Pop Scene

Song Review by

To Blur and Brit-pop fans alike, "Popscene" is legendary. Released as a stopgap bridge between the band's 1991 debut, Leisure, and their 1993 sequel, Modern Life is Rubbish, it's the song where Blur truly found their voice. A clear break from the appealingly trippy, post-Madchester vibes of "There's No Other Way," "Popscene" arrived in a rush of punk guitars, '60s pop hooks, blaring British horns, controlled fury, and postmodern humor. It was the start of not just the classic era of Blur, but of Brit-pop. Saint Etienne sketched out the sound and ethos of Brit-pop with their early singles -- melding swinging '60s London with contemporary productions, detached, postmodern awareness, and impeccable songcraft -- but Blur did the same thing, only with guitars and testosterone: the two key elements that paved the way for Oasis and new lad culture, the very things that spilled over to the U.S. in the guise of Oasis and Loaded magazine wannabes Maxim (Loaded without the wit, as anyone who read Loaded during its mid-'90s heyday will surely attest). "Popscene" is far more stylish and smart than what followed, due to Damon Albarn's incisive words ("Everyone is a clever clone/A clone of a clone am I" unwittingly foreshadowed British culture of the '90s) and the band's unbelievable intensity. "Popscene" rocks harder than any other song with a huge horn section, and it's so easy to focus on Graham Coxon's twisting guitar and Albarn's lyrical gymnastics that it's possible to ignore David Roundtree's phenomenal drumming and Alex James' support. As a band, Blur has always been underrated -- such is the curse of having such a forcefully charismatic and self-absorbed frontman -- but none of their peers have rocked this hard to such a melodic hook, and that includes the brothers Gallagher. It's such a perfect pop single that it's hard to believe that it was a complete, utter stiff upon its release. It was such a disaster that it reduced Blur's already-low profile in the U.K. and the band was rightly chagrined at the public's ignorance. They refused to have it included on Modern Life Is Rubbish (though it did slip out on the U.S. version of the album), claiming that if the audience didn't get it the first time, they didn't deserve to. They still played it in concert -- it played a pivotal part in all of their biggest concerts, from the Alexandra Palais to Earls Court -- but they never re-released it until their 2000 greatest-hits album. Its scarcity added to its legend, but even if it had been on Modern Life, it would have entered pop mythology. It's simply that good and that influential.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Modern Life Is Rubbish 1993 Food / SBK 3:14
No Image 1994 KTS
No Image 1994 KTS
Another Side Of... 1995 Forbidden Fruit 3:16
Bustin' and Dronin' 1998 Virgin 3:05
On Your Own 1999 EMI Music Distribution 3:14
Anniversary Box Set 1999 EMI Music Distribution 3:15
Starshaped 2004 EMI Music Distribution
Midlife: A Beginner's Guide to Blur 2009 Virgin 3:15
Blur 21: The Box 2012 EMI / Parlophone 3:44