Sunday, 12 August 2012

No Distance Left To Run

Tonight, Blur will take to the stage in Hyde Park to headline the Closing Ceremony concert, and a week after seeing them at a gig well worth going to Wolverhampton for, I thought I’d write about them (they are the inspiration for my blog title, after all). I recently re-watched the film-documentary the band made in 2010 after their reunion, which I’ll also review in this. While I can’t really argue with the three-star verdict of Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian and the assertion that “it often looks like a very high-grade piece of officially approved merchandise”, there were some highlights.

I loved hearing about how guitarist Graham Coxon met lead singer Damon Albarn after seeing him doing West Side Story in assembly at Stanway Comprehensive in Colchester and how he hid from Albarn at London Zoo in 2003 after failing to show up to record Think Tank, their final album, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit underwhelmed and slightly disappointed at how little they talked about the early records. Briefly explaining why Albarn considers their debut album Leisure (which I’ve given rave reviews) “awful”, it then races through Modern Life Is Rubbish, barely talking about the album I consider their strongest. I would have much rather heard more about the inspiration for Colin Zeal, who had the idea of having Ken Livingstone do a song for them, the whereabouts of Villa Rosie or why Tracy Jacks got on the first train to Walton and so on than about the lifestyle of Alex James (which - like his politics - is not representative of Blur).

Then again, I did find Graham’s often fractious relationship with the other three interesting. Also the way that ‘going from being the coolest band in the country to the uncoolest in one single’ and every shop Damon walked into putting on Oasis spurred them into changing direction and – while I don’t like them as much as the first three – making records as good as the self-titled and 13, especially bold considering it marked a shift from biographical songs about London characters to autobiographical, focusing on Damon's break-up with Elastica lead singer Justine Frischmann. An achievement considering the fix they found themselves in at the end of the Battle of Britpop era with the front 10 rows at Blur gigs in 1996 being barely 14 or 15 years old, friction within the band as strong as it had been and accusations that they'd "started off as a reasonable indie band but become a huge teenie pop band, the reverse to what The Beatles did" resonating.

They're an interesting bunch when you think about it. An arrogant bassist with strange fascinations to put it nicely. A shy, awkward genius who suffered from depression and has come through various problems, a drummer I’ve heard described as “eccentric” by Labour people who knew him when he took the unprecedented step of trying to become an MP, and a singer with almost as many projects under his belt as he has moods and tones of voice.

It's the number of styles that they tried successfully in my view - from the shoegaze of Leisure to the capturing of the zeitgeist of 90s London life on Jubilee, Advert, Sunday Sunday and various tracks on Parklife and Modern Life Is Rubbish to the lo-fi of the self-titled to the experimental nature of 13 with the particularly memorable collaborative effort of Albarn/Coxon on Tender - that make me consistently rank Blur among my 5 favourite bands. They did a bit of everything, well.

Things don't always pan out the way you want them to, as they found when Coxon didn’t turn up to record Think Tank, and Blur songs in the Parklife and Modern Life Is Rubbish era will tell you so, but that they found a happy ending in the end warms my heart almost as much as the words to Blue Jeans. If the Closing Ceremony gig does prove to be their last, they’re certainly entitled to bask in the British track and field success at the Olympics as much as the Closing Ceremony deserves a bill headlined by them and supported by The Specials and New Order.

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