On September 11th, 1995, Blur released the seminal The Great Escape into the Britpop ether, as part of a battle with Manchester’s own Oasis, the record flew straight to the top of the charts but twenty-five years later, what does the legacy of the record look like in 2020?
The release of the album came just a matter of weeks after the band beat Oasis to the coveted number one spot in a battle that was the best week for UK singles sales in a decade, with Blur’s ‘Country House’ shifting 274,000 copies in comparison to Oasis’ ‘Roll with It’ that was bought 216,000 times—it was dubbed the ‘Battle of Britpop’. Blur even rubbed salt into the Manchester band’s wounds when they performed their chart-topping single on Top of the Pops with bassist Alex James wearing an Oasis t-shirt.
The bands were more than happy to pour fuel onto the fire, throwing playful digs at each other in the press which included Oasis comically dismissing Blur as being “Chas & Dave chimney sweep music” leading to Blur to patronisingly refer to them as “Oasis Quo”. While the press was a place for verbal sparring, it was on their releases that the two groups could really prove their mettle.
The Great Escape arrived at the height of Britpop but it’s not controversial to say that it was a step down in quality from the sheer greatness of their previous two records, Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife. Upon its release, the band’s fourth album was met with universal acclaim however, the legacy of the record soon soured and even Blur moved away from Britpop with their beautiful self-titled return to form two years later.
There are some memorable moments on the record nonetheless, the project it spawning the likes of ‘The Universal’ and ‘Charmless Man’ which are up there with the best that the band ever made. However, the commercialisation which is rife on lead single ‘Country House’—a daft pop song that hasn’t aged quite like the majority of Damon Albarn and co’s material—It was a sign of the times.
Even Albarn isn’t a great fan of the record, with him admitting in 2007: “I’ve made two bad records. The first record, which is awful, and The Great Escape, which was messy.” He would later go on to say that he doesn’t even see it as an album and more of “an elaborate diary of a mad moment”.
It was written and made as Britpop was reaching its zenith which meant that Blur, and Damon Albarn especially, could get away with just chronicling the wildlife they were leading following Parklife which offers up a crazy insight into the hedonistic madness that they were in the middle of in the ’90s but, as a record, it’s not their best.
The Great Escape also helped create the commodification of Britpop and led to a plethora of bands who were the musical equivalent of four-stripe trainers getting huge major label record deals which would dilute the initial magic of that era. It was the bubble bursting, Britpop had begun to deflate.
Blur knew after the record that they needed to change up their sound and prove a point, that they were a great rock ‘n’ roll band rather than a gimmick, which is exactly what they emphatically did upon their return.