Brainstorm: From Charmless Men to Beetlebums: The Story of Blur’s Transition


Perhaps British guitar bands were unsuspecting of the evocative and spellbinding alternative music coming out of America in the mid-90s. There hadn’t been such nescience in Britain when Nirvana — and especially Pixies — grabbed Britain’s adolescents by the balls. We got the likes of Radiohead and Blur out of it, after all.

If any British band is virtually responsible for sieving the stagnation out of indie music in the country, examine Blur’s venturesome fifth album as the conscious moment of willful evolution.

Now, 20 years on, a sea of music fans are forever grateful that guitarist Graham Coxon threatened to quit the band, amid his resentment towards fellow band mates, in exchange for heading creative control. With the band in a “mid-pop-life crisis”, all four members eventually agreed to join forces for a next generation Blur that would exude an experimental texture that lacked in their previous efforts.

They disillusioned themselves from the Britpop tag and vivified their listening interests so they were focusing on bands that were creating significant jolts in the alternative rock market over the Atlantic Ocean. For Coxon, it was delving into the chasm of college rock — from bands who were on smaller labels doing things with production and guitar tones that the Blur guitarist was oblivious to until he tuned into the likes of Pavement and explored the underground from state to state.

Maybe Coxon not only just peered at America’s startling alternative rock scene but saw R.E.M.’s shift from Automatic for the People to Monster three years prior — with the simple introduction of a beefy distortion pedal and tremolo — as a revolutionary transference.

Blur in 2009

Blur in 2009

The eclecticism of Blur’s eponymous album could be compared to Wowee Zowee by Pavement, an album Coxon admired when reinvigorating and shaping Blur’s musical landscape. The angular guitar work of Stephen Malkmus and the intentionally fame destructing sound that Pavement adopted after Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was enough for Blur to progress from playing to teenage girls screaming in the front row at concerts to a mature alternative rock audience.

But from mocking grunge on their massive hit ‘Song 2’ to channeling Beck on ‘Country Sad Ballad Man’, Blur’s self-titled album ranks high in the estimations of each band member. It was a sound Blur embraced and furthered on their next album, 13.

Coxon was effectively responsible for Blur’s sonic renovation and had his counterpart Damon Albarn not become accustomed to Coxon’s new engrossment, Blur would have potentially split up. Maybe the Gorillaz would not have been a thing if the album was never made.

Making the eponymous album title was a foundational concept five albums into their career. It was an idea sounding as if the band were musically stripping it back to the fundamentals, when, for a matter of fact, they were making music that was scaring people again.

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