(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

3 1/2 Stars In a country renowned for its' bloody wars ever since the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066, England is in the throws of one of her most angry conflicts (at least on the music charts), Blur vs. Oasis (well, angriest conflict since The Beatles vs. The Stones in the '60's, anyway).
Blur, a quirky British pop-rock band, are tired of the nagging comparisons to the "we sound more like The Fab Four than you" band Oasis, their biggest rival in the eyes of the media as well as record sales. So tired, in fact, that the musical direction of their latest self-titled album, Blur, is a drastic departure from the melodic "Beatle-esque" pop that drew comparisons between the two bands in the first place.
Gone are the glossy productions and social commentary on the eccentricity of English life, as Blur so aptly illustrated on their previous four albums. Instead the band, led by Damon Albarn (vocals and keyboards) and Graham Coxon (guitars), have put together an interestingly varied collection of songs that range from blasting punk, to acoustic warbling, to catchy peculiar pop that are all undeniably English.
Blur opens up admirably with a simple, yet effective, guitar riff from Coxon that leads into a light, floating chorus on their first British single "Beetlebum". "Song 2", their latest single, is a bombastic little number that'll blow your windows out, even at a low volume.
On the song "Chinese Bombs" Blur displays a gritty punk attitude with a manic beat, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for them. Also new is Albarn's coffee-house mumbling over the improvisational acid-jazz rambling in "Essex Dogs". "Theme from Retro", a spacey instrumental with garbled vocals, sounds as if it's an outtake from The Beatles psychedelic album Magical Mystery Tour produced by ambient/techno wonderkid, Moby.
The sludgy rhythm and eerie keyboards drive home the disappointing finality in "Death of a Party". "You're So Great" is a scratchy, acoustic 'gutter-rat' love song, and you can almost feel the icy presence of the black-clad goth crowd on the grungy dirge "Dance Hall" (a bonus track which is not listed on the album).
Albarn quips on "Song 2" in a glib, matter-of-fact manner, "Pleased to meet you". For those who thought they knew Blur before, listen to their new album and you'll find the feeling's mutual.

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