Blur

The Best Of (Food/Parlophone/Virgin)

While this Blur disc has been out for some time, it's worth a look-see for all fans of the U.K. scene as well as anyone interested in one of the last decade's best contributions to rock and roll. The British quartet opens its first American singles compilation with "Beetlebum," a catchy but somber rocker powered by Graham Coxon's acoustic guitar and Damon Albarn's oh-so-British vocal delivery. It's almost a warning to listeners that despite the band's two big stateside singles -- 1994's Go-Go's-esque "Girls and Boys" and the 1997 raveup "Song 2" -- Blur is not a 'pop' band. Repeat, not a pop band.

The members of Blur have gone to pains to emphasize that they are not four good-looking guys making fun tunes, but rather serious musicians with serious things on their minds. And this compilation, with the Dylanesque "Tender" and "No Distance Left to Run," places a heavy emphasis on murky acoustic ruminations. Not that that's a bad thing: It might allow a number of fans to realize just how much value Albarn and Coxon place on their songcraft, as is obvious on the Burt Bacharach-inspired "To the End" and the vaguely new-wave "On Your Own." And the epic downer "This Is a Low" manages to instill an inspirational chord despite its introspective reflections on personal tragedy. But even while it fights a popular perception of the unit as a Brit-pop marvel, Blur still peppers The Best Of with several crowd-pleasing, down-at-the-pub numbers, including "20th Century Girl," "Charmless Man" and "Country House."

At the end of the day, Blur has no problem switching between punk, folk, blues and more daring, experimental tracks while still kicking out hook-worthy efforts, something its compatriots in Radiohead would be wise to consider. The album closer, "Music Is My Radar," touches on all of the stylistic bases without feeling forced or strained. And though the album utilizes heavy-hitting producers such as William Orbit (Madonna), Stephen Street (Morrissey) and Stephen Hague (Pet Shop Boys), no one would mistake this opus for anything but the efforts of one of the finest British bands working today.

 
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