It’s hard to believe Blur went straight from the brit-pop of Leisure into the punk rock of Modern Life is Rubbish. The two albums are completely different from each other and the latter was so unexpected. At the time, there were no expectations for Blur, they could've been a one-off. They never showed signs of having a "For Tomorrow" in their DNA.
With their sophomore release, it seemed they went from the Charlatans UK to The Kinks, overnight. Like one day they're going, “Hello, we're Blur,” and the next they're going “Listen, the fuck, up!" All of a sudden they had an attitude.
So how did they get there so quick? As the story goes, Blur was in jeopardy of being dropped by their record label, Food, and couldn't stand that Suede had taken the spotlight back home. They wanted it back and decided to change their image. So, they went to work on Modern Life is Rubbish. The label wasn't happy with the results, and so XTC's Andy Partridge was out, and Stephen Street, who worked on Blur's debut, was back in. But even after trading producers, David Balfe, owner of Food Records, still wasn't happy with results.
So the band was ordered to record more "potential singles," and they delivered "For Tomorrow," and "Chemical World." Now, this is all hearsay. I would love to interview the band to get to the real story, but for now, this was all the info I could find. It's hard to believe that Suede tidbit, it seems petty. But when I playback "Chemical World" these days, I hear Suede’s “My Insatiable One.” It's like Graham Coxon took that song idea and turned it on its head, creating a poppy hit for Blur. Add in Damon's call-and-response verses, and you have a song that is irresistible. Was it about drugs or the mundane? We’ll never know. But we all have our own ideas, and that's what's important. The song seemed to touch everyone. With the “Chemical World” Blur was reborn.
Modern Life... paved the way for Blur to create different sounding records, while Oasis continued to make the same one. It gave Damon Albarn the confidence and the freedom to move into other areas like the Gorillaz and The Good, the Bad, and the Queen.
Now, some 30 years later, it’s obvious that this was only the beginning of Damon Albarn's legacy.
But, Modern Life is Rubbish is Blur's legacy. If you would've told me this 26 years ago, I would've laughed in your face. As a teenager, I was having a hard time understanding this album. I wanted more tunes like “She is So High," and I wanted more Leisure. But, Blur took a risk, and their next step was career-defining. What could’ve been their sophomore slump, was a masterpiece, now sitting in plain view, at The Brown Elephant in their cut-out-bins.
Yep, I found it in the dollar bin with a broken jewel case, and all of the broken memories from my childhood came rushing back. A record of everyday living. Longing to take vacations, lying around watching TV, or riding the train home, dreaming about love. It was happy, it was sad, it was quirky, it was punky. It was everything I remembered and more.
Floating effortlessly in an out of all genres of music, Blur has left a library of songs for future generations to discover. But start at the beginning, so you know how Blur went from Leisure to Modern Life Is Rubbish.
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