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Entry updated 29 April 2024. Tagged: Music.

UK indie band formed in 1989 by Damon Albarn (1968-    ), Graham Coxon (1969-    ), Alex James (1968-    ) and Dave Rowntree (1964-    ). Their first album, Leisure (1991), was an echo of dying genres from the Eighties but their next three albums would come to define the Britpop movement of the 1990s. Lyrically, singer Albarn was primarily known during this period as a social satirist (see Satire). However, Cosmology, Dystopias and an ambiguous yearning for the future are all also recurring themes in his lyrics. This is reflected in the very title of second album Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), which makes its palpable dissatisfaction with contemporary society even clearer with the closing refrain of the opening track, "For Tomorrow": "Modern life, well, it's rubbish / I'm, holding on for tomorrow". But the impending millennium was not seen as opportunity on either Parklife (1994) – "End of a century / Oh, it's nothing special" ("End of a Century") – or The Great Escape (1995) – "This is the next century / Where the universal's free / You can find it anywhere / Yes, the future has been sold" ("The Universal"). (The video for the latter also appropriates the imagery of A Clockwork Orange [1971].) It is on "He Thought of Cars" that Albarn best expresses his conflicted feelings about the future whilst taking in J G Ballard and UFOs: "The motorways will all merge soon / Lottery winner buys the moon / They've come to save us / The space invaders are here." Parklife also featured "Far Out", a rare song from bassist James which is a nursery-rhyme compendium of stars in the night sky (see Astronomy).

The Great Escape was the last of the Britpop trilogy of albums and Blur changed musical direction for their eponymous fifth album Blur (1997). Inspired by guitarist Coxon, they adopted a harder, more American sound and this change was reflected by Albarn in lyrics that were both more personal and more opaque. This trend continued with 13 (1999). Creative tension had always existed in the band but was now equalled by personal tension, with Coxon only playing on one song of their final album Think Tank (2003), and the band splitting afterwards. During this period, only the David Bowie-inspired, Star Wars-referencing "Strange News From Another Star" from Blur is of science-fictional interest. Albarn went on to pursue several other musical projects including the Fantasy band Gorillaz and an opera about John Dee.

The original line-up has reformed sporadically since 2008 but the only new material has been a double A-side single, "The Puritan / Under The Westway" in 2012. In tone and content, "Under The Westway" – anchored on the talismanic West London dual carriageway – harks back to "He Thought of Cars" and has something of the spirit of "The Machine Stops" (November 1909 The Oxford and Cambridge Review) by E M Forster. It makes a fitting end to their career. [ML]

see also: Communications; Music; Optimism and Pessimism.


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