Maybe you’ve noticed Blur’s name on countless festival lineups this year. Maybe you saw an advertisement for the band’s upcoming ninth album, The Ballad of Darren. Maybe you’re a longtime Gorillaz fan who’s curious to explore the rest of frontman Damon Albarn’s discography. 

In any case, you’re here because you want to learn more about one of the most iconic British acts of all time. Sit down and get comfortable. We have over three decades of history to cover.

In 1988, childhood friends Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon got together with Albarn’s college classmate Alex James and Coxon’s longtime pal Dave Rowntree to form a band—originally called Seymour after a short story by J.D. Salinger, but changed to Blur when an A&R rep at Food Records made them rebrand themselves before signing them. 

The name might’ve been generic, but their sound wasn’t. 

Over the years, Blur would come to define Britpop, a genre that harkened back to ’60s acts like the Beatles and the Kinks while also drawing inspiration from ’80s indie bands like the Smiths, always maintaining a distinctly English character. 

Britpop fizzled out around ’97, but Blur stuck around, experimenting with lo-fi, trip hop, and electronic sounds. They’re still kicking—they just released two singles, and recently embarked on a world tour including their first sold out show at Wembley Stadium. 

Ready to dive in? Here are ten tracks that encapsulate the band’s 30-year career, spanning eight iconic albums. Note that this isn’t necessarily intended to be a list of the band’s best songs, but a comprehensive sampling of their oeuvre. 

Leisure (1991)

“She’s So High” 

Today, Blur is recognized as legendary—but when they made their debut with Leisure, they were largely panned by the press. While the pop singles they released were catchy, some music critics dismissed them as unoriginal entries into the Madchester genre (defined by artists like the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, the Charlatans, and James). Albarn himself looks back on the album with regret, viewing it as an artless attempt to impress the band’s record label by imitating what was popular. Still, the album boasts some bangers—including “She’s So High.” An anthemic guitar riff blends perfectly with Albarn’s multilayered vocals, simulating psychedelic ecstasy.

Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)

“For Tomorrow”

“He’s a 20th-century boy with his hands on the rails…” So begins the opening track of Modern Life is Rubbish, the record that saw Blur departing from tired Madchester tropes and leaning into the sweeping orchestral sound that would come to define Britpop. Inspired by a line of graffiti Albarn saw on a London street, its fourteen tracks both criticize and celebrate the culture of a country on the brink of the millennium. “For Tomorrow” wraps a tale of bourgeois ennui into a romantic fable, set in a world where a headache brought on by trash television can be cured by a trip to picturesque Primrose Hill—but only until the chilly weather freezes your toes, and you’re left “holding on for tomorrow” yet again.

Parklife (1994)

“Girls & Boys”

Blur proved that they couldn’t be bound by genre with “Girls & Boys,” a dancefloor hit that good-naturedly pokes fun at the sexual promiscuity of young people on holiday. The track kicks off Parklife—typically considered the band’s magnum opus—with a delightful combination of disco and new wave, driven by one of Alex James’ best basslines. Its tongue-twister of a chorus—“Girls who want boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they’re girls who do girls like they’re boys”—is fun to groove along to, and even more fun to sing.

“Parklife”

Much like Modern Life is Rubbish before it and The Great Escape after it, Parklife is rife with witty character studies that highlight the sorts of people one might encounter while roaming about Merry Old England. “Parklife” is the most famous—and the most entertaining—of these. Over the sound of a jaunty guitar riff, quintessential British actor Phil Daniels narrates a trip through London’s iconic Hyde Park as if he’s a safari guide, pointing out the various sights with a wink and a nudge—drunkards, hungry pigeons, et cetera. Not only did “Parklife” go down in history as one of the defining tracks of Britpop—it was received with great critical acclaim, scoring Single of the Year and Video of the Year at the 1995 Brit Awards. 

The Great Escape (1995)

“Country House”

Take out your composition book and sharpen your pencil; it’s time for a history lesson. Shortly after Blur made a splash with Modern Life is Rubbish, Manchester band Oasis appeared on the scene with their instantly successful debut album Definitely Maybe. A rivalry soon developed between the two acts; naturally, the British media ate it up. When Oasis announced that they would be dropping their single “Roll With It” on August 12th, Blur’s label Food Records moved the upcoming release of their song “Country House” to the same day. The fight for Number One that ensued was dubbed the “Battle of Britpop” by the press. Blur emerged as the winner, with 270,000 copies sold (compared to Oasis’ 220,000—close but no cigar).

Blur (1997)

“Song 2”

Any Blur retrospective would be incomplete without a mention of “Song 2,” the band’s most popular song in the states. There’s an element of irony to its success—according to Graham Coxon, the guys initially sent the song to their record label as a joke, believing they’d be amused by its nonsensical lyrics and grungy sound. Much to their surprise, the execs loved it. It’s not hard to see why—Coxon’s iconic guitar riff and Albarn’s infectious “woo-hoos!” combine to make the perfect earworm. The song’s title was initially intended as a placeholder, but the name stuck. 

“On Your Own”

“On Your Own” may not be the most popular Blur single, but it holds a special place in music history: Albarn considers it one of the first ever Gorillaz songs, in a spiritual sense. It fits neatly amongst tracks from the virtual band’s self-titled debut (such as “19-2000,” “M1A1,” “Re-Hash”) with its electronic instrumentation, impressionistic lyrics, and fast pace. 

13 (1999)

“Caramel”

Like so many other rock stars, Albarn struggled publicly with heroin use during the late ’90s. Typically, “Beetlebum” (the lead single from the band’s self-titled album) is considered Blur’s masterpiece on addiction—but deep cut “Caramel” is ultimately more haunting. The track’s experimental approach—extended musical breaks, heavy distortion, a cacophony of differently pitched vocals—displaces and disorients the listener. The lyrics depict Albarn’s journey toward recovery as he ruminates on the struggle to find creative inspiration and begs for divine intervention with the intensity of a man on his knees. A ceremonial drum section melds with jarring electronic sounds as Albarn’s voice becomes the Platonic ideal of desperation.

Think Tank (2003)

“Out of Time”

Think Tank is an outlier amongst Blur’s discography. The album shows the band completely diverging from the Britpop genre they helped create, leaning toward electronic sounds while also exploring African influences. Furthermore, it largely lacks input from Coxon, who was in rehab when his bandmates started recording. If you fell for Blur due to the jaunty horn sections on Modern Life is Rubbish or satirical portraits of 20th-century drudgery on Parklife, this record might be harder for you to jive with—but it’s definitely worth delving into. Lead single “Out of Time” stands out as especially moving. Its lyrics, which speak of a society too busy and distracted by technology to enjoy the small joys of life, are unusually straightforward for Blur—but that’s what makes them so powerful. Recorded in Marrakesh, the ballad features a Moroccan orchestra. 

The Magic Whip (2015)

“Pyongang”

The Magic Whip saw Blur getting the band back together after a whopping 12-year hiatus. (Well, basically—they reunited for a handful of singles in 2010 and 2012.) The album was born when their 2013 performance in Tokyo was canceled, leaving them stuck in transit in Hong Kong. To pass the time, they started to work on new songs—songs that they believed might not ever see the light of day. It’s a good thing they did. The Magic Whip proved that they had retained their spark with tracks like “Pyongyang,” based on Albarn’s trip to North Korea. The sweeping six-minute ballad feels like the finale of a rock opera, complete with evocative imagery about falling mausoleums and cherry trees. The final chorus is especially moving—Coxon’s lyrics and melody intertwine with Albarn’s, a testament to the decades of friendship and collaboration the two artists have shared.

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