Last updated: 04/06/2012 12:00:00 PM
FORMED: 1989, Colchester, England
The history of Blur can be traced back to 1980 when Damon Albarn (b.1968) and Graham Coxon (b.1969) met as schoolboys at Stanway Comprehensive School in Colchester, Essex, where they sang together in the choir. Both were drawn to music. Damon, a Londoner by birth, was the son of Keith Albarn, a former luminary of England's late-1960's psychedelic rock. Arriving in Colchester in the late '70's, young Damon began studying music. Coxon, who was born on an airbase in Germany, was also the son of a musician. He moved to Colchester in 1977 and was encouraged to learn the saxophone and guitar at Stanway. Alex James grew up in Bournemouth on England's south coast, coming to London in the late '80's to study at Goldsmith's College, where he first met Coxon.
Colchester-born Dave Rowntree, whose father was a BBC sound engineer and whose mother played in an orchestra, "took up" the bagpipes at a young age and graduated to drums not long afterwards. These four men formed a bizarre, Brechtian art-punk band called Seymour -- Albarn on vocals (and occasional keyboards), Coxon on guitar, James on bass, and Rowntree on drums. After laying a dozen or so shows in and around London, they renamed the band Blur in 1989. Blur signed to Food Records later that year. The first release from Blur was the single "She's So High," in 1990. The story really began to gather speed with the next single, "There's No Other Way," a sizable hit in Britain in spring 1991. The song saw Blur working for the first time with the legendary producer Stephen Street (the Smiths, Morrissey, the Cranberries). Leisure, Blur's debut album, released in August 1991, was an enjoyable collection of songs influenced by Pink Floyd, the explosive guitars of My Bloody Valentine and vocal harmonies reminiscent of
A No. 7 hit in Britain, Leisure was soon outgrown by Blur, who announced a complete change of attack on their great, "lost" single "Popscene" in March 1992: furiously-paced, with blaring horns over punky guitars. Albarn had undergone a major transformation as a songwriter: from reticent bystander to caustic commentator, and Blur greedily stockpiled the songs that would make up their sophomore effort, the critical breakthrough, Modern Life Is Rubbish. Named after a piece of graffiti scrawled on a wall near London's hallowed monolith Marble Arch, Modern Life Is Rubbish (released in May 1993) was a total sea-change. Flying in the face of fashion, it was a huge pop encyclopedia of England (from Julian Cope to XTC, from the Beatles to Madness).
The album's witty and touchingly parochial songs (variously bolstered by the use of string sections and brass sections) aimed for -- and achieved -- a quintessential English sound. This modern view of urban England was developed on the third Blur album, Parklife (a No.1 U.K. chart entry in April 1994), which took an analytical, often comical look at England's foibles and misfortunes. The band won four Brit Awards for Parklife in early 1995. Some months in the making, the much-misunderstood The Great Escape was Blur's worldwide coming of age. Its musical reach far outstripped traditional pop: banjo, Mellotron, curdled waltzes and zonked out keyboards all took a bow in the band's ingenious arrangements.
The album spanned every age group, and Blur became the first group ever to receive front cover stories in the teen mag "Smash Hits" and the thirty-somethings' monthly "Mojo." The Great Escape shot straight into the British album charts at No. 1 -- it sold over one million copies in the U.K. alone -- and is Blur's biggest-selling album worldwide to date. A tour of British seaside resorts followed, during which Blur played to small audiences for one last time. Their fifth album, Blur, was released on Food/Paralophone in February 1997 in the U.K. and in March 1997 in the United States. It contained the breakout hit "Song 2" (Whee-hooo!). Two years later, 13 hit record store shelves. Rolling Stone called the William Orbit-produced album their "most playful set yet."