How Blur's 'Blur' Brought Them Back from the Brink

Burnt out by Britpop and a failure to break America, 20 years ago Blur were disintegrating, but somehow they wrote their biggest song, and one of the best LPs of their career.

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11 February 2017, 10:58pm

Brian Rasic / Getty

The other day I found myself watching Central Intelligence, a 2016 goofball action romp starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as a unicorn-loving super-spy who saves the world by teaming up—for reasons which are still not altogether clear to me—with his old schoolmate, an accountant played by Kevin Hart. Look, I know it's not going to win any Oscars but I was on a plane at the time. Nobody wants to strap in to 12 Years A Slave at 35,000 feet. Anyway, there's a scene where the pair jump out of a skyscraper together through a plate glass window in a hail of bullets. I'm sure you know the type, whether or not you've had the pleasure of Central Intelligence. As the glass shatters and they burst into the air, the voice you hear isn't The Rock's or Kevin Hart's, but the sheer, uncut exhilaration of Damon Albarn screaming: "WOOOO-HOOOOO!" It's a dumb moment in a dumb film, but hearing "Song 2" in a Hollywood blockbuster almost exactly 20 years after it first came out was a weird and timely reminder of what a transformative impact that song, and the self-titled album it appears on, had on Blur's relationship with America and their whole career.

In the years leading up to the release of Blur, the band were at a crossroads. Already growing tired of the parochial Britpop scene, they were also confronted with the fact that they'd been roundly beaten in the race to break America. While on tour in the States in early 1996 they could only watch on as arch-rivals Oasis posted 100,000 sales of (What's The Story) Morning Glory every week, reaching number four on the Billboard charts. Their own album, The Great Escape, sold just 122,000 copies in America all year.

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