35 Albums in 35 Years: 1995

In an ongoing attempt to bleed my opinions all over your computer screen, I’m selecting one album from every year that I’ve been alive that has some sort of significance to me…and then writing about it. Welcome back to 35 Albums in 35 Years.

 

blur1995: Blur’s The Great Escape

I know I’ve mentioned how influential MTV was on my musical discoveries and acquisitions when I was a teenager growing up in west Texas, but it really did expose me to a lot of bands I may not have heard of otherwise. One of those bands was Blur.

In 1994 (or arguably 1993), Britpop exploded over in the UK, with acts like Suede, Pulp, Oasis, and Blur leading the charge. It didn’t start making real waves in the US until 1995 when Oasis released (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and began dominating the charts stateside. By then, I was already in league with Blur, having been hooked by the floating melody of “The Universal,” and drawn in by the Clockwork Orange imagery in the video. There was a well-documented choosing-of-sides between the bands that started in the British media and eventually garnered a response in the US as well. The whole thing was reminiscent of the Beatles/Stones or the Nirvana/Pearl Jam debates. Naturally I chose a side myself, and thus here I am writing about it.

I was (and still am) a Blur devotee all the way.

The Great Escape capped off a brilliant trilogy of Britpop albums that began with 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and then 1994’s Parklife. (Pulp’s proverbial hat trick of albums from 1994-1998 is probably the only thing that surpasses it.) While we may all have been late to game stateside, once I was exposed to this new musical phenomenon, I was enthralled by the scene in a way unmatched since the initial grunge explosion of the early 90’s, or at least since my dark descent into industrial madness shortly thereafter. But, where those two previous genres dwelled on the darkness and lurked in the murk, Britpop seemed far more energetic and full of life. And while it may have just been a side effect from all of the cocaine they were doing at the time, the result was infectious to this new listener and fan.

I checked out everything. Blur led me to Pulp and Suede, and then later on to bands like Supergrass and The Verve. There was such a sizable British revival going on at the time that would later include film, fashion, and politics, it was easy to get swept up in it all. I know I was. And it all started with The Great Escape for me. I had found a new “thing.” And in the grand tradition of new “things” and musical heroes whose style I inevitably ape and don, the transition from Cobain to Reznor to Damon Albarn happened so swiftly in hindsight, that it’s remarkable I made it out of high school with my own id and ego intact.

And then there was the music.

The Great Escape is such a perfect representation of where Britpop was at in 1995. It’s quirky and so decidedly British, yet not as carefree as the earlier records were. The album deals with loneliness throughout, points and jabs at the different classes in English society, and feels like the beginning of a comedown that would last through the rest of the 90’s. From the melancholy mocking of the mundaneness of working life (“Ernold Same”), to the nose-thumbing at the prescription drug-rattled, overeducated leisure elite (“Country House”), to the parodying of a sexually frustrated middle class couple (“Stereotypes”), The Great Escape points all fingers inward. Where Blur’s previous two albums seemed to revel in their own British-ness, their new opus found them revealing and exploiting all the flaws, idiosyncrasies, and neuroses that people would prefer to keep hidden away. Elements of Krautrock, chamber pop, psych folk, and the avant-garde further separate the album from its predecessors, make it sound more mature. It was like there was still fun to be had, but that the party was beginning its gradual march to its conclusion.

Like most everything else I found myself attached to at the time, Blur’s The Great Escape didn’t sound like anything else out there. When a band or artist is able to produce that kind of singular work, it should be celebrated. And celebrated often.

And on one last note, if there was an anagram of my name as awesome as “Dan Abnormal,” I would be ecstatic.

- Favorite song: “The Universal”
– Runner up: “Yuko and Hiro”

Some other albums I almost wrote about instead: Radiohead’s The Bends; Pulp’s Different Class; Bjork’s Post; Slowdive’s Pygmalion; Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Methodrone; Pavement’s Wowee Zowee; Faith No More’s King for a Day…Fool for a Lifetime.

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

3 Responses to 35 Albums in 35 Years: 1995
  1. […] acts coming over from across the pond. (I’ve actually already written about it a little bit right ... joup.co/joup-friday-album-suede-coming
  2. Chester Whelks

    Chester Whelks Reply

    I’m always interested to read an American’s perspective on this. England is currently aswim with reappraisals of ‘Britpop’. On the whole, from what I’ve been able to make out the general consensus is that it was a BAD thing – stultifying and regressive. Which I think is deliberately contrary, music writer Bullshit. As a kid I was in the thrall of that explosion of American Alternative that I’m still to this day loathe to call ‘Grunge’, and was cantankerous and dismissive about the subject of any type of British music (then-contemporary anyway), especially this ‘New Wave’ of indigenous, overtly English groups. Oasis came from the very neighbourhood I spent my adolescence, and the Monday after Kurt Cobain was found dead, they released ‘Supersonic’ and everything changed.

    Not for me at first, my friends started to float toward Oasis (and therefore fervently disparage Blur), and I remained a Cobain widow, seeking out every band that he ever mentioned, but eventually even my Nine Inch Nails devoted brother was listening to Blur and Oasis. Given my predilection toward the American Underground it took a little longer for me to capitulate; I was a closeted ‘Definitely Maybe’ fan but I eventually found a Britpop ‘in’ via Blur’s self titled 1997 album (had to hate Oasis, they were Manchester City fans), which, given my tastes, along with ’13’ I consider their best work, but I did my way backward through the back catalogue.

    I used to regard ‘The Great Escape’ as a step too far into territory perfected on ‘Parklife’, and while it is clearly the culmination of that style, as indicated by it’s successor’s drastic change in direction, I think you’ve correctly identified where this differs as regards its more introspective slant.

  3. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Great article as usual sir. The Great Escape is the only Blur album I do not have any experience with at all. Reading this I am re-inspired to remedy that.

    Parklife is my favorite thus far.

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