Ever since Blur got back together in 2009 after an extended hiatus, I’ve been bemoaning the fact that there just hasn’t been very much new material forthcoming. 2010’s Record Store Day release, “Fool’s Day” was a brilliant track that left me wanting more. In the almost 2 1/2 years since that release there have been rumors of an album being recorded, rumors of recording sessions suddenly being halted, and questionable comments by singer Damon Albarn about anyone in the band not named Graham Coxon (strange considering the circumstances of Coxon’s departure from Blur during the Think Tank sessions). Finally it became clear that 2012 would be the year of Blur – a full 9 years since the release of their last album and 15 years since they finally broke in the US by simplifying their lyrics to a guttural “WOO HOO” ushered forth in 1997’s hit single “Song 2”. The summer of 2012 has seen a brand new single, the comprehensive box set 21, and the celebratory live album, Parklive.
Make no mistake – these are all essential releases. If you purchased the albums the 1st time around, there is still much to love about the box set. There are essential B-Sides, rarities, and live tracks included (though if you purchased the 10 Year Anniversary Singles box set, hang on to your Sunday Sunday single – some of the Seymour tracks are missing from the 21 box). Parklive (recorded just 2 weeks ago, the same night of the closing ceremony of The Olympics) makes it clear that the most important UK guitar band of the last 20 years (well, 21 I suppose) was / is / was none other than Blur. Despite these wonderful things from a very special band, I felt some trepidation when listening to the newest single. Would Damon’s work with Gorillaz overpower the beauty of Blur? Would Graham’s post-punk explorations influence these tracks? Would Alex James bring the cheese? Fortunately, none of these fears were with merit – the latest 2 songs feature a single that is a modern-day classic and a b-side that keeps Blur’s tradition of very strong b-sides alive.
Changing ways we all communicate…(breaking down the tracks)
Under the Westway – First off, to understand the reference, you need to know what the Westway is. From the World Wide Web’s go to source for accurate information, Wikipedia – “The Westway is a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) long elevated dual carriageway section of the A40 route in west London running from Paddington to North Kensington”. This description should give you a hint that we are dealing with a song that is distinctly British, one that nods at Britpop-mania from the early to mid 90’s. The song begins with an echo drum pattern before mournful pianos and synths come into the mix. Damon’s vocals enter the song and one can only describe the performance as timeless. It recalls old favorites such as “To the End” and “The Universal” without being a straight re-write of either tune. The longing in Albarn’s voice comes with the benefit of experience, the perfectly timed aches betraying the passage of time. The song is overwhelming from an emotional standpoint – when the music fades and Damon sings “Hallelujah”, you just may be brushing away the tears of nostalgia. Key lyrics:
There were blue skies in my city today
Ev’rything was sinking
Said snow would come on Sunday
The old school was due and the traffic grew
Upon the Westway
Where I stood watching comets lonesome trails
Shining up above me the jet fuel it fell
Down to earth where the money always comes first
And the sirens sing
The Puritan – This is a playful track that recalls Think Tank era Blur with slight traces of Damon Albarn’s more successful post-Blur band, Gorillaz. If it isn’t quite as memorable as the title track, well that’s OK – it is the b-side. Electronic drum beat with a noisy assault of white noise and guitars towards the end of the track. Key lyrics:
So the puritan
On a Monday morning said
Happy sad melody
On an amazing pulse
This single comes highly recommended – if you have a spare $1.98 lying around go ahead and download it from Itunes, you won’t regret it. In the pantheon of amazing bands to come out of England, Blur had already solidified their place. In 2012 Damon (vox), Graham (guitar), Alex (bass), and Dave (drums) are reminding the world of their greatness.
Verdict: Waltzing on a Britpop vibe