“Look inside America/She’s alright, she’s alright,” sings Damon Albarn on Blur’s fifth album, Blur, dropping a none-too-subtle clue as to his band’s new source of inspiration. For reasons known only to its members, the heretofore all-too-twee British quartet has decided to refashion itself as a U.S. college-rock band, citing Pavement as a chief influence. It’s a puzzling move, given the current musical climate in which guitar bands are nervously scrambling to jump on the electronica bandwagon, but Blur pull it off.
The basic sound remains unmistakably British — these boys couldn’t disguise those tea-and-crumpets accents if they tried — but songs like ”Chinese Bombs” careen along like they’re looking for a Lower East Side mosh-pit den, while the skewed acoustic pop of ”You’re So Great” recalls the whacked-out plangency of Midwestern lo-fi heroes Guided By Voices (pretty funny, considering GBV’s specialty is faux Brit pop). Elsewhere, Blur stick closer to home, refabricating bits of vintage Bowie (”Strange News From Another Star,” a beatific space-age daydream) and the Beatles (”Beetlebum,” a sideways homage) to good effect. Sure, Blur’s aren’t-we-eclectic pretensions can grow frustrating over the course of an hour-long album. But any band that can come up with a madly infectious sing-along like ”On Your Own” can be forgiven missteps like ”Essex Dogs,” basically a (bad) poetry reading set to mysterioso instrumental shading. Up to now, Blur — Oasis’ chief rival in the U.K. — have remained a virtual nonentity in the States; this may be the album that finally brings them into focus.