Cover of Blur: The Best Of
- Clockwise from top left: Coxon, James, Rowntree, Albarn
Blur is the name of a british rock band. Originally called Seymour, Blur was formed in London in 1989 by vocalist/keyboardist Damon Albarn, guitarist/back vocalist Graham Coxon, and bassist Alex James, with drummer Dave Rowntree joining the lineup.
Blur was one of the multitude of British bands who appeared in the wake of the Stone Roses, mining the same swirling, pseudo-psychedelic guitar pop, only with louder guitars. Following an image makeover in the mid-'90s, the group emerged as the most popular band in the U.K., establishing themselves as heir to the English guitar pop tradition of the Kinks, the Small Faces, the Who, the Jam, Madness, and the Smiths. In the process, the group broke down the doors for a new generation of guitar bands who became labeled as Britpop. With Damon Albarn's wry lyrics and the group's mastery of British pop tradition, Blur was the leader of Britpop, but they quickly became confined by the movement; since they were its biggest band, they nearly died when the movement itself died. Through some reinvention, Blur reclaimed their position as an art pop band in the late '90s by incorporating indie rock and lo-fi influences, which finally gave them their elusive American success in 1997. But the band's legacy remained in Britain, where they helped reinvent guitar pop by skillfully updating the country's pop traditions.
Breakthrough and rising to success (1991-1993)
Breakthrough and uprising - from left: Dave Rowntree, Damon Albarn, Alex James and Graham Coxon
'She's So High,' the group's first single, made it into the Top 50 while the follow-up, 'There's No Other Way,' went Top Ten. Both singles were included on their 1991 Stephen Street-produced debut album, Leisure. Although receiving good reviews, the album fit neatly into the dying Manchester pop scene, causing some journalists to dismiss the band as manufactured teen idols. For a couple of years, Blur struggled to abandon this title and prove the critics wrong.
XTC's Andy Partridge was originally slated to produce Modern Life Is Rubbish, but the relationship between Blur and Partridge soured, so Street was again brought in to produce the record. After spending nearly a year in the studio, the band delivered the album to Food records. The record company rejected the album, declaring that it needed a hit single. Blur went back into the studio and recorded Albarn's 'For Tomorrow,' turned out to be a British hit. Food was ready to release the record, but the group's U.S. record company, SBK, believed there was no American hit single on the record and asked them to return to the studio. Blur complied and recorded 'Chemical World,' which pleased SBK for a short while; the song would become a minor alternative hit in the U.S. and charted at number 28 in the U.K. Modern Life Is Rubbish was set for release in the spring of 1993 when SBK asked Blur to re-record the album with producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Sonic Youth).
At this point the band was quite angry and irritated, thus they refused. The record was released in May in Britain; it appeared in the United States that fall. Modern Life Is Rubbish received good reviews in Britain, peaking at number 15 on the charts, yet it failed to make much of an impression in the U.S.
Britpop and the Height of Fame (1994-1998)
Modern Life... turned out to be a dry run for Blur's breakthrough album, Parklife. Released in April 1994, Parklife entered the charts at number one and catapulted the band to stardom in Britain. The stylized new wave dance-pop single 'Girls and Boys' entered the charts at number five; the single managed to spend 15 weeks on the U.S. charts, peaking at number 52, but the album never cracked the charts. It was a completely different story in England, as Blur had a string of hit singles, including the ballad 'To the End' and the mod anthem 'Parklife,' which featured narration by Phil Daniels, the star of the film version of the Who's Quadrophenia.
At the height of the popularity, from l: Graham, Alex, Damon and Dave
With the success of Parklife, Blur opened the door for a flood of British indie guitar bands who dominated British pop culture in the mid-'90s. Oasis, Elastica, Pulp, the Boo Radleys, Supergrass, Gene, Echobelly, Menswear, Mansun, Radiohead, Suede and numerous other bands all benefited from the band's success. By the beginning of 1995, Parklife had gone triple platinum and the band had become superstars. The group spent the first half of 1995 recording their fourth album and playing various one-off concerts, including a sold-out stadium show.
Blur released 'Country House ', the first single from their new album, in August amidst to media attention because Albarn had the single's release moved up a week to compete with the release of 'Roll With It,' a new single from Blur's chief rivals, Oasis. The strategy backfired. Although Blur won the battle, with 'Country House' becoming the group's first number one single, they ultimately lost the war, as Oasis became Britain's biggest band with their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, completely overshadowing the follow-up to Parklife, The Great Escape. While The Great Escape entered the U.K. charts at number one and earned overwhelmingly positive reviews, it sold in smaller numbers, and by the beginning of 1996, Blur was seen as has-beens, especially since they once again failed to break the American market, where Oasis had been (at least partially) successful.
In the face of negative press and weak public support, Blur nearly broke up in early 1996, following a scuffle between chief artists Coxon and Albarn. Instead they decided to spend the entire year out of the spotlight. By the end of the year, Albarn was declaring that he was no longer interested in British music and was fascinated with American indie rock, a genre that Graham Coxon had been supporting for years. These influences sparked in Blur's self-titled fifth album, which was released in February of 1997 to very positive reviews, nearly rivaling with those of the Great Escape. However the band's reinvention didn't earn them initially warm reviews in U.K. - the album and the first single, 'Beetlebum' debuted at number one but quickly fell down the charts - as the group's mass audience didn't accept this incarnation. In U.S. the record received strong reviews and the album and its second single 'Song 2' became a moderate hit. The success in America eventually spread over in Britain and by the end of the year the album bounced back into the charts.
Post britpop (1999-present)
In 1999, Blur released 13, more mature album lyrically dominated by the end of Albarn's turbulent relationship with Justine Frischmann - Elastica frontwoman as well as former's battle with drug addiction. This album was the first record produced by William Orbit, not by longtime producer Stephen Street. In addition, a box set celebrating Blur's 10th anniversary was released later that year. The box set featured 22 singles and all accompanying b-sides.
The linup minus Coxon - from left: Dave, Damon and Alex
Exhausted by incessant recording and touring through the world, the band entered into a hiatus. Albarn said that as they didn't stop for nine years, they needed break. For a couple of years members of Blur engaged in a variety of side-projects around this time: Coxon made a number of solo albums, Alex James joined actor Keith Allen and artist Damien Hirst (who had both contributed their talents to the video for Blur's single, 'Country House' earlier) to form Fat Les, while Albarn contributed to Gorillaz and travelled to Mali on behalf of Oxfam, producing the fundraising album Mali Music.
Tensions between Coxon and the rest of the band escalated during recording sessions in 2002. Coxon was variously reported to have failed to attend recording sessions or to have been shut out of them. He was apparently unhappy at the choice of dance DJ Fatboy Slim as the sessions' producer. After several weeks of rumour and uncertainty, Coxon confirmed that he had been asked to leave the band for reasons connected with his 'attitude' at a time when he had given up a heavy alcohol habit. Since then Albarn had said that the door is always opened for Graham to return, but a possible project or a collaborative work of the full line-up is not very likely in the foreseeable future.
Albarn later told an interviewer that there had been a big struggle between himself and Coxon. The album resulting from the sessions, Think Tank, was released in May 2003 to mostly favourable reviews and was nominated for Best British Album at the 2004 Brit awards. Ex-Verve guitarist Simon Tong has been standing in place of Coxon on live dates. Ironicly, Coxon realigned with ex-Blur producer Stephen Street, to release his most successful and accessible solo album up to date Happiness In Magazines in middle 2004.
Blur are currently recording for a forthcoming release. Whether it will be an EP or a full-length album - it remains to be seen. There will be another Gorillaz album released before the Blur release. According to the band the next album will see grenlight in late 2005 or early 2006. Coxon is also preparing for another record with similar release dates like his former band. Considering the recent inactivity of the band and the diverse projects of Damon (working with Gorillaz), Dave (making computer cartoons) and Alex, the latter date - 2006, for a next studio project by Blur, is more probable.
Compilations & Live Albums
- 'She's So High' (1990) (#48)
- 'There's No Other Way' (1991) (#8)
- 'Bang' (1991) (#24)
- 'Popscene' (1992) (#32)
- 'For Tomorrow' (1993) (#28)
- 'Chemical World' (1993) (#28)
- 'Sunday Sunday' (1993) (#26)
- 'Girls & Boys' (1994) (#5)
- 'Parklife' (1994) (#10)
- 'End of a Century' (1994) ( #19)
- 'To the End' (1994) (#16)
- 'Country House' (1995) (#1)
- 'The Universal' (1995) (#5)
- 'Stereotypes' (1996) (#7)
- 'Charmless Man' (1996) (#5)
- 'Beetlebum' (1997) (#1)
- 'Song 2' (1997) (#2)
- 'On Your Own' (1997) (#5)
- 'M.O.R.' (1997) (#15)
- 'Tender' (1999) (#2)
- 'Coffee & TV' (1999) (#11)
- 'No Distance Left to Run' (1999) (#14)
- 'Music is My Radar' (2000) (#10)
- 'Out of Time' (2003) (#5)
- 'Crazy Beat' (2003) (#18)
- 'Good Song' (2003) (#22)
External links This biography is published under the GNU Licence