Musically the sound of Modern Life Is Rubbish is by in large guitar based pop in the style of bands such as The Who, The Jam, and as I have already mentioned The Kinks and Small Faces. The band draw on a variety of different styles on this album in what is an eclectic mix of punk rock “Advert”, psychedelic rock “Chemical World”, 60s pop “For Tomorrow” and even English vaudevillian music hall “Sunday Sunday”. Although the band were moving in a different direction musically from their debut album, an alternative rock/shoegazing influence still exists on several tracks especially in the guitar playing of Graham Coxon. One such example was the experimental guitar driven track “Oily Water” with its layered psychedelic guitar drawing comparisons to bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Coxon’s playing is a definite standout on this album especially with his use of delay, reverb and distortion in creating a heavily layered sound which dominates many of the tracks on the album. His playing on this record shows why he is one of the best guitarists to ever come out of the British indie scene and how he is more than just a guitar player, but also a composer and inventor on the six-string. The band also experimented with different sounds on this album, sounds that were outside of the traditional rock band model. A woodwind section can be heard on “Star Shaped”, while brass comes to dominate “Sunday Sunday”. Vocally the band also experiment, with Small Faces-like choruses of la, la, la’s and Damon Albarn even singing in a fake cockney accent on some tracks, something that definitely contributed to the overall Englishness of the album.
On its release Modern Life Is Rubbish was a modest chart success despite being lauded by critics as the album that helped to usher in Britpop in the UK. Despite not being an overwhelming smash, Modern Life Is Rubbish was significant in rejuvenating the band after their failure in America and helped also to set the tone for what would become their decade defining album and smash-hit Parklife the following year. The overall concept of celebrating England and Englishness was a good one for the band to explore and it definitely lent itself well to the majority of the material on the album. My only major criticism would be around the length of the album which I feel would have benefited strongly from being trimmed a little bit as it tends to lag on the second half and probably runs for two too many songs, but this is just a minor aberration more than anything. Overall though Modern Life Is Rubbish is a great 90s album and one of Blur’s best. I thoroughly recommend it to those into British indie, Britpop, or simply those who are looking for 90s nostalgia.