Review: Blur – 21 (Box Set)

A dense wealth of goods for the die-hards and completists is a rewarding trip through Blur's history.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

Who would've guessed that 2012 would belong to Blur? Between closing out the Olympics, having just released two new songs (the hugely celebrated “Under the Westway” and “The Puritain”), and numerous rumors about the band working on and off again on a new album, there seems no end in sight for the momentum of Damon Albarn & Co's revival.

Naturally, this means there's no better time than now for the release of Blur 21, a massively sprawling box set celebrating the group’s entire output since its debut album Leisure came out 21 years ago. Let's be clear on this, though: it would take you well over 18 hours to listen to 21 in one shot. Special editions of the band's seven studio albums, each with accompanying bonus disc material of unreleased extras, exclusive artwork postcards, unseen photographs and liner notes based on new interviews with the band are available, as well as four discs of rarities, including 3½ hours of previously unreleased material. But wait, there's more: three DVDs including over 2 hours of previously unreleased footage are included as well, with the cherry on top being a collectable 7″ single of the rare and previously unreleased live recording of the Seymour-era Blur song Superman.

Yes, this shit is bananas. 

As Miranda Sawyer writes in the award-worthy liner notes accompanying this comprehensive box set, Blur had a remarkable impact in their pre-millennial heyday: “They united everyone. Outsiders and everyday-ers, football hooligans and earnest students, screaming girl-fans and sneering indie-boys, in a wonderful come-one-come-all moment.”

There is an undoubtedly dense wealth of goods at play here, but best thing about this entire collection – aside from the truly Lennon/McCartneyesque electricity in the band (for good and bad) – is the way that each album is paired with a disc filled with chronologically symbiotic b-sides, rare cuts, and radio sessions that have yet to see the light of day, including sessions with Andy Partridge, unreleased Alex James-penned songs and even a track called “Sir Elton John’s Cock”. Casually.

Each album has its own gravity, and fans are going to have a blast filtering through their favorite era while pushing their own boundaries within those they're less familiar with. Songs such as "Inertia," "Get Out of Cities," "Young & Lovely," "Black Book," and "Mr Briggs" make one wonder why some of these gems never actually saw proper album release. 

The main draw, of course, is the four discs of unreleased material. No fan is going to shell out this kind of money ($153!!) unless they're fully committed to the experience, and that undoubtedly means there's an eye for the fringe elements pulled from forgotten stones. The two new singles are missing from the set, which is already giving enough weight to the rumors of further progress with the band, but if it were to serve as the band's swan song (after the Olympic Games, of course), it would be a thorough, rewarding and fitting send-off.

Pick up this musical monster for yourself right here.