Blur’s discography is full of more diverse riches than you might expect from the band that won the Britpop race to the bottom when their execrable Country House sold more copies than the even more execrable Roll With It by Oasis. From the design-by-committee debut Leisure and Modern Life is Rubbish with its Kinksian view of the world, through to the career-closing trio of Blur, 13 and Think Tank, they’ve exhibited a broad sweep of styles and attitudes.
Don’t judge them too harshly by that little Britpop period in the middle when Damon Albarn was tossing out characters left right and center, and Phil Daniels and Keith Allen were bringing the comedy. Even in those times, the deeper, darker, more introspective cuts were always the most revealing and the most rewarding: This is a Low from Parklife allowed Albarn to indulge his cracked world-worn protagonist idiom while giving Graham Coxon room to unleash the awesome storm of a guitar solo; The Universal from The Great Escape used brass for melodrama where other tracks on the same album had more of the big top circus entertainment feel. In 2014 it’s hard to remember a time when The Universal didn’t give you a pavlovian response involving little planets and British Gas, but once it was just a beautiful song.
No band could produce three Parklifes. No band that contained real, thinking, considered musicians and Alex James, anyway. Somehow, though, Blur managed to consciously reject the notion and still return with a self-titled album that gave them another number one single with Beetlebum, and, in Song 2, the anti-anthem anthem that would come to be their true defining moment. They followed Blur with 13 and retreated even further from the larky notions of the mid-90s. No Distance Left to Run was the ballad of a broken man, distortion, lo-fi and feedback dominated, and only the semi-jaunty Coffee and TV acknowledged those happy-go-lucky days of yore. But its vocal was delivered by Coxon, who also wrote the song, so even this one was keen to sever ties with its past.
Tender was the album’s lead single and opening track. Co-written and co-sung by Coxon and Albarn with backing vocals from the London Community Gospel Choir, it couldn’t have felt much less Blur. It was a sort of anti-_Song 2_, which makes it an anti-anti-anthem, and is exactly as beautiful and precious as that doesn’t sound.
Come on come on come on
Get through it
Come on come on come on
Love’s the greatest thing
That we have.