The Special Collectors Edition

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Like most big U.K. bands in the '90s, Blur had a plethora of non-album tracks surface on singles, which remained a much more viable format in Europe than in the U.S. in terms of actual chart activity and placement. Special Collectors Edition, a Japanese-only release, does a fairly good job in collecting many, though by no means all, of those B-sides and extra tracks from the band's first singles through the Parklife era. As a parallel history of Blur's development from semi-Madchester/semi-shoegazer art school rock to Brit-pop flag wavers, it's manna for fans as well as being interesting in its own right. A fair number of songs could easily have ended up on the group's albums based on overall quality, while other tunes, if not as strong, often have a certain standalone charm. Among the earliest tracks, "Luminous" is noteworthy for its slightly stoned and zoned flavor, Dave Rowntree's percussion almost echoing early Pink Floyd jams, while "Mace," originally a B-side to "Popscene," shows Blur starting to come to grips with a catchier form of whimsy. The Modern Life B-sides are an interesting mixed bag, ranging from the sweet electric psych/acoustic folk drift of "Peach" to the trebly art-punk blast of "Fried." The Parklife tracks show the increasingly ambitious group fully coming into their own, with everything from the goofy carousel-music romp "Anniversary Waltz" to the sweeping, gently self-mocking "Theme from an Imaginary Film." A lovely final touch is the version of "Bank Holiday" at the very end -- the song itself is an album cut from Parklife, but the rough kazoos-only performance is in fact by seven female fans at Tokyo Airport. Edition's humorous packaging also deserves special notice -- prepared by the U.K. design firm Stylorouge, it consists of a series of advertisements for kitsch British products, including a Blur commemorative plate.

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