21 Food/ EMI ****

Just two weeks before what will be, “in all likelihood”, their final concert, the Britpop pioneers have released this behemoth. Comprehensive? Multiply that by 100 and you’re nowhere near. It will take you from now until the end of the year to get through everything on 21.

There are 21 discs, but the big attraction for hardcore Blur fans is the nearly six hours of previously unreleased material. You get the remastered and expanded editions of all the albums – four whole discs of rarities and three DVDs of various live performances from key stages of the band’s career. There’s also a book, a special 7-inch single and a few hundred other things included.

The 21 in the title refers to the fact that it’s 21 years since the release of Blur’s first album, Leisure, and between that early inchoate work and their last album proper (2003’s brilliant Think Tank) it was a mighty long way down the rock’n’roll road for the personable four-piece.

This all works because it also doubles as a retrospective of recent rock/pop musical history. Early on you’re hearing how the tail-end of Madchester and shoe-gazing were the building blocks of the Blur sound until they got their Kinks/XTC sound on with 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish.

There are many who view Blur merely as Britpop deities – usually bracketed alongside Oasis, due to their tedious

and staged rivalry. Yes, Parklife was and remains the definitive Britpop album (though, technically Suede had been there earlier) but you do get the feeling that the adulation and profile only had an adverse effect on Blur’s creativity.

Some of the arch-Britpop material here is truly rubbish, almost Dick van Dykeian in its “Mockney” affectation. But by throwing out the Chas’n’Dave elements, Blur cleared the room for explorations into a more lo-fi fundamentalist indie guitar rock sound. Soon they were adding aspects of electronica as well as the odd nod to hip-hop culture.

If this collections succeeds in reclaiming Blur as a great British act (and not just Britpop headliners), it will have done a great service. What’s on offer here testifies to the fact that they never stood still creatively and were always ready to bend and break the rules, regardless of commercial consequences.

If you shop around you’ll can buy 21 for about €150.

Download tracks:All of the expanded Blur and Think Tank albums