Album + Compilation
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Blur. They barged into indie just as the baggy dream dissolved nastily, rising triumphant against both the oiks of Oasis and the dandies of Suede. Exhibiting a Bowie-like restless creativity, the band expressed ideas enough to conjure parallels with Dinosaur Jr, The Kinks, Tony Allen, Scott Walker and more. They annoyed as many people as they pleasured. And now they might have made it to the end.
The facts: 21 is a box containing 18 CDs and three DVDs. It features all of Blur's seven studio albums in expanded editions with attendant B sides, alongside four discs of demos, off-cuts and out-takes that the band found in their lofts. Sixty-five of these tracks are previously unreleased. It would take you well over 18 hours to listen to 21 in one sitting. Also included is a seven-inch of Superman, recorded at one of their first gigs trading under the pre-Blur name of Seymour.
Each album has its charms. There's the 'baggy-killing' early promise of Leisure, which preceded the Britpop-inventing Modern Life Is Rubbish. The band's imperial phase produced Parklife, as well as the troubled and darker The Great Escape. The lo-fi charms of Pavement inspired Blur's eponymous fifth set; after that came 13's air of heartbreak and the more exotic areas hinted at in Think Tank. All seven have been remastered and are available individually in expanded packages.
These albums only tell half the story, though: several B sides showcase an inventive, deeper side to Blur. Songs such as Young & Lovely, Black Book, Inertia, Get Out of Cities and Mr Briggs could all have stood proudly on the band's albums.
The main draw is the four discs of unreleased material. Across them one can hear Sing form before your ears; it becomes clear (ish) why the Andy Partridge-produced Modern Life Is Rubbish-era tracks didn't get released; and it's possible to boggle at the wild jam of Battle from 13 where Graham goes to guitar pedal Nirvana. Several ideas can be heard that would later get recycled - I Got Law would become Tomorrow Comes Today by Gorillaz.
The absence of new single Under the Westway/The Puritan suggests that 21 is not a full-stop. But whatever the future holds, this is a glorious summation of Blur's career, placing them firmly amongst the very best bands of all time.