With latest album ‘The Magic Whip’ firing the band back into the limelight, the dawn of Blur’s next phase is looming tantalisingly close. To get you in the mood, here are the stories behind 24 of the Britpop pioneers’ finest tracks to date
‘Beetlebum’ was infamously written about Damon Albarn’s dabblings with heroin. “That whole period of a lot of people’s lives was fairly muddied by heroin. It’s in that place. A lot of stuff was at that time,” admitted the singer.
‘Song 2’ – now arguably their biggest hit – was initially seen as a bit throwaway. “I remember having a really bad sweaty hangover that day. I’d been trying to think of a title for a TV show a friend was doing about Rock Wives. Then it came to me: ‘Hits and Mrs!’ So I thought that was my work for the day over. It sums up ‘Song 2’. We didn’t think about it at all,” said Alex James of the hit.
Inspired by Martin Amis’ novel London Fields, ‘Parklife’, Blur’s ode to the everyday characters on the street, almost didn’t feature comedian Phil Daniels’ inimitable verses. Albarn was initially meant to sing them himself, with Daniels appearing elsewhere on the 1994 album, but defaulted when he couldn’t get into character.
One of Blur’s finest ballads, the melancholy grandeur of ‘This Is A Low’ was actually inspired by a humble piece of paper. With Albarn at a loss for lyrical inspiration, he eventually found it on a piece of gift wrap decorated with regions of the Shipping Forecast. “It had all the shipping regions on it with fantastic names like Cromarty, Fisher, Dogger and Lundy,” says producer Stephen Street.
One of the few tracks unveiled since the band’s reunion, ‘Under The Westway’ was debuted at a War Child show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire in 2012. It picks up from the London landmark mentioned in 1993 single ‘For Tomorrow’ and was recorded in one take. “It’s the first Blur song where it’s been one take, because previously I never finished the lyrics before we recorded,” noted Albarn.
Blur’s debut single, 1990’s ‘She’s So High’ nodded heavily to the Stone Roses-led baggy movement that was topping the charts at the time, but Albarn insisted that the similarities were merely coincidental. “All the material we started off with a year ago is suddenly ‘in’ now,” he told NME at the time. “Like, ‘She’s So High’ is the first song we ever wrote and that hasn’t changed at all”.
While the bulk of ’13’ was rooted in Damon and Justine’s recent break-up, few of the tracks laid the emotions quite as bare as ‘No Distance Left To Run’. “It upsets me, that song. To sing that lyric, I really had to accept that that was the end of something in my life,” said Albarn. “It’s amazing when you do have the guts to do that with your work, because it don’t half help you.”
‘Charmless Man’ has a colourful history. Its protagonist is largely rumoured to be based on Frischmann’s former beau – Suede singer Brett Anderson. Damon later disowned the track, calling it the product of “a dark and confused time” after he started suffering from panic attacks, and lastly it led to the band being sent flowers by gangster Ronnie Kray for mentioning him in the lyric.
One of several character studies taken from ‘The Great Escape’ (alongside Dan Abnormal and the aforementioned charmless man), ‘Ernold Same’ is notable for its spoken word verses – intoned by none other than former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Livingstone was recruited after Stephen Street suggested a brief of “someone credible with a monotonous voice”.
Another obvious fall-out of the Frishmann break-up, ‘Tender’ and its heartbroken catharsis (“Come on, come on, come on/ Get through it”) left little to the imagination. “My music is a heartfelt thing now, rather than a head thing. Maybe that’s what the split with Justine was about. I’ve managed to find my music and still managed to keep my personality intact,” said the singer.
With the clash between Damon’s wry musings and Graham’s slacker bent reaching breaking point, things came to a point of resolution on 1997’s ‘Blur’. Albarn had ditched Britpop after a trip to Iceland and had come back on the same page as his bandmate. “We really tried on this record to make a balance,” he said. ‘You’re So Great’ is a track that couldn’t have existed on any previous Blur record.
While much of ‘The Great Escape’ dealt in cartoonish characters, ‘He Thought Of Cars’ stood separate as the only introverted hint at where the band would go next. With its dystopian lyrics about a future Western world in chaos, it hinted that it wasn’t just romps around the country house that were filling Damon’s mind.
And so to 2015 and the beginnings of the first Blur album in twelve years. ‘Go Out’ both sounds like classic Blur and a step forged ahead; it’s lyrics concern trips down to the local but with an undercurrent of capitalist, money-grabbing doom. With ‘The Magic Whip’ informed by the band’s Hong Kong recording sessions and Damon’s worldly travels, April 27 looks sure to be a very good day.