The Great Escape was released on the ominous day of September 11th (in 1995) and although initially lauded by critics, it hasn’t maintained the same level of critical acclaim as have their previous two releases The Great Escape, Parklife, and Modern Life Is Rubbish encapsulate what is referred to as Blur’s “Life Trilogy”. Basically this is referred to as the peak of Brit-Pop regarding their sound. I’ve been arguing that the Brit-Pop moniker is ill-suited for this band in general but I’ll give it a spin and see how it shakes out.

Track 1: “Stereotypes”: Over the top throwing the kitchen in the sink musical opening with horror stab keyboards and some fuzzed out guitar. A bunch going on here musically, changeups and a horror/carnival vibe which sounds like it wouldn’t work, but it does for me. I could see how someone could absolutely hate this song, but I like it lol. They are just able to pull off weird shit like this pretty easily somehow.

Track 2: “Country House: The first single on the album and see the link for the press-fueled feud between this song and Oasis’ “Roll With It”. As for the song, it’s fine, pretty good and sounds like a single, fairly restrained for Blur by this point in their career. A bit Beatlesque, which I don’t think suits them very well. I like the end when the horns come in. Decent, nothing special.

Track 3: “Best Days”: They slow down the manic energy, which the album has in spades to this point, here. Blur is good at slowing down their songs and I like this as well. The strings work, the drums (a bit buried on the mix) sound like NYC hip-hop to me, so it’s slower but a bunch still going on. A nice salon piano solo close to the end. Again, this is Brit-Pop I guess, just tons going on here and it’s successful.

Track 4: “Charmless Man”: Another single, just a bouncy great pop song. Love the demented sounding nanananananana’s. Great sneaky guitar work by Coxon here. They are able to throw off pop songs so easily by this point in their career. Good song.

Track 5: “Fade Away”: Full disclosure, I did this exercise (listened to Blur’s discography a couple years back) and was just stunned by this song. It’s possibly one of my favorite songs by the band and the highlight of this album, easy 5 star banger. Musically it has a fantastic reggae vibe and the horns are phenomenal. I posit that this is one of the most important and telling songs of Blur’s entire career. It portends of future directions, not only for the band but also for Albarn during his post-Blur Gorillaz output. The drums are again just banging away with a hip hop vibe to me which will be repeated on, specifically, 13. Also the piano dub sounding piano is wonderful, telegraphing the future. All this being said, it doesn’t sound out of place on this album either. Just a tremendous song. I just listened back to back and got the musical goosebumps big time lol.

Track 6: “Top Man”: The weird chanting is just ridiculous, it almost sounds like they are trying to make a song that people won’t like, but I like it! I do think they were getting a bored with this genre of song and type of album. They definitely have a sound (again I think the Brit-pop label does them a disservice). This song is kind of like a more bored version of “Tracy Jacks”. Same melody and vocal delivery by Albarn as well. It’s still a good song though. I definitely get the Blur “Life Trilogy” thing with this and the previous 2 albums, and they clearly understood it as well. Blur have a very expansive sound to me but they will add to it and go in a bit of a different direction on subsequent releases as we will see. But again, this is a good song.

Track 7: “The Universal”: More strings. They work here. This sounds like chamber-pop or something, definitely a bit of a changeup for Blur as well. This also is a precursor to a song like “Tender” on 13, with the chorus being employed. So, I do think that songs like “Top Man” are clearly in the mode of the last 2 albums, but a song like this and “Fade Away” show glimpses of the future for sure. A great song.

Track 8: “Mr. Robinson’s Quango”: A bunch of songs about suburban Londoners on these three albums, this is another one. This one isn’t good though. So back to my analysis here, they were a bit burned out and bored I think by the release of this album, songs like this show it. But they are so talented that there is still a bunch of great material on here and a lot that portends future directions. This song is horrible, maybe their worst since Leisure.

Track 9: “He Thought Of Cars”: And back to another stunningly great song. This is in the mode of “This Is a Low” and “Death Of A Party” (which will be on the next album). 5 star song alert for sure here. Love the intro which they just reign in and crank out a completely different song than you’d initially think. Damon sounds melancholy but the music is just biting, it’s a hard balancing trick that they pull off brilliantly. The production/headphone experience is elite on this song as well. Fantastic outro.

Track 10: “It Could Be You”: This is a good song, but they really won’t ever have another song like this. It’s a poppy just over 3 minute jaunt that works quite well, but they will stop making songs like this on their last three core albums. They are going through the motions here and are probably able to compose songs like this in their sleep by this point, so it’s a bit bored, but still good!

Track 11: “Arnold Same”: A carnival spoken word interlude. It’s good over-dramatic and good and short. The wikipedia entry has a good story from producer Steven Street about Ken Livingstone who does the voice-work on this song.

Track 12: “Globe Alone”: 2-minute punkish song which bangs! Not straight punk, it has a crazy keyboard through line. But this is great song, Blur likes to remind everyone they can jam out every once and awhile. Short but a really good song, great bass work as well.

Track 13: “Dan Abnormal”: More demented la la la la la la’s. This song is already on this album somewhere but it’s still good lol. A couple/few songs on this album that I shouldn’t really like but I just still do.

Track 14: “Entertain Me”: Another 5 star banger. Just a fantastic song. The drums again just clank hard and a great baseline from Alex James, he has done outstanding work on the entire album. Coxon also just shreads on this song. Albarn singing Entertain Me in a detached almost ironic way. Everything is working and the whole band is firing on full throttle here.

Track 15: “Yuko & Hiro”: Again, I probably shouldn’t like this song, too many disparate parts. Not sure if they are just fucking around here and just trolling people? Whatever, it works wonderfully for me, I really like it. Even the Japanese singing part, which I don’t love, doesn’t ruin the song for me. Of course the song ends with silence then another weird carnival instrumental, which I try not to like, but I ultimately end up liking.

I have so say, I like this album at least as much as I like Parklife. Even though this fits in nicely with the two previous albums even though Blur do seem a bit on autopilot here at times. I do think they were a bit bored and recorded and released the “Life Trilogy” in essentially 3 years. So some burnout but to me the songs are still there. Maybe not quite as consistent and cohesive as Parklife but the highs are a bit higher.

5 Star Bangers: “Fade Away”, “He Thought Of Cars”, “Entertain Me”

Everything else is good on the 3/4 star scale expect “Country House” meh and “Mr. Robinson’s Quango” horrible.

Allmusic Review of The Great Escape 4.5/5 stars