Blur hasn’t yet admitted that its race is run, but it might as well. And that’s no slag. It takes emotional intensity it takes to sustain an artistic entity such as Blur, which has at the core of its identity an unshakable association with a certain place at a certain time (i.e. Britpop circa 1994). Think about it. When you think Blur, do you think of the by-now nearly anonymous “Song 2” (“woo-hoo!”)? Or perhaps the incisive, fey, funky, scathing social satire set to classic pop songcraft of Blur’s classic album, Parklife — you know, “Girls and Boys”? Thought so.

Which is a shame. Shame that such brilliant sonic moments as the introspective gospel-tinged gem “Tender” from Blur’s 1999 record, 13, or the beautiful and striking sounds of 1997’s Blur (“Beetlebum,” “Song 2” and “On Your Own” included) aren’t tallied in the pop culture “win” column.

For all of the group’s recent attempts at seducing American audiences through eclectic indie-rock overtures and often-redeeming nonnarrative pop songcraft, Blur may have, after 10 years, lost its center. The Britpop wars are over (and, no, Oasis didn’t win either). The kids’ attention has been yanked away by mass-produced lovey-dovey pabulum and a-rhythmic rap-rock from both sides of the Atlantic. As evidenced by the inclusion of the band’s most recent, meandering, unfocused single, “Music is My Radar,” Damon Albarn and company may soon drop from the cultural radar of a new decade. But that’s just conjecture.

Thankfully, this compilation offers hard proof and ample musical reminiscences from the times Blur lived the charmed pop life and, by sheer force of artistry, evolved from just-another-Madchester-band bandwagoners to masters of forward-thinking guitar-rock artists. There’s nary a dud in the lot of these 18 tracks and, for a band with this many (UK) hit singles in its catalog, they’ve digested the past 10 years, thankfully, with clarity and concision.

Maybe, just maybe, Blur is realizing just how crucial the difference between self-conscious and self-aware is to its existence, and just how close to the former the band’s become, and just how far it has to go before it can shake its own ghost. With The Best of, Blur’s managed to catch a rare, crystal-clear snapshot of that ghost standing in the stairway.

Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].

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