Food Records (UK)/SBK (USA) 1993.
The second album by Blur, after Leisure and before Parklife.
This was an album with a turbulent conception. Released in the wake of a disastrous 1992 tour, the pressure was on for it to succeed in grunge-loving America. Although originally it was intended to be produced by XTC's Andy Partridge, this idea quickly fell through (Partridge suggesting, amongst other incongruities, that Starshaped be played as a samba.) The ever-present Stephen Street, who produced There's No Other Way from Leisure, was brought in instead -- more by luck than judgement: Graham Coxon happened to bump into him at a Cranberries gig.
Meanwhile, Blur were at loggerheads with Food's co-owner and former Teardrop Explodes keyboard man Dave Balfe, who was becoming disenchanted with guitar music and later went to to form his own dance/electronic label. Legend has it that certain tracks on MLIR were included mainly as digs at Balfe, particularly the instrumentals, which he hated.
Still, to Balfe's credit, his insistence that the band "write some singles" led to the album's opener, For Tomorrow, which remains one of Blur's finest moments, written at Damon's parent's house on Christmas Day.
After the album sessions were complete in early 1993, SDK, the American distributors, requested another single, to appeal to American youth. The result was originally called Americana, but the name was quickly changed to Chemical World. It didn't succeed particularly in its goal, but nevertheless, it's another fine song.
Finally, then, MLIR consists of a handful of demos from 1991 that were considered 'good enough' for an album, a set of songs written during a period of emotional strain, two apparently haphazard 'singles', and two instrumentals dating back from when Blur were called Seymour. Surely a recipe for disaster: yet somehow, it hangs together. More than that. It shines.
For Tomorrow's intricate, unusual harmonies and precision playing are bolstered by a shimmering string arrangement and an endearing narrative outro. Satires on consumer culture, middle England and disposability follow in Advert, Chemical World and portent-of-things-to-come Sunday Sunday, while Pressure On Julian, Oily Water and Popscene are the sneering, vicious, snotty-nosed numbers Blur don't do again until I'm Just A Killer For Your Love on 1997's Blur album. Interspersed are paeans to numbness and disaffection Blue Jeans, Starshaped, Miss America, Resigned. Oh yes, and Turn It Up appears at the arse-end, an unwelcome and forgettable baggy throwback.
Almost every song is a winner, though, the interest not flagging a bit until, perhaps, Villa Rosie comes along. And you lucky American listeners get the rollicking punk stomp Popscene in the bag. Top.