The Great Escape, for all of its many virtues, painted Blur into a corner and there was only one way out -- to abandon the Britpop that they had instigated by bringing the weird strands that always floated through their music to the surface. Blur may superficially appear to be a break from tradition, but it is a logical progression, highlighting the band's rich eclecticism and sense of songcraft. Certainly, they are trying for new sonic territory, bringing in shards of white noise, gurgling electronics, raw guitars, and druggy psychedelia, but these are just extensions of previously hidden elements of Blur's music. What makes it exceptional is how hard the band tries to reinvent itself within its own framework, and the level of which it succeeds. "Beetlebum" runs through the White Album in the space of five minutes; "M.O.R." reinterprets Berlin-era Bowie; "You're So Great," despite the corny title, is affecting lo-fi from Graham Coxon; "Country Sad Ballad Man" is bizarrely affecting, strangled lo-fi psychedelia; "Death of a Party" is an affecting resignation; "On Your Own" is an incredible slice of singalong pop spiked with winding, fluid guitar and synth eruptions; while "Look Inside America" cleverly subverts the traditional Blur song, complete with strings. And "Essex Dogs" is a six-minute slab of free verse and rattling guitar noise. Blur might be self-consciously eclectic, but Blur are at their best when they are trying to live up to their own pretensions, because of Damon Albarn's exceptional sense of songcraft and the band's knack for detailed arrangements that flesh out the songs to their fullest. There might be dark overtones to the record, but the band sounds positively joyous, not only in making noise but wreaking havoc with the expectations of its audience and critics.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine