Volume 92, Issue 89

Wednesday, March 18, 1999


The Concrete Beat

Blur's risk with 13 truns into personal success

Philly five revives The Roots of hip hop

Vivaldi revitalized for its audience

Danko Jones knows he's still on top

Ralston Saul paves way for individuality

Comedy group Laughs

Ripley's version of Welsh animal music

Celebrity sightings

Blur's risk with 13 truns into personal success

Photo by Rankin
I SAY, I SAY, I SAY BOY... NEXT TIME MAKE ROOM FOR ME ON THE COUCH. Alex James, Graham Coxon, Damon Albarn and Dave Rowntree (L-R) seem to be turning 13, both literally and figuratively.

By Mark Pytlik

Gazette Staff

Sitting in a swank hotel room in downtown Toronto about two minutes away from a scheduled interview with guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James of Blur, one could only assume something might go wrong. The band are in town to promote the band's sixth release, the gloomily titled 13.

James has just cheekily waltzed into the conference room wearing what appears to be his outfit from the previous evening. He's unshaven, unshowered and grinning like a madman. Meanwhile, the rest of Blur's entourage are trying unsuccessfully to locate Coxon. Seeing as it's only 11:30 a.m., there is a very good chance the amiable guitarist has yet to wake up. A couple of minutes later, the band's rep comes back and shrugs apologetically.

"We can't get him out of bed," she says. "They were out partying in Montreal the night before."

James giggles amusedly to himself. It appears even after 10 years and six accomplished albums, he's still tickled by a bit of good old rock and roll delinquency. He pours himself a coffee, lights a Lucky Strike and sprawls himself out casually across his chair. It's quite obvious he's done this before.

Discussion quickly turns to the band's decision to replace longtime producer Stephen Street with the more experimental dance producer William Orbit for the 13 sessions. James seems genuinely pleased with the roster move (he proudly refers to 13 as a "hi-fi" record) and offers up his typically cheeky outlook on the recording process.

"A recording studio is just like a kitchen," he smirks. "If you've got 200 different saucepans and 600 different sorts of oil you're gonna get bogged down if all you want to do is make an omelette. It was [William's] job to rationalize it all."

Indeed, 13 is such a dense and difficult record it wouldn't be surprising to find out there saucepans actually were buried in the mix somewhere. Aside from the gospel-tinged lead single "Tender," there really isn't anything on the album which could serve to further the band's status as England's most prolific hitmaker. However, James doesn't seem fazed by the apparent uncommerciality of the record.

"I think the last album was messy," he counters. "This is a tidy record. Everything that's there is there for a reason. There's nothing superfluous about it. It's a highly tuned, honed-in record."

Suddenly the conference room doors squeak open and drummer Dave Rowntree strolls in. In contrast to the still groggy bassist, Rowntree looks chipper and well-slept, something which may or may not have direct relation to the fact he doesn't drink. James seems slightly relieved at the sight of his bandmate. "Davey," he squeals. "Can you answer that last question for me please?"

Before even hearing the question, Rowntree assumes a chair and dutifully launches into a random but oft-rehearsed reply. "The answer is, when I'm in the studio I'd rather be on tour and when I'm on tour I'd rather be in the studio," he says robotically. James giggles again.

Although the band has explicitly stated a desire not to tour in support of the album, they are not poised to record a follow-up record anytime soon.

"Releasing an album is like planting a cabbage," muses James, who is clearly now just trying to keep himself amused. "You've got to let the cabbage grow. There'd be no point in digging up that cabbage and planting another one before the first one's ready. No point at all."

Rowntree emphatically shakes his head. "No point at all," he echoes bemusedly.

The two of them trail off into more laughter. You're somehow given the feeling that if they were in school, the teacher would have undoubtedly rearranged the seating plan a long time ago. In the span of half an hour, Blur have managed to lose a member, giggle incessantly and liken their creative output to both a breakfast dish and a slightly neglected vegetable.

Make no mistake about it – 13 may be a musical departure for the band, but as people, Blur hasn't changed one bit.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999