A two-CD “beginner’s guide” to Blur can only take a person
so far, like those two-record sets in the ’70s that took a handful of the
Beatles’ best-loved songs and spread them out across two color-coded sets. To
get the full effect, you had to buy the proper albums, after which the red and
blue collections quickly lost all meaning.
So does Midlife make a case for digging deeper? Well, the music more than holds its own, from
early hits like “Girls and Boys” and “She’s So High” through “Beetlebum” and
“Song 2” to no fewer than three songs from Think
Tank, their latest release, now six years old. But half the charm of Blur
was hearing them evolve from strength to strength, each album more ambitious in
its own way than the last. You can’t just dive right into “Beetlebum,” the
lead-off track from 1997’s indie-centric Blur,
the way this new collection does, and hope to understand how strange it sounded
coming out of 1995’s The Great Escape.
They should have started at the start, with “She’s So High,” and gone through
chronologically, charting the growth. And where is “Country House,” their first
chart-topping U.K. single and a brilliant song to boot? It’s one of several
major hits they’ve overlooked here, others being “Charmless Man” and “On Your
Own,” in favor of album tracks stressing the artier side of Blur’s agenda
(“Trimm Trabb,” “Bugman”).
Fair enough. At least they had an arty side to overplay,
unlike their former Brit-pop rivals, the Gallagher brothers. And what
ultimately matters is that every song here makes you want to hear more Blur,
from Graham Coxon’s “Coffee and TV” to the Lennonesque soul of “Tender,” one of
Damon Albarn’s finest hours as the greatest singer Brit-pop ever knew. Here’s
hoping this summer’s reunion leads to two more CDs worth of treasures.
Standout tracks: “Beetlebum,” “Tender” A. WATT