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NME: Feb 99

'The Greatest Songs Of The Century'

Fans hail Blur's low-key return

Blur debuted songs from their forthcoming album '13' (released by Food on March 15), at two low-key gigs last week.

On Saturday, 30th January, they played a 250-capacity, tenner a ticket, fan club only show at the Depot rehersal studio in north London, flooowed on Wednesday, Fenruary 3, by a 15-quid, 1,000 capacity show at Oxford Brookes University. The shows were scheduled as warm-ups for a showcase to be played before the European music industry in Stockholm on February 11.

Both gigs had similar sets, Damon Albarn announcing, "We're gonna play our new album for ya!" before the band performed '13' almost in its entirety and in its tracklisting order.

A rough, choirless version of the forthcoming single, 'Tender', opened with Alex James on double bass. It was followed by 'Bugman', which bears a resemblance to David Bowie's 'Suffragette City'. At the LOndon gig, Blur played the longer album version with its psychedelic wig-out but the Oxford show was shorn of the howling, Sun Ra 'Space is the place' climax.

Graham Coxon took lead vocals on the acoustic singalong 'Coffee and TV', whicj was followed in Oxford with a short break while Damon sneaked offstage to find out the score of the Chelsea versus Oxford FA Cup Forth Round replay. Chelsea won 4-2 and Damon kept the result to himself; expedient behaviour considering the location.

The Zeppelin-esque 'Swamp Song' followed and proved an instant favourite, sparking the evenings forst bout of crowdsurfing. The intense '1992' featured Damon on melodica. "I'd forgotten what it was like doing gigs and getting pissed," he said before breaking into a pogo for the Pistols-y 'BLUREMI'. "Fuckin' nice, innit?"

The dark and brooding, eight minute 'Battle', augmented by a pianist, led into 'Mellow Song', Damon perched on a stoll playing acoustic guitar and more melodica. "We played this last year," he announced before launching into a song debuted at Glastonbury 98, "We wrote it for Southpark but they didnt want it so we called it Trailor Park."

He then dedicated 'Trimm Trabb'to, "all those people who wear Adidas trainers- the old ones", before diving into the crowd.

The set concluded with the heart-felt ballad 'No distance left to run'. From '13', only 'Caramel' and 'Optigan 1' were missing. The encores were 'Beetlebum', 'Theres no other way', and 'Song 2', which Damon proudly announced is to feature soon in an episode of The Simpsons. The band the proceeded to play it twice in a row due to public demand.

"I like playing gigs like this," Damon told NME afterwards, "one offs. It means you can play, get wrecked and not feel guilty about it the next day. We dont wanna tour this album in a conventional sense. We'll play gigs, but not in that repetitive way because al of us have got other things we're interested in."

He said there would be more low-key gigs like Brookes Uni int he near future and that the band were planning a big London show, possibly free, in the summer. He also said Blur would be playing 'Tender' on 'The Late Show with David Letterman' in New Yprk on March 29. The prestigious chat show has apparently relaxed its regulations to allow Blur a minute more airtime than is usually granted to guests in order to accomadate that fact that the single is nearly 8-minutes long. The Harlem Gospel Choir are performing on the track which, three weeks before its release, is already on of the most talked about singles in recent memory.

In a special Angst room on nme.com, readers have been posting comments as diverse as: "Sounds like Talking Heads... Spiritualized... Depeche Mode... Neil Finn's 'Together Alone' without the Maori fell... 'Screamadelica'... Boney M's classic 'Rivers Of Babylon'... monotonous... beautiful... too much of a change... they should listen to 'Paranoid Android' to see how a long song should be done... single of the year from the band of the decade... half-hearted attempt at trying to be different... The Beta Band go Christian Rock... predictable attempt at pre-millenium hippy anthem... nice tune but he cant sing... the worst Blur song ever... really makes the hair on the back of your nect stand on end... they'll never be as good as Oasis... it is local, it touches my points... the final nail in the coffin of British music... try having some sex and stop worrying about the apocalypse... so Damon's hung up over Justine- wouldnt you be?... thought it was a piss-take at first but I heard it again and it made me feel all warm and lovely inside..."

Damon laughed off the critism and explained: "A lot of people seem top find it uplifting and I would concur with that. I definately had a few occasions where I was transported by it. I wrote it in a haze late at night and really didnt give that much thought to it. To say its the worst Blur record ever is a ridiculous comment. You can't say that... well, you can because we live in a supposed democracy where free speach is given to all of us... but we wont get into that. As for Boney M- copr, thats alright! Nothing wrong with that! But its not really, is it? It's got a bit of Jonny Cash, a bit of 'Exile On Main Street' and a bit of 'Give peace a chance.'

"Lyrically, I'm not renowned for writing like this so it must be very genuine, very... personal. I didnt set out to write like that, its just that there was nothing left to say apart from what was inside me, what I felt.

"The whole dialogue we've had with the press is, "Is it ironic enough? Is it cool to be ironic? Are they taking the piss? Can we justify this because they're big? Can we not justify this because they're crass? whatever. But this doesnt fall inot any of those ballparks. Its just a soul record. From my sould anyway. I had to write it. I was very, very miserable. I was consoling myself with writing about how things had to get better."

The release date for 'Tender' has been moved forward a week to February 22 to avoid expensive Japanese imports flooding the market.

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