In an era when so many bands are turning out to be one-trick ponies, thank god for a creatively restless bunch like Blur. Having survived for more than a decade now, which itself is a minor miracle, the band seems due for a proper retrospective like this one. A perennial British favorite, Blur has never really scored big in America, with the possible exception of the grunge-inspired "Song 2," which, thanks to its exhortative "woo-hoo!" chorus, became popular as a sports anthem, of all things. The Best of Blur goes a long way toward summarizing what we've been missing.
Of course, some of America's resistance is understandable. One of Blur's primary virtues has been its excoriating analysis of British middle-class complacency on songs like "Parklife," "Charmless Man," and "Country House," which mostly draw blanks from Yanks. Its later albums, which were inspired by American indie rock, are a little more palatable over here, and this set smartly starts off with "Beetlebum" and "Song 2" from its 1997 self-titled album, then allows listeners to work their way back through early hits like "She's So High" and "There's No Other Way."
Musically, the group goes way beyond Britpop, a movement largely of its own invention, to survey Burt Bacharach-style suavity on "The Universal" and "To the End," hedonistic dance pop on "Girls and Boys," and Lennon-esque soul-baring on "Tender." The set concludes with a vital new song, "Music Is My Radar," which suggests that, rumors to the contrary, there may be a future for Blur after all.
A 10-song live album recorded at London's Wembley Arena in December 1999, included in the initial run of The Best of Blur, is an excellent added value. Eight songs are repeated from disc one, but the album demonstrates how much Blur, and in particular its charismatic leader Damon Albarn, could (and can) deliver in concert.