Which one’s your favourite?
Which is it? The Cher and tae kwon do enthusiast who’s found love? The boozy maths professor? Or the interplanetary explorer with a cheese problem? The death metal and vocoder one? Or the one about losing your girl “to the Rolling Stones”? Take your pick as Blur make their best ever album…
The first thing Damon Albarn does, springing into the photographer’s studio at 11.15 on a Friday morning dressed in dusty, baggy, bin-man chic, is turn the radio up. “This is a great song,’ he beams as Cher’s unavoidable 1998 chart-topper ‘Believe’ blares from the speakers.
“Kylie would kill for a song as cool as this,” he says, wiggling his shoulders in homage. “That little jacket on Top Of The Pops… So Eighties, so Top Shop old school… (wiggle) I fancy Cher now… (wiggle wiggle) And I’ve never fancied Cher!”
In a couple of hours’ time he’ll recite the chorus and get it slightly wrong. Except that, in a curious way, he gets it absolutely right. “Maybe that’s why I love the Cher song so much,” he will say. “‘Do you believe in love after love?”‘
For many years, Damon Albarn carried with him an aura of cocksure belligerence and ice-cold superiority, detectable even after he’d discovered Iceland, tae kwon do and not caring about being the best anymore. These days there’s nothing left of it. In its place is a warm, quietly confident, infectiously enthusiastic, 30-year-old man.
Damon Albarn said in l995: “I said in 1991 that by our third album we’d be the most important band in the country. And I’ll say now that, by 1999, we will be the most important band in the world, right? And also the moon. And maybe Mars.”
In December l998, Damon rocks back in his seat at a self he can barely remember.
“Heheheh! Well, Alex and Dave are getting involved with Mars exploration, so… it’s all working out.”
“I don’t even think like that anymore. My life’s become far more, em… down-to-earth. Dunno. It’s… it’s… interesting.”
It is now 1999 and Blur remain the most contrary, confounding and, well, interesting band in the land. The ones who invented Britpop by taking the piss out of England. Who killed it dead with a song about Heavy Metal which sounded like Nivarna. Who’ve never stood still; never grown ugly. Who’ve never been fully, unanimously loved by their country- a country which is practically defined by its suspicion of success. Especially when the success is reward for poncy, upstart, middle class rock arrogance.
Of course, they got their comeuppance. After the ‘Country House’/’Roll With It’ face-off made the News At Ten, after ‘Country House’ went to number one, The Great Escape sold ‘only’ two million copies. The laughter could be heard echoing all over the world. And The Great Escape was Blur at their most one-dimensional, a collection of superficial sneers at what guitarist Graham Coxon called “hideous caricatures”. So they gave up being England’s Blur, spiritually left the country they thought they’d been subverting in the first place, saved their souls via the experimental spook-rock of 1997’s Blur, and carried on.
Now they’ve made a new record. It’s the record of their lives. It’s about Damon Albarn’s broken heart. And it’s about hope.
Damon Albarn refuses to appear clean-shaven in photos (he says it makes him look “too young”). Stubbly, hair-on-end, blue eyes on full-beam sparkle, he still looks like a cherub. Sitting in a vast, stone-floored cafe-bar in Clerkenwell, east London, he’s ordering cafe latte and water, smoking cigarettes, grinning widely and apologising in his deep, slow voice for the look-mum-no-hands mobile phone earpiece affixed in one ear. He’s in the middle of co-writing a score for a film called Ravenous (directed by Antonia Bird, who cast him in London-set crime thriller Face) with British soundtrack eminence grise Michael Nyman, and Damon must be connectable at all times.
Nineteen ninety-eight was a low-key but not quiet year for Damon and Blur. ‘There was Glastonbury. Some remixes: Damon’s for San Franciscan beathead Cornelius (‘Star Fruits Surf Rider’), Blur’s for Massive Attack (‘Angel’). There was Damon and guitarist Graham Coxon’s dalliance with American psychedelicists Silver Apples at John Peel’s Meltdown festival at London’s South Bank. Oh, and there was the completion of their sixth LP.
This album was produced by the now Los Angeles-based British dance producer William Orbit, the man who turned Madonna techno on Ray Of Light. Rejected titles for the album included Blue and When You’re Walking Backwards To Hell, No One Can See You But God. It will now be called 13.
But, for a moment, you can put all that to one side. Blur have not made a dance record about God. They’ve made a dense, radical, futuristic rock and roll record about heaven and hell on Earth. And its first single, ‘Tender’, is a hand clapping, tambourine soul song featuring a 40-piece north London gospel choir. “Tender is the touch,” lilts Damon, “of someone that you love too much… Tender is my heart, for screwing up my life, Lord I need to find someone who can heal my mind… Come on, get through it… Love’s the greatest thing.”
Is love really ‘the greatest thing’?
“Well, I think that was a real… uh… plea from the heart. The duality of the song is probably why it works, the fact it’s very uplifting but it’s also very… sad.”
People would never have believed you could write a song about ‘faith’, not even a couple of years ago.
“I’ve had a lot of unravelling to do. Before I could start to really fulfil my potential. And us as a group. It can be a disadvantage to be really musical. It’s another English middle class thing, it’s difficult to be in touch with your emotions. You can have all the kind of sort of articulation that your education and your upbringing has ever given you, but unless you can tap into the other thing, it’s really pretty useless.”
William Orbit has a fabulous theory which argues that if mankimd had four fingers and counted in eights, we would have reached Mars 500 years ago. To this Alex James, Blur’s bass-playing bon voyour, parps a resounding “bollocks!” He adds that Orbit is a very delicate creature with a very scientific mind, a very smart chap, sensitive… and a genius.” Blur are the only rock band Orbit ever wanted to work with.
Blur ‘unanimously’ chose William as producer after his remix of ‘Movin’ On’ for Bustin’ + Dronin’, the Blurremix album made for the Japanese market. Thus the former member of Bass-O-Matic, electronic composer behind the Strange Cargo album series and friend of Madonna found himself at Blur’s Studio 13 in London last summer.
“There were certain days when I’d get home and I couldn’t even get upstairs,” Orbit remembers. “I’d be suffering from sheer emotional exhaustion from trying to carve out a musical consensus, from trying to harness all this talent.”
The record, then, is the sound of the band who once reinvented the past now inventing the future. Beyond the country blues gospel of ‘Tender’ there’s a berserk ‘Suffragette City’-style extended meltdown (‘Bug Man’); an enchanting acoustic caper (‘Coffee And TV’, lyrics written and sung by Graham); dreamscape distortion (‘Battle’, written alone on a tiny island in Indonesia where Damon felt, somehow, “Welsh”); death-metal ‘n’ vocoder bedlam (‘B I. U R E M I’); clangy keyboard chaos (‘Trailer Park’: “I’m a country boy, I got no soul/I lost my girl to the Rolling Stones”); scary, claustrophobic Nirvana (‘Trimm Trabb’: “All us losers on the piss again/I just dose away, that’s just the way it as… I sleep alone”); and the closing, simple, country lament, ‘No Distance Left To Run’, the most explicit love song Damon’s ever written. “It’s over,” he sings, “there’s no need to tell me/Hope you’re with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleep… When you see me, please turn your back and walk away/l don’t want to see you… ”
“You have to be very careful when you write very personal records,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of people just decide to be totally open and I think what they’re left with is a real confusion about who they are. Because they’ve got nothing to preserve for themselves. It can really fuck you up.”
In the last year, three members of Blur turned 30 (drummer Dave Rowntree is now 35). In date December 1988, Blur had their very first rehearsal. Thirty years old, ten years in rock ‘n’ roil, end of the decade, end of the century, millennium it’s enough to make anyone go all spiritual and post-ironic. Especiallly as Damon Albarn is a man whose conversation is full of philosophical proclamations like, “I just want to be as honest a human being as I can be. In the time that’s been allotted me on this planet.”
Certainly, over the years, he’s become more ‘open’, lost much of that archetypal British and classicallyDamon-esque trait; of defining yourself by that which you hate. Only 18 months ago, Damon told an American magazine that Oasis’s appropriation of the Beatles legacy was “the same thing as using a Buddhist symbol and then going and killing thousands of Jews”. Today he says that if he saw Liam in the street, “We’d go for a drink together. I’ve always liked Liam. Always.”
Although he and Noel have still never spoken, not once.
BLUR IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT #1
Producer Stephen Street called Graham Coxon, “the best guitarist I’ve worked with since Johnny Marr”. William Orbit goes further: “This man can really cry, he can really emote on a guitar more than anyone I’ve ever worked with. And he’s one of the most complicated people I’ve encountered.”
Graham Coxon sits in the Hog’s Head pub in Camden, north London. He sips at his noon coffee, great big eyes wandering through the bay window. The first thing he says is, “I don’t. really know what to do.” Then he admits that he doesn’t know what he means by this Then he talks about the artwork he’s doing for the album and its singles, paintings which are “stylistically confused, as I am”. Then he says he has to go to the loo, knocks himself around the head with his knuckles, goes through the door, strides round the block, and comes back in again.
“I just… need a coffee.”
As Blur’s pop-stardom gained momentum in the mid Nineties, so did Graham’s need for alcoholic oblivion. He was once photographed by a tabloid flailing in the gutter, cigarette still wedged in his mouth, having been run over by a taxi. He gave up booze for 16 months and, for the last two of that, cigarettes as well, until the end of 1997’s Blur tour. Now he’s back on both.
What did you replace the booze with?
“Shitloads of M&Ms. The nut ones. And worrying about putting on weight. Chocolate does the same thing to your happy centres. But you can’t have ten Mars Bars and be rolling around on the floor insulting people and shouting and crying for no reason. Which is a shame. Heheheheh.
“Anyway,” he announces, “we don’t do that anymore because we’ve found God with this record. This is the Higher Power album. Music is the Higher Power. Man.”
His ambition remains to make an ‘unlistenable’ record. His first attempt, last year’s solo album The Sky Is Too High, was merely rickety. It’s part of that nervous, shy, angry, complicated stuff for which he’s famed. ‘I used to faint a lot. Low blood pressure. Then you’re coming round you don’t know who or where you are for a few seconds. And there’s this sound, the electronic pulses in your brain or something. There’s a lot of echoed confusion and these really horribly pure tones. That’s the kind of music I mean. It must be similar to a massively bad trip. It’s… the music in my head, man.”
The sound, then, inside Graham Coxon’s is the sound of coming back from the dead. Or, if you like, the sound of life. What does 13 sound like the soundtrack to?
“The songs that are going through the boys head in Birdy. When he’s in the mental hospital. Cause there’s meant to be nothing going on in his head but imagery and abstract history.
What do you think of the Cher song?
What about it? I hate it! It’s the same as ‘Agadoo’!
Damon Albarn has never talked officially about his break up with Justine Frischmann. He doesn’t know how to, but he knows he’ll be expected to, so he’s trying. For the last couple of years, rumours centring on heroin, Justine and Elastica have escalated in inverse proportion to the amount of music they’ve produced.
In the past both Damon and Justine have talked in interviews about the necessarily ‘open’ nature of their relationship, but 13 months ago it had been downgraded still further to a ‘random relationship’. Since then’ alongside the rumours of narcotic excess, have come various stories regarding Damons ‘playing away’, not to mention Justine fraternising with her ex, Suede’s Brett Anderson, and even Loz from early Nineties indie makeweights Kingmaker.
“I was,” Damon says, “completely… shattered by it. And the album’s got everything to do with just the last two years of my life.”
people are saying, “Justine’s a heroin addict, no wonder he left her…” Or, “She’s messing around with Brett…”
“I know. I know,” Damon sighs. “I have to say that this record, hopefully, takes the positive and the negative side of that whole relationship and turns it ultimately into something… It was a very big thing for both of us. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to look back on it and go, ‘Well? Cheers, love.”
Blur’s new album is made up of the first songs in eight years Damon has written without .Justine’s influence. Through what he calls “degrees of separation” he’s found “totally my own voice”.
“I needed to write them to keep myself on the level,” he laughs.
Most of the Lyrics were written over the year Damon spent in a bedsit in Golbourne Road, a vaguely bohemian, Portuguese enclave in west London.
“It was horrible,” he’s says, addressing the table, on which he’s tapping a tea spoon over and over again. “It was absolutely hell. I felt… (tap tap) quite alone. Had a few of those misery-defining moments there. I was still holding on as strongly as I could. When you’re in love with somebody’ you’re in love with them, aren’t. you? It was just a very, very protracted and painful separation.”
Was anyone else involved?
(Immediately and very crossly)”No. Not really. No. I think it’s a very unfortunate time to have a deep love affair when you’re also going through the whole mill of becoming famous. It’s something you should do after you’ve sorted those things out.”
Do you still speak?
“A little bit. But it’s not really enough time to pretend that. there’s… But I’ve got… I’ve got…. a new thing going on in my life.”
A new thing?
(Beams, relieved) “A new thing. Generally. Definitely. ”
Music industry rumour has it that the new ‘thing’ is Shaznay from All Saints.
“No no! No. And it’s not a Spice Girl either. Nothing like that. I’ve met someone that I really like. Very very different. It’s been… an amazing thing for me. To get that positive feeling back. It happened after the record was basically written and finished but; I think the final tone of the record has something to do with that. Definitely. Which is why ultimately…”
It’s a celebration?
Because you never know what’s round the corner?
“Exactly. But don’t got too over-excited, ’cause you never know what’s round the corner. It just goes round and round, and raahnd and raahand and raahand…”
Later, he’ll make reference to “my girlfriend” and how she’s just come back from an adventure bearing baby panther claw-marks all over her arms. It reminds him of something. “Oh! And I’m training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!” He also talks of his new living arrangements, sharing a flat with comic artist Jamie Hewlett, someone he didn’t get on with in the past. “too much competition”. Now they’re great mates, and “both Aries monkeys”.
Two male fire signs. Sounds very blokey.
“Well, we’re both recovering romantics,” twinkles Damon, “and it’s been really great have loads of parties and have a laugh. I’m sure it has its own mythology already. We’ve had a lot of people round.”
“Damon’s place, whoooo,” cackles Alex, “large house, The Danger Zone, bachelor pad mayhem. We do all knock about together still. It’s good. Heheheh..”
Blur’s most self conscious album, The Great Escape, and its subsequent world tour, nearly split the band up. Such as Graham’s “embarrassment” at the pop lark, his unhappiness at playing what he calls “chirpy cheep cheep chirpy cheepy songs”, his unhappiness at his own creative redundancy, he became, says Damon, “a really profoundly ugly drunk.”
The relationship between the two deteriorated to the point where they communicated only via fractious letters. Alex made constant jokes purely to upset Graham, such as: “What’s 40 foot long with no pubes? The front row of a Blur gig.” ‘Theirs was a level of pop stardom where, says Dave, “we had our identities taken way. That’s how they used to fucking torture people in Vietnam!”
Returning home, Damon began work on what he felt, was likely to end up a solo career. “I accepted that my life as a pop person was coming to an end. He discovered Iceland, humility and the songs for Blur. ‘Song 2′, written in under four hours and aided by the bouncing-off-walls video, became their biggest selling single ever. By spring 1997 it was the most requested song on American MTV. Touring the Blur album round the world, now sober Graham thought of himself, for the very first time, as “a musician”. In Canada, they were asked over and over gain, “When did you guys grow balls?” Blur’s personal artistic regeneration chimed with Blur becoming the biggest commercial success of their lives.
They returned and embarked on personal projects. Damon collaborated with Michael Nyman for Twentieth Century Blues, the Red Hot Aids Trust’s Noel Coward tribute album although their track, ‘London Pride’, was dropped from the final LP’, Graham set up his Transcopic label and released his solo album. Dave explored computer animation. Alex became one third of Fat Les. Now there was rekindled friendship to match the creative rebirth. Says Dave: “The best thing about being in Blur now is giving ourselves the freedom to not just have to be in Blur. It’s as if everyone’s breathed out. We’ve all been hanging out a lot more than we ever did.”
BLUR IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT #2
“Suddenly,” beams Alex, “I looked at him at the MTV Awards and he had one arm round an All Saint, another arm round a Spicy, and his foot up Michael Stipe’s arse. And I thought, ‘Damon’s back.’ And it was great!”
Alex James is in the Groucho club in Soho, where he belongs, wrestling with the realities of “ten years in rock ‘n’roll, man…”, his place in the universe, and when would be the best; time to forget the coffee and get on with the business of Absinthe. Alex has been on an Absinthe bender for days. The other night he was carousing at some exceptionally swish do in Holland Park, where he became ‘mental’ enough to ask people out for fights. “We all act very excited about a new drink,” he guffaws.
We are upstairs in the club’s orange and green New Bar, sitting, under a beautiful copper mobile. “I always wanted to spend my twenties drunk and ridiculous,” he says as he slumps at a 45-degree slope on a sofa, “being an alcoholic idiot genius who lived in Soho. But it’s just not so elegant when you get older and start looking like a potato. Vanity’s my saving grace, definitely.”
What are you going to do instead?
“I thought about getting a trampoline.”
Today, Alex has been 30 for three weeks, owns no trampoline, still doesn’t look like a potato, and is Blurs self styled Renaissance man He is science guru, cheese buff, pioneering spirit, pilot, Fat Les person, all-round flight commander for the journey into oblivion, and the sort of person who opens up his bar tab and doesn’t give a hoot who uses it. “If Alex doesn’t end up looking like Keith Richards,” blinks Dave, bemused, “then he really does have a picture in his attic.” He lives in Covent Garden with his girlfriend Justine, watches The Learning Zone, makes Welsh rarebit in the middle of the night, and wore a ‘Quoasis’ T shirt on Top Of The Pops at the height of the ‘war’.
“I was unbearable around Parklife,” he says, sticking with the coffee. “Absolutely impossible to live with, definitely a git, unbearable, drunk, obnoxious, arrogant, greedy, selfish. It took us four, five years to get there, and suddenly, one night, four Brit awards, household name. Then when it escalated to News At Ten proportions was very easy to walk into a bar, get absolutely fucking rat-arsed, and still walk out with the prettiest girl. I’ll never be that ridiculous again.”
Is it true you once woke up being given a blow-job by a bloke?
“That’s true. At home. That was alright!’
Did you know him?
“Yeah. Still do. ”
Is that just… exuberance?
“Nothing to do with me, I just passed out!”
Alex is currently hoping, with Dave, to make a fund raising record for Collin Pillinger, Professor of Astronomy at The Open University. Professor Pillinger is trying to organise a Martian exploration with his ‘genius machine’ for bacteria detection. Alex and Dave were even interviewed for Newsnight on the subject. “Space is exactly like the sea was 6,000 years ago,” he marvels. “All we can do is make little tiny boats that float a bit. I feel ridiculous talking about going to Mars, but there’s nothing fucking better to do! It’s even better than getting drunk!”
How does this square with your participation in the Fat Les farce?
“Fat Les is just… funny,” he shrugs. “Its cheeky to deal with crass commercialism, and there’s all these good people in the videos – they’re potentially a Carry On team for the millennium. Obviously the records are shit. But you wouldn’t get Radiohead making a Christmas record, would you? If I want to make stupid records with a bunch of idiots from the Groucho then fuck off, I will. Absinthe?”
Has anyone ever punched you in the face just for being a member of Blur?
“Graham. America, 1992. I had two black eyes at. one point’ One from Dave and one from Graham. And :I once had a narrow shave at King’s College. This really annoying bloke kept on going, ‘Alex from Blur, Alex from Blur’. So I went, ‘Didn’t I shag your sister?’, and he went. absolutely fucking mental cause his sister had died. The year before. I felt really bad…”
BLUR IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT #3
Dave Rowntree, the man who wrote ‘Dave’ on his cheek at Blur’s record-breaking Brit Awards in homage to Prince’s ‘S1ave’, sits in a baroque-tiled Pizza Express in the West End. He is wearing his woolly blue jersey with the red ‘D’ on the front He is in tremendous spirits, scribbling addresses to be sent to MTV containing his latest technological endeavours: animated comedy characters in the form of an alien and a robot.
These days he’s a computer boffin, animator, pilot, husband, man on a mission “to make science sexy again”, the only man alive who orders a “quattro formaggi pizza with extra cheese”. Equate this excessive bent with intoxicants and it’s easy to see how Dave, in the old days, crammed ten years into the first three of his pop life, embarking on a slide towards oblivion involving booze and ecstasy which saw him dubbed The Meltiest Man In Pop. Five years of teetotal life later, he’s still “too scared” to drink. Even spliff terrifies him.
Dave Rowntree has a pathological fear of embarrassment. “Embarrassment,” he announces, “is the one emotion I can imagine topping myself to. I couldn’t be George Michael. No one gives a fuck about his sexuality. All there is embarrassment. Now to me that is hell. If I had the choice between being caught with my pants down in a park by a policeman or being caught mugging a homeless person for his Big Issue money, I’d go for the mugging any day. They could say I was an evil man. But I wouldn’t be embarrassed.”
Could you explain Britpop to your children?
“Oh yes! Madonna came down to the studio when we were recording with William and said, ‘Most Americans think the Spice Girls is Britpop’, and Damon said, ‘The Spice Girls probably are.’ And they are, aren’t they? They’re the only people who seem to have a made a career out of it.. And they weren’t even there.”
What do you think Blur’s album will be called?
“Mama We’re All Happy Now.”
BLUR IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT #4
Deep inside the magnificent converted church that is George Martin’s Air Studios in Hampstead, Damon and Michael Nyman sit in a back room on a sofa contemplating Damon’s betrainered foot wafting in the air.
Damon: “Size 11. ”
Michael: “Well that explains everything.”
Michael Nyman is a middle aged man in spectacles with the arch presence of the British luvvie. Also in the room is director Antonia Bird, a cheery woman given to liberal use of the word ‘bollocks’. Damon is helping out on the soundtrack for Bird’s new film, Ravenous, which stars Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce. Work for the film has gone on as long as Blur’s album, Damon only able to run them parallel because they’ve been “closely related, in a weird way”. The film concerns “cannibalism” and “the devil” and Native American Indians.
Today, Damon’s sister Jessica – three years younger, she sports exactly the same beguilding blue eyes and sharply ascending nose- is here, bringing three-year old Lola and eight-month-old Rudi to visit. Uncle Damon sweeps his niece and nephew out of the control room and into the vast, circular, golden-hued orchestra room. “Come on, let’s go and see the drums,” he says.
The composer and the director t.alk about Damon behind his back.
Michael: “Sometimes when you keep on doing [soundtracksl, you get fed up with it, so it’s wonderful to have Damon. He came with ideas about a four-piece Appalachian band with a banjo and an accordion, and loads of samples, a sampled dudulcimer, like a Morricollo score… And he doesn’t moan at all.”
Antonia: “I’ve never known anyone moan so little. He’s a really good-natured guy.”
For the rest of the afternoon Damon will sit hunched intensely over the mixing desk, instructing the engineer on “Latin, roomy qualities”, reverb and “holding-back tension techniques” in a world of diminished quavers he seems born to.
December 1998. Damon Albarn sits in The Japanese Canteen, Portobello Road, west London. Ten consecutive days and most nights at Air Studios have left him with his mind as askew as his hair, and today’s photo shoot for the new LP’s advertising campaign has been cancelled. Ravenous has now become “that bloody fucking film” and, two days ago, Damon was so exhausted that he started hallucinating.
“I got a bit stoned,” he shivers, “and Michael Nyman turned into the devil sitting in the corner writing his music watching the television with his glasses on… I’m just coming back from that now, that bloody church, all those spirits flying around… ”
Today, Damon’s very serious. He’s growing tired of questions. At one point he says, “So they’ve sent you out to get it out of me this time, heheheh. Well, you’re not going to get any further. It’s not a problem – but I know!” And he sucks the very DNA out of a succession of Japanese peapods.
We talk about the song ‘Caramel’, a psychedelic odyssey through a Pink Floydscape. He says it’s one of his favourites, “written in Iceland after a couple of days of being really hungover.”
And it’s a great big hippy anthem.
“Yeah. Some of this album sounds like Gong, sadly enough. 1 always liked Gong! I was brought up a hippy.”
All those ‘faces’ of Damon Albarn and you were a Seventies psychedelic sprite standing on top of a mountain all along.
“Yeah! I’ve always been like that. Always had that side. But it’s always been my more personal side. I was foolish enough to think you could separate the two.”
Indie sop, art-school fop, dreamboat pop boy, Mod, cad, Essex lad, football casual, Dick Van Dyke, intellectual, bohemian, artist, stool-bound rock strummer and metal mutha, and all the Stereotypes and Charmless Men of the Blur songbook have been, of course, the fragments of the complex soul of a single man called Damon Albarn. He has a house, a very big house in the country, you know. It’s in Devon.
From year-zero 1990, only Blur have survived intact (the Manic Street Preachers and The Charlatans have survived). Only Blur, the audacious bastards, could have the guile and the gifts, the enthusiasm and lack of cynicism to sound like a band who have just discovered sound. Who’ve yet to reach their peak. And who, in the first weeks of 1999, have their nomination for Band Of The Year (again) feel like a forgone conclusion.
Ten years in rock ‘n’ roll and all Damon claims to want is “to be a musical person”. And you believe him.
Why have you never written emotional words like this before?
“Because I was in a relationship.”
But you never even wrote about that relationship?
“Because I wanted to have some sort of…” Damon stops and starts again. “The whole year just forced me to sing about my feelings ’cause I had nothing left. Eight years with someone – when it finishes, it’s like a divorce. The whole of my twenties. That’s it. And when you realise you put all that effort into something and then neither of you are going to be able to enjoy the good side of it, which is your thirties, it’s just sad, really sad.”
He sweeps his hand to and fro across his forehead, head bowed. When he looks back up again, the sparkle in his eyes has been replaced by an even, matt-blue finish. They seem to be saying, “What the fuck do you think it was like for me?”
“For me,” he’s actually saying, “I feel like I’ve got a lot out of me with this record. So talking about it any further in that sense would just be being, greedy. I can’t really say anymore.”
“I cant.. ”
And the sometimes most emboldened speaker in popular culture shakes his head over and over again in silence, tugs at. the zip at his neck, and pulls his top right up to meet his nose.
And you thought the Blur/Oasis ‘war’ was traumatic..
“Yeah, kids stuff”