[sic] Magazine

Blur – Midlife

Dear Blur,

What exactly is the point of this compilation?

I can’t see one. It serves no purpose, and fills no hole. There are no rare songs as such, apart from ‘Popscene’. No b-sides, no rarities. There’s no cohesion or order to the running order. There’s not even a full selection of the singles and hits. This may offer a ‘deeper look’, but if that’s all anyone wanted, they’d just Go And Buy The Albums, which are all dirt cheap anyway.

Sure, the tracklisting has been chosen by the band. But the band don’t know what people want. After all, would it have hurt Blur to put out properly remastered, deluxe editions of the albums? Probably not, but then again, that would’ve probably been too much like hard work.

About the reason I can see for the release of this record is to cynically cash in on the recent reformation. Whilst the egotist Albarn wanders around changing bands with every record – Blur, Gorillaz, Damon Albarn, Tiger Music, The Good The Bad The Queen, Monkey, et al – he clearly ignores that he has a capable band of great musicians behind him called Blur, who he can pick up and drop with a casual cruelty. After the last Blur record – the vacuous contractual obligation of ‘Think Tank’, and equally limp live shows that saw Albarn and co propped up with brutally trampled foils such as Simon Tong reduced to salaried mimics, and a large flabby proportion of horns, keyboardists, choirs, resembling latter era Pink Floyd where 8 of the 11 people on stage were paid by the hour, this attempt to pretend that period didn’t happen – with hyperbolic, not to say inaccurate articles about how the band split a ‘decade ago’, serves simply to cheapen the respect Blur give themselves.

So, what’s the purpose of this? It’s just a bunch of stuff thrown together in some random order that neglects some obvious, and necessary, parts of the catalogue (‘To The End’, ‘No Distance Left To Run’, the remixes of ‘Bugman’, the fabulous b-sides such as ‘All I Want’, ‘Get Out of The Cities’, and so on), and sounds like a cheap, careless, home made compilation tape.

The music is mostly fantastic, when Damon shoulders his ego enough to allow the rest of the band to explore: Coxon engenders awesome squeals and textures on stuff like ‘Tender’ and ‘Bugman’ and ‘Coffee and TV’ and most of the latter period, as well as bursting at the edges of such regulated works as ‘Parklife’ and ‘The Great Escape’ (which, good as they were, felt to me like attempts to create a pop music experiment). The rhythm section of James and Rowntree are fluid and can turn their hands to almost anything. It’s only Albarn himself who lets the side down with lazy, nonsensical lyrics – despite clearly demonstrating that, when he can be bothered, he produces a couplet as devastating and emotional as any great poet.

Ultimately, what this release highlights is just what a poor state the Blur body of work is in. Several important live releases filmed at Alexandra Palace in 1994 and Wembley Arena in 1999 languish either unreleased or only on long deleted VHS tapes. The 50 or so b-sides and alternate versions, compilation recordings and overall rarer songs are dormant on hard-to-find singles, or a super limited, incredibly expensive box set that came out a decade ago. This compilation is a shoddy, cheap, and unimportant bookend – a callous attempt to squeeze more money from the cash cow and reduces the work to the importance of mere ingredients in a tin of musical baked beans. You don’t need or want this, and there are many other more worthy things to spend your money on. If the music was as important to Blur as it is to some of their fans, then they wouldn’t be treating it like this.

Oh, the music itself is brilliant. Witty, important, insightful, and above all, a breath of fresh air. So go and buy the other albums instead.

sincerely, but no longer ‘yours’

Mark Reed