1997 was a strange year for music, and many would say the beginning of the end of what had been one of the most momentous events in British music since the 1960s — Britpop. Oasis released their third album, Be Here Now, regarded by many as the worst of the decade, and it would not be until 1998 before Pulp’s This Is Hardcore would signal the brutal, undignified death of Britpop for good.
For Blur, however, a change in musical direction proved immensely fruitful with the release of their fifth studio album, the eponymous Blur in early 1997. A stark departure from the tongue-in-cheek, satirical take on mid-nineties life in Britain encapsulated by their previous record, The Great Escape, Blur saw a stronger influence from American bands such as Pavement. As Graham Coxon stated during this period, “(American guitarists) were doing very interesting stuff with guitars and I needed to be nourished,” Blur therefore really stood out as a symbol of Coxon’s rejection of Britpop and yearning to make music “which scared people again.” It was a metaphorical band-aid, enabling the band to function once again as a collaborative outfit, something they had lost during the Britpop years, and a departure from Damon Albarn’s previous sole dictatorship over the band’s musical style and aesthetic.
What came from this was Blur’s most thoughtful album to date; a somewhat come-down from the dizzy heights of Britpop to a more mature outlook, and experimentation with lo-fi sound. But what sparked this need for change, not just for Blur, but British bands across the board? Not only were band members themselves growing up and getting older, but the face of Britain was changing; it was time to ditch the class A’s and think about the future. This sentiment is all too apparent in tracks such as ‘Death of a Party’, where Albarn croons “The death of a party/Came as no surprise/Why did we bother?” From the album emanates a sense of loss, and a sense of confusion of existence, as well as a reflection on the changing social and political climate.
Change is not only reflected lyrically but in musical style with the Bowie-esque ‘Look Inside America’, a merging of Coxon’s signature guitar riffs with an acoustic sound likable to something off Hunky Dory. Lo-fi is utilised to the max in the track preceding it with ‘I’m Just a Killer for your Love’, where Alex James’ bass really seeps into the senses, tying the depth and ambiance of the album into a neat bow. The Bowie influence is seen more than once, with the bittersweet optimism of ‘You’re So Great’, a Coxon-sung track and arguably the most tender on the album, with lyrics reading “And I feel the light/When you tell me its OK/Cos you’re so great, and I love you.”
Blur is so much more than just Song 2, it’s an ardent goodbye to the chaos and unpredictability of the 1994/5/6 Britpop period. It’s also an album where we see Blur really bare their souls, unafraid to express their own fears that came with these changes and apprehension towards what the future held. It was ultimately the album which marked the beginning of the end but not in a negative way.
Gone were the days of Blur vs Oasis, a new era in British music was on the horizon, and Blur would be riding that wave until their hiatus in 2003.