Blur – In Concert from London – 1997 – BBC 6 Music –
Blur to start the week – in concert at London Astoria and Brixton Academy – 1997 and broadcast by BBC Radio 1, and just recently at 6 Music on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of their self-titled 5th album.
An early 1996 Q magazine interview revealed that relations between Blur members had become very strained; journalist Adrian Deevoy wrote that he found them “on the verge of a nervous breakup”. Coxon, in particular, began to resent his bandmates: James for his playboy lifestyle, and Albarn for his control over Blur’s musical direction and public image. The guitarist struggled with drinking problems and, in a rejection of the group’s Britpop aesthetic, made a point of listening to noisy American alternative rock bands such as Pavement. In February 1996, when Coxon and James were absent for a lip-synced Blur performance broadcast on Italian television, they were replaced by a cardboard cutout and a roadie, respectively. Blur biographer Stuart Maconie later wrote that, at the time, “Blur were sewn together very awkwardly”.
Although he had previously dismissed it, Albarn grew to appreciate Coxon’s tastes in lo-fi and underground music, and recognized the need to significantly change Blur’s musical direction once again. “I can sit at my piano and write brilliant observational pop songs all day long but you’ve got to move on”, he said. He subsequently approached Street, and argued for a more stripped-down sound on the band’s next record. Coxon, recognizing his own personal need to—as Rowntree put it—”work this band”, wrote a letter to Albarn, describing his desire for their music “to scare people again”. After initial sessions in London, the band left to record the rest of the album in Iceland, away from the Britpop scene.
The result was Blur, the band’s fifth studio album, released in February 1997. Although the music press predicted that the lo-fi sonic experimentation would alienate Blur’s teenage girl fan-base, they generally applauded the effort. Pointing out lyrics such as “Look inside America/She’s alright”, and noting Albarn’s “obligatory nod to Beck, and promotion of the new Pavement album as if paid to do so”, reviewers felt the band had come to accept American values during this time—an about-face of their attitude during the Britpop years. Despite cries of “commercial suicide”, the album and its first single, “Beetlebum”, debuted at number one in the UK. Although the album could not match the sales of its predecessors in Britain, internationally Blur was more successful. In the US, the album received strong reviews, reached number 61 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold. The album’s “Song 2″ single was also popular on alternative radio, reaching number six on the Billboard Modern Rock chart and remaining on that chart for 26 weeks. After it was licensed for use in various media—such as soundtracks, advertisements and television shows—”Song 2” became the most recognizable Blur song in the US. After the success of Blur, the band embarked on a nine-month world tour.
Here’s a reminder of at least the start of the 1997 tour.
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