25 Years Since Blur’s Great Escape
25 Years Since Blur’s Great Escape
The Great Escape was Blur’s third album and the fourth in what is now considered their ‘Life’ trilogy – This Modern Life is Rubbish (1993), Parklife (1994), The Great Escape (1995). It's lead single, “Country House” saw them beat Britpop rivals Oasis to number one in the charts when it was released on the same day as their “Roll With It” (which came in at number two). In many ways, the album epitomized the height of Britpop as the tawdry war of words between the Damon Albarn and the Gallagher brothers made global headlines. The Great Escape was more sharp-tongued than it’s predecessor and, upon reflection, possessing more foresight than critics gave it credit.
The Great Escape was hailed a masterpiece when first released, this week in September of 1995. For its lush musical layering, pop craft and literary wit, Melody Maker’s Paul Lester awarded the album a rather unconventional 12/10, and it even received calls for “album of the decade” at the magazine. But The Great Escape's moment in the sun was brief. Critics began to pick apart the dystopian themes and Albarn’s caustic tongue, lyrical negativity was perceived as out of touch; while Oasis were flying through the US Top 10 with “Wonderwall,” American critics began to paint Blur in a precocious light, with Spin's Chuck Eddy declaring he wanted to “kick their precious little shins.”
But it could certainly be argued that it was the critics who were actually caught up in the hype of Britpop – Blur did after all call the album “The Great Escape,” turn the sarcasm dial up to eleven, then depart from the genre entirely, forging an even more successful path on the alt-rock scene with their fuzz driven self-titled follow up in 1997, and it’s monster lead single, “Song 2” proceded by 1999’s 13, with its psychedelic-tinged hits “Tender” and “Coffee & TV.” In fact, a look back over the wildly varied career of Blur frontman Damon Albarn, from his groundbreaking Gorillaz hip hop/animation collaboration with artist Jamie Hewlett – a project that continues to break the mould with their 2020 Song Machine project – to The Good, The Bad & the Queen – a world music infused supergroup featuring Paul Simonon of the Clash and Simon Tong of the Verve – it’s pretty unlikely Albarn was planning to stay in the Britpop box for long.
But The Great Escape is enjoying a renaissance as it passes the quarter-century milestone. The stark reality of Albarn’s corrosive future musings has caused critics to re-assess Blur’s fourth album over the years. In 2015, Spin’s Annie Zaleski said:“'[The Great] Escape' imagines a dystopian world dominated by diminished ambitions and government dysfunction, which creates legions of bored suburbanites, frisky housewives, privileged wankers, TV-watching zombies, and beaten-down corporate drones. Thanks to Albarn’s slightly disdainful, straight-faced delivery, these lyrics are both winking and dead serious…”
And that was well before anybody knew of the joys 2020 had in store.
Damon Albarn remains at the forefront of innovation today with his band Gorillaz. Since January this year, the band have been sporadically releasing Episodes from their ongoing Song Machine project, featuring an a-list of collaborators – including Elton John, Joy Division/New Order bassist, Peter Hook, the Cure's Robert Smith, Beck and more – with commentary and music videos arriving with the songs that prove the Blur frontman’s creative timing on the money once again.
The Episodes have now been compiled into the album, Song Machine: Season One – Strange Timez which will arrive on various formats on October 23rd, celebrating 20 years of the Gorillaz original inception. There’s a stack of awesome bundles, with almost endless options including vinyl, CD, cassette, art prints, T-shirts and much more. Check out all the options available to pre-order, here.
Listen to The Great Escape on Spotify:
Listen to The Great Escape on Apple Music:
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