Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide To Blur attempts to squeeze the recently revived British band onto two discs, but its music resists being converted into a coherent story. The collection hits the considerable highlights of Blur’s seven-album stretch, but those highlights often don’t sound like the work of the same band. Which is the real Blur, anyway? The clean-cut, clever, Madchester-derived followers behind catchy early-career singles like “She’s So High” and “There’s No Other Way”? The arch, Kinks-inspired observers of end-of-the century Britain—from the working class to the leisure class—found on Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape? The increasingly experimental act in thrall to American indie sounds and perpetually on the verge of collapse found on Blur, 13, and the postscripty Think Tank, which was recorded without key player Graham Coxon?
No single Blur sound dominates Midlife, but in spite of the inherited ongoing identity crisis, the collection hardly suffers. Instead, it revels in the crisis, eschewing chronology and blending the early with the late. If anything, the stylistically different but thematically linked “For Tomorrow” and “Coffee And TV” sound at home sequenced back to back, with each catching ’90s ennui at different stages. From Modern Life on, Blur made albums meant to be heard as albums, but this unstuck-in-time collection helps reveal the fullness of the band’s accomplishment. Uptempo tracks like “Girls And Boys” and “Parklife” leave a satiric aftertaste. Ballads like “The Universal” and moody experiments like “Strange News From Another Star” capture the underside to an era of harmony-through-globalization and irrational, chemical-fueled exuberance. Whatever the future holds, few bands fit as well into their time as the Blur captured here.