Brit­pop’s Blur re­turn with in­spi­ra­tion from Asia

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE - BY SHAUN TAN­DON

The epit­ome of the Bri­tish sound two decades ago, Blur has made an un­ex­pected re­turn not with new takes on Eng­land but with in­spi­ra­tion from Asia.

Blur — who, along with arch­en­e­mies Oa­sis, formed the vanguard of the 1990s Brit­pop scene — on Mon­day re­leases its first al­bum in 12 years, “The Magic Whip,” writ­ten pri­mar­ily in Hong Kong.

Blur — who rec­on­ciled with es­tranged gui­tarist Gra­ham Coxon — stays true to its gui­tar-rock base but of­fers a 21st-cen­tury up­date with elec­tro touches and fu­tur­is­tic el­e­ments on songs such as “Thought I Was a Space­man.”

The al­bum came about af­ter the band re­united for shows — in­clud­ing the closing cer­e­mony to Lon­don Olympics in 2012 and the Coachella fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia a year later — but found it­self stranded in Hong Kong when a fes­ti­val fell through in Ja­pan.

The band be­gan to write to­gether, with lead vo­cal­ist Da­mon Al­barn soak­ing up the im­agery of the for­merly Bri­tish fi­nan­cial hub.

“New World Tow­ers” of­fers al­most a stream-of-con­scious­ness form of Brit­pop as Al­barn, look­ing at the sky­scraper in cen­tral Hong Kong, sings to a steady rock back­drop, “Green, green, the neon green / New World Tow­ers / Carved out of gray white skies.”

At a press con­fer­ence about the al­bum at a Chi­nese restau­rant in Lon­don, Al­barn said he felt “a strong emo­tional con­nec­tion to China” and wrote of his daily im­pres­sions of Hong Kong.

“Ev­ery­thing was re­lated to be­ing on this quite claus­tro­pho­bic is­land with mil­lions and mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple,” Al­barn said.

Brit­pop Take on North Korea

The al­bum also touches on cur­rent events. “There Are Too Many of Us” re­turns to the theme of claus­tro­pho­bia but is fo­cused on Syd­ney, which Al­barn vis­ited dur­ing last year’s hostage stand­off at a choco­late cafe.

Al­barn also wrote about a per­sonal trip to North Korea — a po­ten­tially risky artis­tic de­ci­sion af­ter Kim Jong Un’s regime was ac­cused of at­tack­ing Sony Pic­tures for its un­flat­ter­ing de­pic­tion in the movie “The In­ter­view.”

But the song “Py­ongyang” is less car­toon­ish than the movie. Al­barn sings that “the pink light that bathes the great lead­ers is fad­ing.”

“Out here it’s turn­ing blue / The sil­ver rock­ets com­ing / And the cherry trees of Py­ongyang / But I’m leav­ing,” he sings.

Blur brings Asian im­agery even to more typ­i­cal pop mat­ters.

“My Ter­ra­cotta Heart” brings the metaphor of earthen clay to a song about re­la­tion­ships and loss, as Al­barn sings, “When we fly to­mor­row over the Java seas / My younger man will be there with me.”

Al­barn drew a par­al­lel be­tween “The Magic Whip” and David Bowie who moved to Ber­lin in the 1970s.

But whereas Bowie’s Ber­lin Tril­ogy of al­bums showed the glam rock leg­end’s pull to elec­tronic- in­fused Krautrock, Blur’s Hong Kong in­flu­ences are much less ob­vi­ous on the mu­si­cal level, with the band in­spired not so much by Asian form but by ur-

ban at­mo­spher­ics.

Fu­ture Plans Un­cer­tain

The band teamed up for the al­bum with Stephen Street, who worked on clas­sic works of The Smiths and pro­duced most of Blur’s discog­ra­phy.

Blur won a ma­jor fol­low­ing in the 1990s with al­bums such as “Park­life” and “Mod­ern Life is Rub­bish” that were driven by gui­tar but of­fered a tight, smooth aes­thetic in con­trast to the rawer grunge scene that dom­i­nated the United States.

Blur has nonethe­less branched out pre­vi­ously from its Brit­pop roots. The last al­bum, 2003’s “Think Tank,” was recorded largely in Morocco with Mid­dle Eastern el­e­ments re­in­forc­ing the anti-war themes.

Al­barn has also pur­sued a di­verse range of side projects, in­clud­ing an up­com­ing mu­si­cal based on “Alice in Won­der­land.”

Blur’s re­u­nion come as ru­mors mount that ri­vals Oa­sis will re­unite af­ter rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween no­to­ri­ously frac­tious broth­ers Liam and Noel Gal­lagher, the lat­ter of whom re­cently re­leased a sec­ond solo al­bum.

But as for Blur, the band said its al­bum was un­planned and it was un­sure of fu­ture plans.

“There was just sud­denly this op­por­tu­nity to get into the stu­dio to­gether ... rather than try­ing to make a big come­back sin­gle un­der loads of pres­sure,” bassist Alex James said.

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