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Members include Damon Albarn (born c. 1968 in Colchester, England), vocals; Graham Coxon (born c. 1968 in Colchester, England; left band, 2002), guitar; Alex James (born c. 1969 in London, England), bass; Dave Rowntree (born c. 1964 in Colchester, England), drums. Addresses: Record company--Virgin Records, 338 N. Foothill Rd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Website--Blur Official Website: http://www.blur.co.uk.

Although initial critical and commercial acclaim befell the British pop band Blur in the early 1990s, it was not until the 1994 release of Parklife that the foursome reached Top 40 status in the United States, while simult aneously receiving near Beatle-like attention at home. The record accomplished three feats: it launched Blur's alternative-band-of-the-moment status in America with the single "Girls & Boys"; it heralded the comeback of "Britpop" on both sides o f the Atlantic; and it ignited a fierce rivalry between Blur and fellow English chart-toppers Oasis. The frenzied British music press focused on Blur in the wake of its international stardom, and their reportage stoked the sometimes-snide public rivalry b etween the two bands. Though Oasis eventually came out on top in terms of record sales, Blur has continued to grow with every album released, experimenting with different genres while maintaining a unique musical sound.

The sound of Blur often evokes comparisons with past English acts such as the Kinks and Madness. Like these predecessors, Blur combines wry lyrics with a slick pop-song construction, a formula that succeeded first in Britain and Europe, and later St ateside when the American music-buying public seemed ready to eschew the 1990s grunge aesthetic. Such music heralded the return of the clever, beat-driven tune, a trend seen by some industry-watchers as a revival of the 1960s British invasion (the Beatles , the Rolling Stones) or a resuscitation of the 1980s wave of U.K. invaders (Squeeze, the Smiths, Pet Shop Boys). Among those who saw the latter resemblance was Spin's Rob Sheffield, who asserted, "Blur cultivates that new -wave look and sound, evoking the halcyon days of yore when London produced weekly pop sensations the way today's American colleges produce Superchunk clones."

Blur's origins actually lie in the last minor wave of British bands that made a mark on the pop/alternative music scene, the brief 1989-90 eruption of the Manchester sound--also known as the "baggy" bands for the roomy sartorial ensembles favored by some. Blur formed in the wake of success enjoyed then by acts like the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and Charlatans U.K. Unlike members of the northern English bands, however, the three founders of Blur all hail from Colchester, a suburb of Lond on. The group--originally known as Seymour--officially coalesced when Damon Albarn met Graham Coxon and Dave Rowntree in art school in London. Alex James, a native of London, was recruited when they needed a bass player. The band was signed to F ood Records in 1990 after playing only a few gigs. The Food label, backed by industry giant EMI, was run by Dave Balfe of the influential early 1980s band Teardrop Explodes.

Debut Single Rose "High"

Food released the band's first single in 1990. "She's So High" reached number two on the British independent charts, and the subsequent album, Leisure--"with its moody batch of English-psychedelic but beat -heavy pop," as Rob O'Connor of Rolling Stone characterized it--reached number seven on the British charts the day it was released.

Yet Leisure made little impact on the American record-buying public, selling only around 100,000 copies, probably because its Stateside release on SBK (another imprint of EMI) in 1991 coincided with the explosion of grunge . Suddenly, slick English pop bands were out of style, and American rock veteran Neil Young was being deified. Blur later admitted that there had been problems with their American management team, who didn't seem to know how to market the band. "Whe n you're dealing with people who don't understand you and don't like your music, it gets to be a bit frustrating," Albarn explained to David Sprague in Rolling Stone in 1995. "From the first time we got off the plane in America, we knew that was the case."

Still, Blur remained content with success in England, putting out Modern Life Is Rubbish in 1992, a record with a slightly revamped sound that made a break from the laconic, jangly Manchester-style mood. The band, as Rolling Stone's Steven Daly explained, "doffed their baggy apparel to reveal ... a penchant for well-scrubbed, melodic guitar pop." Unfortunately, Modern Life Is Rubbish fared less well when released in the United States in 1993, selling only 33,000 copies. Acts like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden were the big sellers that year, and Blur just didn't comprehend the appeal of grunge. "The last three or four years of American music has come fr om Prozac culture," Albarn said in Rolling Stone. "If you tell a whole nation it's dysfunctional, it becomes dysfunctional."

A Big Hit in the United States

However, by the time their third album, Parklife, was released in the summer of 1994 in the States--after selling nearly a million copies in the U.K.--alternative music fans were ready for a change. Launched with the catchy single "Girls & Boys"--described by Billboard writers Craig Rosen and Dominic Pride as "a pastiche of mindless Eurodisco"--it also boasted a production job by Stephen Street, who had made a name for him self doing the boardwork for Morrissey. Much of Parklife was written after Albarn read British novelist Martin Amis's apocalyptic vision of future England, London Fields.

Parklife surpassed sales expectations in the United States. "Girls & Boys" reached number four on Billboard's Modern Rock chart and helped make the album--and Blur--a hit in t he U.S. "The album comes over like some hopped-up pop opera, a potent collection of dance-floor stompers and sweeping ballads that sparkle with knowing winks at English pop stylists from the Small Faces to Wire to Madness," remarked Daly in Rolling Stone. A reliance on verbosity in Blur's lyrics also seemed to be characteristic. "We're the sort of band that likes to have a bit of a chinny-wag about what our songs are about," Albarn explained to Sprague in Rolling Stone. "That comes from an art-school tradition where you're trained to talk endlessly about why you got up this morning."

The year 1995 was an especially heady one for Blur. In February they became the first act to win four Brit Awards, the British equivalent of the Grammy. In June they switched their American label from SBK to Virgin, a company better equipped to mark et the band's accessibly alternative sound. By this time, the British tabloids were chronicling every move of the band, and especially that of doe-eyed lead singer Albarn. In addition, much was made of the animosity between Blur and Oasis--a ri valry that had reached a frenzied pitch by year's end. New York Times contributor Simon Reynolds attempted to shed some light on the situation: "Underlying the bad blood is class and regional antagonisms. Blur is from the south of England and middle class, yet its members are infatuated with London proletarian lifestyles. Oasis, in contrast, is from the northern city of Manchester, and its members are the genuine working-class article. What both bands have in common is a d edication to resurrecting the lost glory of quintessentially English pop."

Competed for Top of the Pop Charts

The competition for chart position between Blur and Oasis escalated when Blur released The Great Escape in September of 1995, right around the time when Oasis was also launching new material. It was Blur's first sing le, "Country House"--not the new release from Oasis--that debuted at number one on the charts there. The entire album was released in the U.S. shortly thereafter. "The Great Escape somehow manages to be both experiment al and dated, favoring the densely detailed arrangements and quirky production effects of groups like XTC and Squeeze," assessed Reynolds. Sprague, writing in Rolling Stone, also saw The Great Escape's appeal. "Aside from the odd lapse into Cockney slang, the thematically seamless LP could speak to anyone left deadened by the bleakness of suburbia on either side of the Atlantic," the critic declared.

The Great Escape was praised by critics, and Blur's profile was raised on both sides of the Atlantic. However, even though the first single off the album, "Country House," entered the charts ahead of a single release d by Oasis at the same time, Oasis ultimately went on to win over the elusive American audience with their mega-popular 1996 release, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? Blur took a year off following the relatively disappoi nting sales of The Great Escape.

Instead of breaking up, Blur used their year off to re-evaluate their approach to music, ultimately deciding to take a cue from American indie rock and employ a lo-fi, guitar-driven style of songwriting. This time, their success was reversed--t heir fifth album (self-titled Blur) was more popular in the United States than their previous albums had been, but the British public gave it a cool reception. Frustrated, the band returned to the studio with yet another approac h in mind.

Experimented with Electronica

The group's next album, the electronica-tinged 13, produced by William Orbit (the man behind Madonna's foray into electronica, Ray of Light) and released in 1999, was met with a lukew arm reception. Some criticized the band for leaving their guitar-heavy style of the past for the machine-made beats of 13, noting that the golden age of electronica had already come and gone.

Guitarist and founding member Graham Coxon was unceremoniously asked to leave the band in 2002. Coxon, though upset, immediately moved on with his burgeoning solo career. "I felt disappointed about the way the other guys in Blur went about getting r id of me," Coxon confessed to Europe Intelligence Wire reporter Pete Clark. Still, he added, "I don't miss being in Blur. I certainly don't have any regrets about being in the group, but I don't miss it." Coxon continued the solo career he began with his 1998 debut Sky Is Too High. He released Golden D in 2000, but his greatest success was his first post-Blur release, 2002's The Kiss of Morning.

Blur soldiered on without Coxon. Their 2003 release Think Tank was a step further into the electronic realm. People reviewer Kyle Smith commented: "[Blur] has abandoned zingy pop (it never caught on in the U.S. anyway) and moved on to an icy Euro-electronica like a teenager trading his comic books for Jean-Paul Sartre." Underlying the electronic pulse, though, Smith identified "an understated, atmospheric prettiness that at times recalls the achi ng beauty of the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian," that set the band apart from other would-be electronic bands. Time International music reviewer Hugh Porter simply declared it Blur's "most mature and accomplished album to date--with or without [Coxon]."

by Carol Brennan

Blur's Career

Group formed in London, England, c. 1990; originally named Seymour; signed with Food Records, 1990; released first single, "She's So High/I Know," 1990; released first album, Leisure, 1991; signed with V irgin Records, 1994; released The Great Escape, 1995; released Blur, 1997; released 13, 1999; Coxon left group, 2002; released Think Tank, 2003.

Blur's Awards

BRIT Awards, Best British Group, Best British Album for Parklife, Best British Video, Best British Single, 1995; NME Premier Awards, Best Band, Best Single for "Tender," Bes t Video for "Coffee and TV," 2000; Q Magazine Awards, Best Album for Think Tank, 2003.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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