You didn’t just expect them to sound the same, did you? After 12 years of confounding expectation (from 1991’s ‘Leisure’ to 2003’s ‘Think Tank’) and a further twelve years of silence on the release front (save for the odd standalone single) the announcement of forthcoming LP ‘The Magic Whip’ – due for release on April 27 – dangled a tantalising question mark over the sonic future of Blur.
Constantly turning things on their head and casually doing a 180, the quartet spent their entire career establishing themselves as the Beatles of their generation – a band that evolved and progressed, that actively sought out and embraced new influence and that weren’t afraid to stick to what they believed in the face of adversity (seminal ’93 LP ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ – the album that essentially started Britpop – initially received the thumbs down from their label).
‘Go Out’, the first taste of Blur2k15, hinted that the band still weren’t content to play it by numbers. All lo-fi production and wonky beats, it was recognisably Blur but still a little different. ‘There Are Too Many Of Us’, however, is where they fully show us what they were up to in Hong Kong.
To state the glaringly obvious, it sounds nothing like any other Blur song to date. Keeping time to a military beat, it begins as a stark, oppressive affair dominated by Dave Rowntree’s clipped drumming and some jagged, icy string samples. In the accompanying video, shot in a nondescript practice room, Damon stands entirely still, hands behind his back and head to the ceiling like a foot soldier, lamenting what he sees around him. For the first 1 minute 48, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Graham and Alex weren’t even playing.
Then it kicks in – rumbling ominous bassline; treated vocal harmonies; what sounds like a theremin. Damon marches on as the band swells behind him. “There are too many of us/ In tiny houses here and there/ All looking through the windows/ On everything we share”. Graham’s solo express warmth and sadness as only Graham Coxon knows how, leading the rest of the band into a climax that aches with an underlying fear but still flickers with futuristic, electronic twinkles – an audible nod to the technologically advanced city it was birthed in. “There are too many of us/ It’s plain to see/ All living in tiny houses of our own mortality”. It bows out and ends on the same military beats and string stabs it began with; a bleak bookend to the human observations in its middle.
‘There Are Too Many Of Us’ comes good on everything the band have been revealing about ‘The Magic Whip’ – the influence of Asia, Damon’s observational lyrics, the fact that it’s – y’know – really bloody great and worth releasing. And yeah, it sounds nothing like ‘Country House’ or ‘Tender’ or ‘Caramel’ or ‘Sing’, but then ‘Country House’ and ‘Tender’ and ‘Caramel’ and ‘Sing’ sound nothing like each other – and isn’t it the most Blur thing possible to sound nothing like Blur last sounded?