By: Eric Greenwood
Blur naively stormed the British music scene in 1990 with some false advertising. “There’s No Other Way” seemingly fit right in with the “baggy” Manchester dance pop revival, but it was hardly representative of the band’s versatility. Blur was far too talented to limit itself to any passing fad, and it initially stunted its fanbase as a result.
Leisure is an astute debut record, however. Blur clearly had the chops for writing dense melodies; it was just a little confused as to where to apply them. Leisure suffers from a severe lack of direction, but it contains some timeless material despite its surface weaknesses.
“She’s So High” features a classically sweeping guitar riff, allowing Damon Albarn to show off his melismatic voice. His harmonies with guitarist Graham Coxon in the chorus foreshadow the rest of the album’s ear for 1960's melody, though no other song is as effective in its execution.
Sure, “There’s No Other Way” was undeniably catchy, but it left a sour taste in the public's collective mouth at the time. It was too saccharine and too trendy and, consequently, left Blur easy to dismiss as possible one-hit wonders. This would, of course, prove false, but the band had to struggle for years to shake its flash in the pan status.
The band has been embarrassed about Leisure's third single, “Bang”, since its release, perhaps, because of the line, "bang goes another year/in and out of one ear/everybody's doing it/I'll do it too." It was equally as steeped in retro “Madchester” trendiness as “There’s No Other Way” was, but it lacks the former’s immediacy. Plus, the aforementioned lyrics only got worse as the song progressed.
Albarn’s lyrical focus would tune up for the band’s next album, Modern Life Is Rubbish. On Leisure, though, he seemed stuck in some kind of idealistic haze- a testament to his hippie upbringing and tender age, perhaps. Flashes of brilliance like “Slow Down” mixed a shrill mountain of My Bloody Valentine-style guitar noise with haunting harmonies for another album highlight. Blur could create an astonishingly beautiful wall of discord when it wanted to.
Leisure ages surprisingly well. It took me years to disassociate it from that whole Happy Mondays/Inspiral Carpets scene of the early 1990’s. Even the dull songs show a charm and musical profundity that most bands never quite attain. Blur’s debut works much better in context with the rest of its catalogue, but on its own seems a bit stilted and contrived.
The British version of the album contains “Sing”, which is arguably one of the band’s finest compositions, mixing dark lyrics, eerie atmospherics and ghostly harmonies with Graham Coxon’s stupefying guitar work. This song alone could change one’s opinion of Leisure, but Americans weren’t introduced to it until its release on the Trainspotting soundtrack in 1996.