Back with a ‘Bang’: Blur and the Virtue of Ignorance

Blur, circa the “teenies” years (photo: pitchfork.com).

I was first made aware of Blur’s resumed activity in December 2008, courtesy of an issue of NME which had excitedly plastered a black-and-white shot of Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon together on its front cover. “BLUR REUNITED!” screamed the headline, as the five-year gulf since 2003’s itchy Think Tank concluded in an instant, and fans the world over rejoiced at the return of one of Britain’s most-adored bands.

However, things haven’t been quite that straightforward. That particular magazine’s publication date was December 13th, 2008. Flash-forward to the present day, and with minimal prior warning, Blur have unveiled their incoming eighth studio album, The Magic Whip, slated for release on April 27th. To allow for a sharper sense of the heft of that time lapse, as of today’s announcement, it has been six years, two months, and six days since that issue of NME heralded Blur’s reunion.

Cover of NME, December 2008 (photo: vblurpage.com).

It’s not like they’ve been inactive in that interim. There have been multiple Hyde Park performances, rapturously-received world tours and headline slots, and a sprinkling of new singles along the way. And of course, the joy spread by the band’s return has been genuinely touching to behold. But personally, proceedings began to grate partway into the 2010s. What had begun as a graceful and joyous resurrection gradually sank into a tiresome, drawn-out tease. There are only so many epic “last-chance” shows a band can play before a once-titanic return begins to whiff of nostalgia value, rather than an electrifying new lease of life. What were originally promising rumours and interviews soon evaporated into silence, and replaced by announcements of new solo records from Albarn and Coxon. No concrete news of a full-blooded return, only another wave of tour dates with little in the way of innovation.

As a result, I’m pretty elated that the band has suddenly publicised the release of The Magic Whip after several months of silence (although I’m a little unsure of that title, especially since the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey is currently at the forefront of the public consciousness). It feels as if our patience has finally been rewarded, and because there have been no prior announcements about studio work or prospective releases, the surprise factor of this unveiling has allowed Blur to reclaim the raw sense of excitement which has been lacking during the past few years of activity.

This is perhaps because dramatic announcements are the name of the game this decade. Given that keen music fans are constantly bombasted with infinitesimal updates from a headspinning breadth of artists, it’s miraculously refreshing when an announcement arrives which packs in some genuine surprise value. I’m particularly pleased with how Blur handled the situation, when we could so easily have had a Chinese Democracy situation on our hands given the way things were going. What’s lovely is that – after years of increasingly weighted tour announcements – they’ve approached a proper album launch with stealth and precision.

It’s not quite the same for a band to casually announce the making of a record months before its details are even confirmed. A slow, steady drip-feed of up-to-the-minute news is all well and good, but there’s no matching the seismic clout of a sudden return. Of course, Radiohead began to utilise this tactic years ago, but for some reason it’s only within the past two years that this strategy has escalated to something more widespread. In my book, it was David Bowie’s The Next Day which truly signified the power of this method. We were suddenly blindsided by the re-emergence of a monumental icon, exploding back onto the scene with unparalleled mystique and the unthinkable: a new album of genuine greatness.

It’s these abrupt, blinking-in-disbelief unveilings which have brought a new vitality and spark of excitement to the industry. Naturally, there have been many ‘traditional’ build-ups which have led to magnificent payoffs in the past decade, but it’s only with surprise announcements of this magnitude that one realises just how fresh and giddy the musical world can be at its sharpened best. For better (Beyoncé) or worse (U2), it feels like mainstream artists have started to take note of this stealth tactic, and it’s these sudden deployments which get the heart really racing and the debates raging, much more so than steady snippets of minute details. In an age of information saturation and the desire for instant gratification, we are primed to appreciate genuine surprises again, and when they do arrive out of the blue, the exhilaration is hard to top.

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Posted on February 19, 2015, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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