August 1991: Blur Debut with 'Leisure'

'Leisure'
Photo Credit
Parlophone Records

On Aug. 26, 1991, Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree – known collectively as Blur – released their debut album Leisure, which helped the U.K. band become known as one of the Britpop era's true greats.

Truth be told, when Blur released their debut single, “She’s So High,” which preceded Leisure by a full 10 months, Britpop really wasn’t even a thing yet. Indeed, if one looks back at the song in its historical context, it fits far more comfortable into the so-called “Madchester” realm. Unlike bands like Candy Flip or Flowered Up, however, Blur managed to make their way beyond that particular sound and into something far more Britpoppy.

This was probably for the best in the long run, since “She’s So High” never cracked the U.K. Top 40 upon its original release. On the other hand, the follow-up “There’s No Other Way,” proved to be not only a Top 10 hit in England but also – gasp! – made its way onto the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 82 at a time when other British bands weren't managing anything near that.

 As for Leisure as a whole, it was very much a mixed-bag of an album, as befits an LP which features one track produced by the band (“Sing”), one co-produced by Steve Lovell and Steve Power (“She’s So High”), three produced by Mike Thorne (“Fool,” “Birthday,” and “Wear Me Down”), and seven tracks produced by The Smiths/Morrissey collaborator Stephen Street (“Bang,” “Slow Down,” “Repetition,” “Bad Day,” “There’s No Other Way,” “Come Together,” and “High Cool”). Reviews were mixed, with critics seemingly only either loving it to an absurd degree or feeling more or less “meh” about it. Still, none of the major rock journalism pundits actively loathed it, so chalk that up as a win, eh?

Well, maybe not: in 2007, Albarn declared in a 2007 interview that Leisure was “awful” and considered it one of the two “bad records” he’d made in his career up to that point, with the other being Blur’s fourth album, The Great Escape.

In a later interview, Albarn clarified that the biggest problem was perhaps tied to Blur’s general giddiness about having been signed to a label.

“We were so keen to have a record deal,” Albarn said during his Guitar Center Sessions interview. “It seemed like such a big deal that, in hindsight. we were a little too eager to please our masters. At that time, the music business was very different from what it is now. There was definitely a business and a way of doing things, and unless you were very lucky, you generally got signed because they saw your potential to sort of continue a trend that was ongoing. I’m not saying that the people who signed us weren’t incredibly important to us and really supportive – they definitely were – but they were very eager for us to sort of fit into the sound of the moment, so I think we did that a bit. We tried to please. We were very naïve...and young!”

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