Review: Blur – Leisure (Special Edition)
Published on July 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
What better excuse to write a veritable fudge-ton about one of our favourite bands than the impending re-release of all seven of their studio albums, each one lovingly packaged with B-sides and outtakes relevant to the respective era? Rocksucker has very much enjoyed digging through the Blur-chive, and now we shall attempt to whittle our reams of notes into a series of (hopefully) coherent articles. Take it away, us!
NB: This is not a review of the forthcoming remastered editions but of the original material.
Released on 26th August 1991, Blur’s debut LP Leisure hints at the sheer splendour to come but comes across too much as cashing in on the Madchester bandwagon – one confuddled American radio DJ even introduced them as “The Blur, from Manschester (sic)” – to be any kind of classic. Nevertheless, there are some blinding songs here, not least the two most well-known tracks: the dreamy, shoegazey “She’s So High” and the baggily brilliant “There’s No Other Way”. If you don’t think you know these songs, whack on the embedded videos and quite possibly prove yourself wrong.
Elsewhere, “Bang” casts the kind of wistful shade over its own baggy backbone that points towards Modern Life is Rubbish, “Slow Down” lays bare a My Bloody Valentine influence with its heavy yet breezily decorated rumble, while “Repetition” does good by its title with a strange, repetitive guitar riff that proceeds to storm back into the melodic sludge-rock, this time with stunning results as Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon stick like glue to each other’s vocal on a mesmerisingly phrased harmony.
This is followed however by the unremarkable “Bad Day” (as opposed to “Badhead”), while “Fool” and “Come Together” are others to pass by without much incident, but “Sing” fares well as a proto-“1992”, albeit one which proceeds into far less stormy waters, and “High Cool” verges on nice Kinksy terrain with its beautifully phrased harmony on “high”.
“Birthday” then makes a beeline for downcast, Beatlesy stateliness – funnily enough in contrast to The Beatles’ own song of the same name – before suddenly exploding into loud, wonky sludge-rock, leaving it up to “Wear Me Down” to bring the curtain down on shoegazey note with Dave Rowntree’s ace tumbling drums and Coxon’s inventively explosive lead contributing to a bit of a wig-out. You might find elements of Modern Life is Rubbish trio “Oily Water”, “Blue Jeans” and “Resigned” in this final track.
Onto the extras, then: “I Know” is comfortably superior to parts of Leisure with its sleek, golden groove (more in terms of hue than conferring any kind of ‘classic’ status upon it, good as it is), while the monged swamp-pop of “Down” manages to cut a commanding presence despite the sloppy dual delivery of its titular refrain.
We then get an extended version of “There’s No Other Way”, and in “Inertia” a track that absolutely should have been on the album – its jangly/murky guitar is instantly agreeable, its twiddly lead riff superb, and it ascends heavenwards in a way that with the benefit of hindsight displayed Blur’s potential for the kind of stop-you-in-your-tracks beauty that would go on to lift them well beyond the realms of normal indie bands.
Similarly, “Won’t Do It” speeds up just as Modern Life‘s instrumental interludes would go on to do so thrillingly, and in doing so provides a fine early indicator of Alex James’s resoundingly fulfilled potential as one of the best bassists of his time. His distinctive concrete squiggles also mark the decent-ish “Explain”, on which “It’s pointless to explain why there’s nothing I can say” makes for a smart lyrical turn.
A live version of “Day Upon Day”, apparently the only recording made of the song, powers along on compellingly whirry guitar that suddenly Beatleses up, the “Blur Remix” of “There’s No Other Way” gives it a decent late-night makeover, the aptly titled “Luminous” casts a soft, warm glow with pleasingly disorienting guitar, although “Berserk” arguably trumps it in the suitable moniker stakes insomuch as it is a weird, stoned jam showcasing backwards guitar (at least it sounds so – mega kudos if that’s how yer man played it at the time).
The smart power-pop of “Uncle Love” could certainly have added to the album, unlike fan club singles “I Love Her” and “Close”, but there was a wealth of quite spectacular material waiting just around the corner. Stick around, if you’re so inclined, for our ramblings on that.
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!
The 21st anniversary special edition of Leisure, which has been remastered from the original tapes by Frank Arkwright and original producer Stephen Street, will be released on 30th July through EMI. For more information, please visit blur.co.uk/blur21/