Blur's riveting new documentary spans the globe, and delves deeper into the band than ever before
From neon alienation on the other side of the world to the ultimate communion on their home turf of Hyde Park, Sam Wrench’s documentary-cum-live film on the story of Blur’s ‘The Magic Whip’ helps complete the project’s grand global cycle. Originating in a few days off in Hong Kong after a Japanese festival date was cancelled, their eighth album (and first in twelve years) had an almost Dickensian back-story, abandoned half-finished at its original conception and later nurtured to robust, celebrated health by a secret benefactor by the name of Coxon. It emerged as a dazzling vision of Far Eastern dislocation; stark, claustrophobic and lost in an alien cityscape of imposing towers and downtown deserts.
It’s here that Wrench weaves his film into the work. Tracing the band’s steps through Hong Kong and dropping in grainy footage from the sessions themselves, filmed by bassist Alex James and the band’s tour manager, he places the viewer inside this unearthly concept of an album. We watch the band’s studio egos dissolving as they take the underground to the tiny Avon Studios and chastise each other for – almost – accidentally writing old Oasis songs; the barriers to recording a Big Comeback Record in an expensive London studio suddenly removed for a few short days in China. There’s a real sense of the fragility of the band too: when Graham discusses his concerns about presenting his underhand work in finishing the record with Stephen Street to Damon, there’s a tangible sense that it could have shattered, rather than re-fused, their creative relationship – it’s warming to hear Damon Albarn expressing such heartfelt gratitude to him. All four members speak about Blur like biologists discussing a rare species of butterfly on the verge of extinction; protective of its unique beauty but aware that it could be destroyed forever by one clumsy stumble.
The live footage filmed at this summer’s incredible Hyde Park gig, however, shows a band stoutly reunified and at the top of their game. Rejuvenated by new songs like hazy beach stoner anthem ‘Ong Ong’, they bound and billow through ‘This Is A Low’, ‘Parklife’ and ‘The Universal’ with a renewed vigour, resoundingly making amends for the devastating sound issues at their 2012 show in the same venue. And Wrench’s access extends to the dressing room, where he captures an entrancing unplugged rendition of ‘Out Of Time’, Dave Rowntree tapping out the beat on the coffee table and Damon strumming in the faces of roadies coming to raid the beer fridge. Ironically – sparking off their friendship and music once more – they look like a band with all the time in the world.
Stars: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree
Director: Sam Wrench