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Blur - 'The Narcissist' Single Review

They say (well, Oscar Wilde said, but whatever) “there is only one worse thing than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. For nearly a decade, Colchester’s most famous export, blur firmly fell into the former of the two camps, and fans of guitar music generally had an opinion on them one way or the other. I’ll set my stall out and say that I was very much a fan; I fell in love with their songs when I was 14, and that sparked a passion for music which has always remained. I’ve seen them more than any other band and, to be frank I’ve been obsessed with any side or solo project that Graham Coxon or Damon Albarn have been involved with. I’ve noticed that I’m getting older now though, and not as many people talk about them as they used to. Some people have an opinion, some don’t and inconceivably, some people have actually never heard of them.

Over the next few months, blur play a series of shows including massive sell out gigs at Wembley Stadium, and now, out of the blue they have dropped a new single and announced a full album, the band’s first since 2015’s “The Magic Whip”. 2015’s effort was a bit of a strange one. Again, it was a bit of a shock, so much so that even the lead singer was surprised. The seedlings of an album were planted and then recorded by the band some years previously, but ditched part way through; however, guitarist, Graham Coxon took them away and created a complete album. It was OK. I listened to it a few times, enjoying the fact that there was new music from a band I loved, but I don’t think I’ve ever really revisited it since.

So it was with some trepidation that I pressed the little white triangle, to hear ‘The Narcissist’ for the first time, this morning. It is perhaps befitting of these mid 50s men, that there is none of the youthful vigour about the song that there might have been (oh my God) thirty years ago. Damon Albarn’s solo work has been quite melancholic, and there is definitely an element of that in this return to the studio. But there is more. There is a drive that I always felt was missing from Albarn’s ‘Everyday Robots’, a ticking metronome of a relentless rhythm, a feel that this is really going somewhere. The song never erupts, but it certainly bursts from the cloud into the sunlight, and for a second I feel young again. This is a band that, despite my love for their side projects, is greater than the sum of its parts.

The lyrics are uncharacteristically autobiographical for Albarn and not particularly oblique in places; there is a fair whack of critical self-analysis and even a dash of humility, which it’s fair to say Damon has rarely been accused of until now. He sings of the early days of touring documented in Matthew Longfellow’s 1993 documentary on blur, ‘Starshaped’, struggles with drugs, coping with fame and the tricks it plays on the mind.

All this is very lovely, but I have to wonder about what the band is now. I fell in love with young art band upstarts, their energy, their foolishness and sweat soaked gigs. But we all get older. In 2009 blur released their compilation ‘Midlife’, as ¾ of the band reached their 40s. I don’t know if 'The Magic Whip' was some kind of midlife crisis, albeit a pleasant enough one, but it finally feels like blur are getting ready to step into their new role as the elder statesmen of British guitar music.

Review - Jon Stokes


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