Don’t worry Drew, I’m not going to post the entire album… but I do know that even one song from Damon Albarn is too much for you to stomach, so you’re excused from participating today (unless you want to be vitriolic in the comments section….)
Myself and my great friend from Across The Kitchen Table have much in common, although I will always accept that his broader tastes make him, for the most part, better qualified to offer considered and worthy opinions on songs and musicians. I happen to think, however, he’s quite wrong about Blur, and in particular, Modern Life Is Rubbish, their second album, released in May 1993.
I’m more than happy to pass the mic to Stephen Thomas Erlewine, from allmusic, to explain why this is such a fantastic and important record:-
As a response to the dominance of grunge in the U.K. and their own decreasing profile in their homeland — and also as a response to Suede’s sudden popularity — Blur reinvented themselves with their second album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, abandoning the shoegazing and baggy influences that dominated Leisure for traditional pop.
On the surface, Modern Life may appear to be an homage to the Kinks, David Bowie, the Beatles, and Syd Barrett, yet it isn’t a restatement, it’s a revitalization. Blur use British guitar pop from the Beatles to My Bloody Valentine as a foundation, spinning off tales of contemporary despair. If Damon Albarn weren’t such a clever songwriter, both lyrically and melodically, Modern Life could have sunk under its own pretensions, and the latter half does drag slightly. However, the record teems with life, since Blur refuse to treat their classicist songs as museum pieces.
Graham Coxon’s guitar tears each song open, either with unpredictable melodic lines or layers of translucent, hypnotic effects, and his work creates great tension with Alex James’ kinetic bass. And that provides Albarn a vibrant background for his social satires and cutting commentary. But the reason Modern Life Is Rubbish is such a dynamic record and ushered in a new era of British pop is that nearly every song is carefully constructed and boasts a killer melody, from the stately “For Tomorrow” and the punky “Advert” to the vaudeville stomp of “Sunday Sunday” and the neo-psychedelic “Chemical World.” Even with its flaws, it’s a record of considerable vision and excitement.
It’s also worth remembering that this was an album with a very difficult birth. A first attempt, in which Andy Partridge of XTC was in charge of production, failed miserably and was abandoned with just four songs recorded, none of which saw the light of day until 2012 when a box set was pulled together.
The band then called on uber-producer Stephen Street to help them out of a hole and work was completed in December 1992, only for their label, Food Records, to reject it and state it wouldn’t be released unless it included potential singles. This led to the writing of For Tomorrow (seemingly by a very disgruntled Albarn on Christmas Day ’92), and a return to the studio to record it along with another new song, Chemical World.
Food gave it the green light, but the American label, SBK, demanded that it be re-recorded with Butch Vig taking control, something which the band refused to contemplate.
So, in April 1993, the album was finally released in the UK and Europe. Despite some positive reviews, MLIR didn’t initially achieve as many sales as Leisure, stalling at #15 when the debut had reached #7, while all three singles (For Tomorrow, Chemical World and Sunday Sunday), barely cracked the Top 30.
The American label delayed the release for a further seven months, also mucking about with the running-order by adding the earlier single Popscene and some b-sides. The label also insisted on an intensive 44-date tour in 1994 to support the album, a situation that almost broke-up the band due to the pressures being imposed on them. It was a miserable period for everyone as the American audiences ignored Blur, with the album selling less than 20,000 copies in comparison to the 87,000 sales of their debut.
The bounce-back came with Parklife, and while it is the record which took them to fame and fortune, it doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned, have anything like the style and substance as can be found on MLIR, thanks in the main to the incredible and inventive guitar work by Graham Coxon, although all four members really are on form throughout.
I’ve long had the album on CD, but a short time ago, I handed over some money to pick up a vinyl copy. Sadly, it’s not the original, which is not only difficult to find on the second-hand market, but the asking price is usually around £80 and upwards. Instead, it’s the way more affordable and readily-available re-press, as a double-album, from 2012, which I bought in an actual record shop now that they have been allowed to re-open after many months.
Here’s three of the non-singles from MLIR, all ripped and available at 320kpbs :-