Blur, The Great Escape (Special Edition)

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 07.31.12 in Reviews

The Great Escape (Special Edition)

An absorbing work rich with enthralling moments

By 1995, Blur had become bona fide stars — the kind who would be profiled on the nightly news or featured on schoolgirls' folders and binders. But rivals had emerged from a different corner of the British experience, and they would make for tougher opponents than Suede. From Manchester came Oasis, the uncouth, hard-working, laborer-toughs to Blur's clever, middle class students. In the run-up to The Great Escape and Oasis's bafflingly titled (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, the two bands were pitted in a battle for singles chart supremacy. Both singles were fairly unmemorable: Blur's "Country House" — the single that thwarted Oasis, if momentarily — was a wobbly, self-caricature of a single, lacking the verve of their older material. The rivalry weakened Blur significantly — their tussle with Oasis had stained them as elitists, and stresses within the band began surfacing as well. This context helps explain why The Great Escape is an absorbing but patchy work. Despite their triumphant run, Blur continued to mine their well-worn fascination with modern alienation: "Mr. Robinson's Quango," "He Dreamed of Cars" and "Ernold Same" reprised familiar Blur themes, the latter featuring a Daniels-esque guest turn from MP Ken Livingston. But such a critical vantage seemed less thoughtful when lobbed from atop the charts. It's still rich with enthralling moments: "Yuko and Hiro" is one of their most gorgeous tunes, an exhausted, cosmic dispatch from a Japanese factory, while "The Universal" is quite possibly the most captivating ballad ever composed about the new docility that await us in the next century.