Blur - Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur
Record Label: EMI
Release Date: June 15, 2009 (UK); July 28 2009 (US)
It really really really could happen, It really really could happen.
To be honest though, a lot didn't think it could happen. Including the band members themselves. In 2003, Think Tank was the last album Blur had released sans founding member and guitarist Graham Coxon. Lead singer Damon Albarn went on to do Gorillaz, Coxon continued with a solo career, and bassist and drummer respectively Alex James and Dave Rowntree pursued other interests outside of music such as cheese farming. It looked pretty bleak that Blur would resume and it seemed as if they would be laid to rest in the past, in brit-pop, in "Woo-Hoo!". After a long hiatus however, the stars however aligned and Blur returned. Coupled with reunion shows, the compilation Midlife: A Beginner's Guide To Blur is a good reminder of how great this band has always been.
Midlife begins with two of the best opening tracks in the entire Blur discography, "Beetlebum" and "Girls and Boys". The placement of these songs is interesting considering "Beetlebum"is a distorted and dark experience while "Girls and Boys" is a ridiculously good hook driven pop song with a disco beat underneath it. They play well together and it's fascinating to hear how modern these songs still sound. It's sets the standard for the rest of the compilation. Disc 1 emphasis a well diverse track listing favoring their more experimental endeavors. The songs here from Blur and 13 illustrate Coxon's skill and sensibilities growing itself into the band which results in one of the most enduring blur songs "Coffee & TV". Not to mention, songs like "Death of a Party" are great examples of how Coxon's further input complimented Albarn's ability to take the music new places. For the guy who made Gorillaz, you can see a lot of the seeds of it here. As large in concepts Albarn can deal with however, "This Is a Low" one of the best songs here from Parklife, is a pretty grounded experience in tribute to local life in London. It's easy to drift into the song and makes itself a real highlight on Midlife.
The gospel of "Tender" is fragile, but the contradiction to it is that it makes it a uniquely strong song. Inspired from the demise of a relationship, there's a certain hope in it's heartbreak. This is one of those songs that shows how well Albarn plays off of Coxon. Albarn gives the song life but Coxon's Oh my baby, Oh my baby, Oh why seem to be the song it's heartbeat. "Tender" goes on than it really needs to, however, it doesn't take away from how well it connects. One thing that particularly strikes me in the next string of songs (Parklife, Advent, Pop Scene) is how they could pass for pop-rock or pop-punk music with the exception of having so much more to say in them and being particularly interesting in the way it's delivered. "Parklife" is quite upfront with it provocative content with being playful with it, "Advent" maintains a balance being a catchy tune and having a well developed vocabulary, and "Popscene" is relentless. "Popscene" is an example of how James and Rowntree were the motivating force in Blur songs. James as a bassist has so many great moments on Midlife (Bugman), and Rowntree is shown to fully facilitate beyond the band's needs (Strange News From Another Star). Listening to these songs brings up an interesting comparison on how so few bands especially popular ones don't really go for it in content or provocation. Blur never settled for being just a popular band and it comes through in a lot of their earlier material. It's fitting that Disc 2 begins and ends with the two most emotional tracks. "Battery In Your Leg" is the ballad for any relationship/friendship that didn't end like it was supposed to. It's easy to see the deeply personal and wounded history of Blur here. Sonically the song echos like a melody through cold fall wind. Few songs here are as stirring as this, but it tends to pull at something deep. This is a ballad for the good times, so put a battery in your leg, But as they say, the times were good.
By the time this review was written, the reunion shows will have been done with no concrete plans to continue the reunion in place. Blur is maybe one of kind these days. I have a hard time thinking of a band as popular as Blur that went as many places musically. Going through Midlife, it stays with me of how necessary the band could be now and how many places they can still go. Blur was more than the sum of it's parts and whatever happens, it's a relief to see time heal their old wounds, but also prove how modern and smart the music they made was.