Blur & solo
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Back Story

  • ORIGIN: Colchester & London, UK
  • CORE MEMBERS: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree
  • GENRES: Rock, indie, Britpop
  • YEARS ACTIVE: 1988-2003, 2009-present

Thanks to a swaggering cameo in Britpop’s naughty ’90s carry-on, the four men of Blur are haunted by depictions of themselves at their most annoying and cartoon-y. But peer back – into the punky chaos of the pre-Blur Seymour, and back further, into teenage epiphanies aroused by The Jam, The Specials and New Order, into singer/songwriter Damon Albarn’s boho background (his father Keith managed Soft Machine; they’d lived in Turkey) and apprenticeship in music theatre – and the soul of a fascinating, polymathic pop phenomenon emerges.

As a young indie band on the rise, 1988-’91, Blur were rowdy, puppyish. Rhythms were a war between drummer Dave Rowntree’s heads-down flailing and Bournemouth-born Alex James’ pert, elasto-poppy basslines. Graham Coxon’s guitars could be relied upon to surprise – his sizzling riffs on Syd-Barrett-goes-baggy single There’s No Other Way were a killer calling card – while his fellow alumnus of Stanway Comprehensive, Colchester, Damon Albarn, wrote the songs – or rather, learned to – and sang with sssibilant esssesss.

TOP TEN ALBUMS

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They liked to get in your face, often drunkenly, but their big bet, on English-flavoured pop at grunge’s apex, paid off. The subsequent alignment of UK pop culture behind their lead went to their heads, or did them in, or both, but it’s to their credit that the crash, when it came, fuelled music that bore the scars, in the scratchy comedown vibe of Blur, the deconstructive urges of 13, and beyond, into idiosyncratic solo projects.

“I don't think it's ever comfortable being in a band.”

Damon Albarn, MOJO, 1995

These have included flibbertigibbet James’s footie-song supergroup, Fat Les, and Coxon’s guitar-slashing, Jilted John cris de coeur. Meanwhile, Albarn stormed classical citadels and danced to Afro grooves in Lagos and Mali. Since 2001, his perfectly pitched, imaginatively storyboarded Gorillaz albums have sold nearly 14 million copies, while last year he finally stepped out from behind the projects and followed Coxon's lead by sticking his own name on a solo record, Everyday Robots.

And Blur live on. Reunited in 2009 after Graham Coxon’s 2002 exile, they've almost semi-regularly staged big gigs in Hyde Park, while a whole new Blur album, The Magic Whip, was carved out of off-the-cuff sessions conducted in Hong Kong in 2013. Time will tell if it secures a place in the pantheon. But No Distance Left To Run? Not on this evidence.

For more visit www.blur.co.uk.