind of didn’t feel so free—maybe a bit more restrained. Got to keep the eye on the experimental side a bit.”

A lot of great albums have been getting the re-release treatment as of late, but for anyone who utters the word “Britpop” at least once a month, here is the nirvana we’ve all been waiting for.