Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hey Blur, What the Hell is Going On?



This is a difficult post for me to write because, as you may or may not know, Blur are one of my all-time favorite bands and probably the closest I've come in my own lifetime to a band like The Beatles even though they've never been more than a cult band with a rabid following here in the US (imagine Beatlemania everywhere in the world except here and that's how big Blur were in the 1990s). I've been a diehard fan of the band for almost 20 years, seen them in concert, written two books about them, I'm a moderator on their official message board, and I run a website dedicated to them. So for me to write what I'm about to write is a long time coming and also not something I'd ever thought I'd write (and no, I'm not chucking in the towel with them, I could never do that...I love 'em too much and their music means too much to me). 

In the year 2014, as in the title of this post, I have to ask Blur: what the hell is going on? You were the best British band of the 1990s, with 7 fantastic albums. You evolved over each release and pioneered many new sounds and approaches throughout your heyday. You toured relentlessly and were one of the best live bands of your era.  You always kept one eye on the past and one firmly on the future and stated that if you ever stopped moving forward, you'd call it a day. 

Yet now you're on year #5 of playing your Greatest Hits (TM) all over the world without even the hint of any new music to be heard. After your indefinite hiatus post-2003, you finally reunited in 2008 and embarked upon a series of gigs tracing your history from Colchester to Wolverhampton, from Glastonbury to London and Hyde Park, and we loved every bit of it. You gave us an excellent documentary film in 2010 and a really good song (Fool's Day) dashed off for Record Store Day 2010. We waited a couple of years and you came back in 2012 to play some warm-up gigs on the way to headlining the closing concert for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Largely the same setlist, with a few new rarities thrown in and a couple of mediocre (Under the Westway) and lousy (The Puritan) new songs tossed to us for good measure. There was consternation on my part and the part of numerous other fans, but we understood the Olympics in London was a once-in-a-lifetime thing so it was cool...and a lot of fun. 

BUT...I and others said many times that to continue beyond that without any new material would be pushing it. Yet here you are, having spent all of 2013 playing the same Greatest Hits (TM) all over the world almost solely at festivals. You're still a fearsome and fantastic live band so none of the following criticism is any reflection on your musicianship, which is still top-notch. But it pains me to say that it reeks of a cash grab, playing the fewest number of gigs to the greatest number of people at a time for maximum revenue. Compounding this is the relentless merchandising, which was tacky but cute in 2012 but feels downright crass now. I can see selling CDs, DVDs, and t-shirts. Even the Olympic medallions and posters in 2012 were kitschy but cute. But a month ago you started hocking a silly TEA SET. Worse still, it was emblazoned with the logo from your 2012 Olympic shows, which has nothing whatsoever to do with 2013 and suggests that slapping that logo on something, ANYTHING, in an effort to sell it, is the priority. Together with the "merch bundles" that your social media accounts keep pushing, which are overpriced bundles of leftover merch you seem to be desperate to clear out of inventory, it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. I realize the merchandising push is done by management and marketing and not the band itself, but it's done in the band's name and as such it reflects on you directly. 

There's the matter of the gig cancellations in Australia in January 2014, somewhere you haven't played since 1997. We still don't know if it was your fault or the promoter's fault, but while the promoters have posted a lot of innuendo claiming it was your fault (including that you still kept half the money), there's been nothing but radio silence on your end. Whether that's an admission of guilt or simply not wanting to wade into an Internet sniping match, it's poor PR, leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and has led the majority of fans to believe you have some culpability, fair or not, and I have to agree. This is one case where even a few sentences from you saying yes or no either way would be infinitely better than the nothing we've gotten to this point. Again, this is more down to your management and PR than you directly, but also again, it reflects VERY badly on you. 

I need to stop now because I don't want this to sound like I'm dumping on Blur...they are and always will be one of my favorite bands of all time. But I absolutely hate what they've become by 2014...a band who seems to be so afraid and intimidated by their own legacy that they won't record a new album, who tours the Greatest Hits (TM) around the world mainly at festivals, hocks merchandise in a very aggressive and tacky way, and seem to be more about the money and nostalgia than the music. 
We get in a lot of arguments on the message boards because the fans fall into two camps: the one I'm in, and the other camp who thinks the band is infallible and that a new album is imminent even though there's been NO inclination that that's the case (especially with the marketing and promotion for Damon's long-awaited and highly anticipated solo album this year already starting).  I used to be the blindly optimistic fan up until 2013, but then I started facing the facts in front of me and honestly, what Blur are by now is what they are for the present and the foreseeable future. While I've never met any of them, they still seem to be the same good people I've always read and heard that they are. But I absolutely hate what they've become now as a musical entity. 

This is not me complaining as a fan that since Blur aren't doing what I think they should do, I'm going to whine and moan about it.  I'm so angry and upset because I care so damn much. Blur, your music and your band have meant that much to me over my life. Your music has inspired my own music making, comforted me in down times, and soundtracked my life from the age of 16 to the present age of (nearly) 34. In a nutshell, I'm pissed because I care. Passionately. 

But please, if you're not going to make a legitimate attempt at making new music, please call it a day. I couldn't bear to see your legacy get chipped away bit by bit any more. 

4 comments:

  1. Under the Westway and the Puritan were brilliant! stop complaining and thank god that our legends are still with us and still playing great shows for us to enjoy.

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    1. I think those two songs were average at best but to each their own. As for the band going forward, I've always been one who likes forward progress so if they're not going to make new music, there's no point in it to me. That's just my opinion.

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  2. I thought Under the Westway and The Puritan were excellent, but the two camps you mention, I think I stuck between the two.

    They have now done the Greatest Hits comeback and tour and I loved it, but I think they are milking it.

    I honestly believe they have an absolute classic album, probably their best, still in them.

    Id like them to turn round, and if they don't wana do it anymore, come out and say so.

    If they said ok, this is it, our last album, then we are done, id be gutted but accept it, and I wouldn't be like now, waiting and waiting and waiting......then disappointment.

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    1. I completely agree with you. I, too, know they have it in them but it seems they just can't be arsed, especially Damon, who almost seems terrified at trying and doing it. It's too bad, they really squandered the momentum they'd gained in 2009 and 2010, that was the time to strike when the iron was hot, in my view. *shrug* It's their choice and I won't begrudge them either way, but like you said, either say "it's over" or say "we'll probably do another Hits tour later on." But the constant "will they/won't they" has just gotten old.

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