Fame is the blur
They’re London-er than thou even though they’re mostly from Colchester and they’re hot as can be. Teen dreams.
By Emma Forrest
My interview in the park with chart topping new lad popsters, Blur, has degenerated into a gymnastics competition, initiated by singer Damon Albarn doing a messy backwards roll. Bassist, Alex James, does a cartwheel and I do two.
‘What else can you do, Damon,’ I ask. ‘I can jump very high in the air for a prolonged period of time’ says Damon, changeable accent switching from east end wideboy to public schoolboy.
‘Go on then’.
‘No,’ he huffs, ‘I can only do it if there are people standing in front of me adoring me.’
Friday night at the refurbished Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Damon Albarn is jumping very high in the air indeed.
Blur’s latest album, Parklife, shot straight to the top of the charts, leaving a trail of irony, Londophilia and hatred of America in its wake. Once indie losers, Blur are now genuine pop stars who get recognised when they go for an ironic night down the dogs.
Damon Albarn is reputed to be the prettiest man in pop, but on stage he looks like the village idiot. Still, the kids love him. When he jumps into the delirious audience they take not only the shirt off his back, but also his shoes (‘Don’t put them on. I’ve got a verruca.’
Why does it draw us in? It’s the first we’ve heard of real tunes for a long time. If you’re going to be derivative, it’s an interesting change to derive from The Kinks and Small Faces than grunge yet again. There’s also the theatricality, the fact we know Albarn doesn’t really speak like that: there is an air of rock opera about Blur’s performance.
Pop means Kylie, Take That, good looks with bad lyrics. With Blur’s huge success, pop music has regained credibility; good looks with good lyrics. They succeed because they’re not embarrassed to be pop.
‘Rock,’ snorts Damon, ‘is the easy option. You can write mediocre songs, mumble words, put a lot of attitude into it and be successful. But pop is so much more of an expose. If ‘Girls and Boys hadn’t had something to say and the sounds that we used hadn’t been thought through, it would have been embarrassing.
‘It’s to do with snobbery as well,’ pipes Alex. ‘People in bands tend to think their music is holy. There’s something about pop that’s very dirty and everyday, so there’s that dichotomy’.
Damon tells me that Robbie, of Take That, rang the night before from Rome to ask for a copy of the album. Blur were off to Prague that night to film their new video, having just visited nine countries in 12 days.
The viva England aspect of Blur’s songs is sometimes too contrived, sometimes disarmingly convincing. The show stopping last number ‘This Is A Low had even me weeping for an England which in real life I don’t feel like celebrating at all.
When guitarist Graham Coxon’s instrument needs tuning, Damon relishes the opportunity to show off on his Hammond and partake in some cheerful Cockernee banter. He’s an ex-drama student and he knows when he’s onto a good creation. He is a walking Martin Amis character. Amis’ London Fields is a huge influence on them and was the inspiration behind ‘London Loves.
‘We’re aspiring yobbos and aspiring thinkers’ muses Alex.
They couldn’t have picked a better time to be loutish smartasses: Loaded magazine has filled a gap in the market for ‘the man who could do anything if only he weren’t so hungovor’; Will Self is considered sexy and thanks to Nick Hornby, football is an intellectual pursuit.
Parklife is the perfect soundtrack. How on earth are they going to follow it? To start with, their next project is a big British film rather than an album. There are a lot of people who might be involved, although they can’t say who. ‘We want to make something that is a perfect ambassador for the whole malaise.’
Obviously, they are the only ones to do it. According to Blur, no other band really matters. Alex dismisses the New Wave Of New Wave brouhaha.
‘Have you ever seen a Japanese pop band? They pretend they’re from where pop bands come from and they look a bit silly. In the same sense, NWONW bands look like they come from 1978.’
Blur have no truck with movements. They’ve jumped off every bandwagon as soon as it got going. Baggy and shoegazing are dead, along with all the bands that went with them.
Once again, Blur are our great British hope. And how.
‘What other band since The Smiths has lasted so long and is available for comment and anyone’s even interested in,’ asks Damon, looking like he’ll hit me with a copy of All Mod Cons if I dare to answer.
‘We’ve never been afraid of blowing our own trumpets’ points out Alex, helpfully.
‘In fact, we’d rather blow our own trumpets than other peoples,’ nods Damon. ‘You get their spit if you do that.’
Then he flicks off my tape recorder and does a backwards roll.