Blur, Modern Life Is Rubbish

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Modern Life Is Rubbish

A rugged, sentimental embrace of Britishness

It certainly didn't have to turn out this way. Blur's 1991 debut, Leisure, was an enjoyable but somewhat vacuous assemblage of the era's dance-pop clichés. It did not suggest four men with great artistic ambitions, let alone the ironic wit necessary to produce a masterpiece like Modern Life is Rubbish. Originally titled Britain Vs. America, and inspired by a disastrous tour of the States, Blur's second album is a rugged, sentimental embrace of Britishness — as well as a critique of how that ethos had been perverted by a doggedly American consumerism. From its melancholy, Kinks-like opener, "For Tomorrow," to the pastoral "Chemical World" to the two-tone stomp of "Popscene," this was a band uninterested in trading on their charm and good looks. Albarn luxuriates in his sentences, at times sounding as though he is admiring his own, extra-elongated accent. The same self-consciousness coursed through his lyrics, populated by sketches of uniquely late-century English characters like "Colin Zeal," "Julian" ("Pressure on Julian") and the dull suburbanites of "Advert" and "Sunday Sunday." Despite its title, this was not a nostalgic, backwards-sounding record. It might have borrowed its ragged, punky energy and mod imagery from other times, but this was an album about what it meant to embrace one's station as a British band in 1993, on the cusp of great changes.