Blur To The End Review: A revealing portrait of Blur’s triumphant reunion

New documentary captures Blur’s 2023 reunion and hints at a possible future ahead

Alex James and Damon Albarn

by Danny Eccleston |
Published on

Blur: To The End

★★★★

Director: Toby L

UP THE GAME

Blur’s 2023 renaissance – an extraordinary album, The Ballad Of Darren, voted MOJO’s best of the year, and a sellout tour peaking with two bravura nights at London’s Wembley Stadium in July– was a phenomenal coup, but the thoughts and feelings that motivated both remained enigmatic. There were few press interviews. Meanwhile, radio and television spots were vintage displays of Blur reluctance and obfuscation. Speaking to MOJO in September, singer and songwriter Damon Albarn opened up a little, but offered, in place of his own motivations, the comment that “for some of the other members of the band” the reformation shows were a “necessity”, presumably financial. It wasn’t exactly a hard sell.

Once upon a time – namely the early ’90s, on London’s proto-Britpop scene – Albarn was rarely slow to big up Blur. More recently, he’s appeared at pains to downplay their achievements, and in Blur: To The End – documenting The Ballad Of Darren sessions and the tour that followed – he justifies Blur’s reformation as something “that seemed like it was needed”. Note the passive voice. And yet, while Albarn falls just short of admitting it outright, viewers of Toby L’s entertaining and emotional film may conclude that in many respects it was Albarn who needed it more than anyone.

The camera doesn’t lie. At the beginning it accompanies the singer on a drive to his Devon home, where he announces “he lives alone” (presumably since his recent separation from longterm partner Suzi Winstanley). The sense of a man somewhat unmoored, especially among his romantically settled Blur bandmates, becomes more tangible as the film unwinds. In one strikingly candid moment, he weeps during a Ballad Of Darren playback – a reaction to the “aftershock of loss” recorded on the seismograph of his Ballad Of Darren songs, the soundtrack to this film’s psychic journey.

It’s not just Albarn’s vulnerabilities in the spotlight, either. Typical men in their mid-fifties, the reunited Blur compare ailments, grumble about knees and backs, as they slouch on sofas, exposing their muffin-tops. Guitarist Graham Coxon – always the most candid of the four – itemizes his jumbo grab-bag of anxieties. Louche bassist Alex James plays the overgrown man-baby – a cigarette still perma-dangling from his lips at 54. Semi-tearful between shows in Holland and Denmark James admits to a proper, old-fashioned, alcohol-induced blackout. Recalling a story in the press where he once claimed to have “spent a million quid on booze”, he rues that “I have to justify that to my kids…”

There is some overamping of the jeopardy. Will Blur make it to Wembley? (Of course they will.) But there is also plenty of humour and, an alien concept to ’90s Blur, humility. A visit to Colchester – where Coxon, Albarn and drummer Dave Rowntree grew up – involves a pilgrimage to The Stanway School, where Albarn reminisces about musical discoveries in the school’s Portakabins (he’s a little disappointed that they’ve been replaced) and regular beatings from fellow pupils outraged by his precocity. The trip climaxes with a blazing version of key 1992 single Popscene at a warm-up show in Colchester Arts Centre. Albarn seems overwhelmed by the local support.

Toby L’s CV – tour documentaries for Liam Gallagher, Foals and Bastille, among others – testifies to a sure hand with concert footage, and his version of Blur on stage is never less than thrilling; the years seem to fall away. But even more engaging are the frozen moments offstage – literally frozen when Albarn and James try out Wembley Stadium’s post-match ice baths. And in a moment that could not be more Graham Coxon, the guitarist waits in the wings just before their entrance, fretting jumpily about whether he has time for “a wee”. In the end, he relieves himself into a half empty Coke can, then worries that a crew member might drink it.

Ultimately, that is Blur: To The End to a tee. It delivers authentic Blur – everything huggable and slappable about them. But it’s also about something new. The Ballad Of Darren and Blur’s 2023 shows revealed a more emotionally transparent and available band – one with more vistas to explore and the ability so to do. Even Albarn, who admits that he’s pretty much “always down on everything”, seems energised by the potentialities of his band, and the bond with its audience. Maybe To The End was the wrong Blur song title to borrow for this film after all. How about Blur: For Tomorrow?

Blur: To The End is released in UK and Irish cinemas from July 19. Find cinemas and buy tickets at blur.co.uk

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