Just after Valentine's Day 2015, '90s music fans received a love note from one of the decade's greatest bands: Blur, onetime posterboys of Brit-pop and best-selling alternative rockers, announced the April 28 release of "The Magic Whip."
The new album is the English band's first full-length since 2003's "Think Tank," though its arrival wasn't completely unheralded: Singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree had performed a handful of reunion shows including a headlining gig at Glastonbury and released three new songs since 2010.
Nevertheless, the announcement came as a pleasant surprise. Years of rumors and hints of a new Blur record, including a particularly painful anecdote from Albarn about how the heat prevented its creation, were finally put to rest. Legions of fans could now mark the 28th of April on their calendars for the arrival of Blur's eighth studio album.
For those who only know Blur from the international hit "Song 2" or merely recognize Albarn's voice from his hip-hop side project Gorillaz, we've assembled a beginner's guide to the band's vast, brilliant discography.
Enjoy choice selections below as you read, and follow our Spotify playlist that delves deeper into the music of Blur.
Damon, Coxon, James and Rowntree first played together in London as Circus, which later became Seymour, which later became Blur. The group arrived at the tail end of the "Madchester" phenomenom, though that genre's influence can be heard on "Leisure" tracks like the Happy Mondays-esque "There's No Other Way."
It was the single "She's So High," however, that first garnered chart success for the band, and gained the attention of producer Stephen Street. The band's debut album soon placed in the top ten of the British album charts upon its 1991 release.
"Modern Life is Rubbish" (1993)
The "Leisure" honeymoon was short for Blur, who began to fall out of the media's favor and were on the verge of being dropped by their label Food Records. Albarn stepped back from the modern trends and in favor of classic British rock by The Kinks and The Jam.
The result, however, was something different entirely: old wave and new wave blended into a catchy and cheeky style that would be dubbed "Britpop," a term that would define Blur and their counterparts for years to come.
Blur's third album is widely considered to be the band's masterpiece and the crowning achievement of the Britpop genre (though longtime rivals Oasis may beg to differ). The 16 tracks on "Parklife" are jovial, catchy, verbose and endlessly British. Over two decades later, it has aged remarkably well while still encapsulating a defining era of alternative rock music.
"The Great Escape" (1995)
The critical and commercial success of "Parklife" would be hard to follow up, but Albarn, Coxon and company were up to the challenge: "The Great Escape" hit number one on the UK charts and lead single "Country House" outsold Oasis' "Roll With It" in a August 1995 competition dubbed "The Battle of Britpop."
Horns and strings are abound on the record, which tackles themes of suburban dissatisfaction and "1984"-esque dystopias.
Somewhere along the line, the members of Blur started listening to American indie band Pavement, a band whose slacker vibe didn't exactly match the theatrics of Britpop. The songs on "Blur" are looser and heavier, but certainly no less fun. "Song 2" has gone on to become a stadium anthem, but there's much more to this record than those 121 exhilarating seconds.
"13" is yet another re-invention for Blur, and perhaps its most drastic. It's the band's first record without producer Stephen Street. Accordingly, the band is at its most experimental: songs run longer by incorporating psychedelic and electronic influences.
Albarn had ended his relationship with Elastica singer Justine Frischmann, which affected the lyrical content of songs like "No Distance Left to Run" and "Tender," the album's first single and a pinnacle of the Blur catalog.
"Think Tank" (2003)
"Think Tank" marked the beginning of the (temporary) end of Blur. Coxon was asked to leave the group as sessions began due to his alcoholism, and he only turns up on one track ("Battery in Your Leg"). Albarn worked in more electronic music elements like those apparent in his Gorillaz side project, and Norman Cook AKA Fatboy Slim provided production work on the album which received Q Magazine's 2003 "Album of the Year" honor.
"The Magic Whip" (2015)
Early reviews have heaped praise on Blur's comeback album, which features the standout rocker "Go Out" and the marching, string-driven "There Are Too Many of Us." The members (Coxon included) have shared that it was written and recorded via quick "jammy" sessions in Hong Kong with longtime producer Stephen Street.
Go deeper into the music of Blur via our playlist below: