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Five days that were a bit of a Blur

Blur are back with an unplanned album – their first as a quartet since the 1990s

Hazel Sheffield | May/June 2015

What does it take to get a great band back in the studio after a long gap? A cancelled gig in Hong Kong. With five days to kill, Blur crammed into a sweaty studio and started making an album as a quartet for the first time since the 1990s. “It felt like the best thing we had ever done,” said Alex James, the bass player and cheesemaker. “Then nothing happened for 18 months. I thought, oh no, here we go again.”

Graham Coxon, the guitarist kicked out when Blur were making “Think Tank”, had the same fear, so he took the tapes to Stephen Street, their producer. By the time Damon Albarn heard them again, he had to go back to Hong Kong to work out what the songs were about. At first, the listener may sympathise. “The Magic Whip” is a fever dream of references to China (“My Terracotta Heart”) and North Korea (“Pyongyang”), not to mention xylophone riffs on black notes (“Thought I Was a Spaceman”).

It’s good to have Coxon at the helm. His light touch makes the woo-woos and whistling sound wistful, rather than blasé, on “Lonesome Street”. “New World Towers” is a trip through Albarn’s visions of neon greens, flashing lights and reflective surfaces at strolling pace, while “I Broadcast” is built out of staccato strings and Coxon’s beloved distortion. There are some clangers towards the end but given that Blur never planned it in the first place, the fans should be happy. ~ Hazel sheffield
The Magic Whip Parlophone, April 27th (Europe) or 28th (North America). Blur play Hyde Park, London, June 20th

 

ROCK AT A GLANCE

U2 (touring N. America, May 14th to July 31st; Europe, Sept 4th to Nov 15th). Their last tour was the most lucrative ever, racking up $736m; but then they forced a poor album on every iTunes user and irritated millions.

Mumford & Sons (album, May 4th). After making it in America as comfy folkies, they’ve gone electric. As the civil servant said to the minister: brave.

Muse (album, June 8th). Bands tackling the state of the world are hard to find in 2015. Devon’s finest rectify this with “Drones”, a concept album arguing that drones “enable psychopathic behaviour with no recourse”.

Glastonbury (Somerset, June 26th-28th). It’s the world’s No.1 rock festival, but its Saturday headliner, who should be its strongest card, could be one of the weakest: it’s Kanye West, who seldom lets a gig go by without a tedious rant. Still, Foo Fighters and Lionel Richie should be fun. ~ TIM DE LISLE

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