The countdown begin at 1pm BST and featured a red background. Britpop revival was on the cusp. Was this going to be the best kept secret, until this morning’s newspapers? It is Chinese New Year, the artwork features simplified Mandarin, was Blur coming back? The countdown with 30 seconds to go flashes Hong Kong along the screen and the simplified Mandarin began counting down.
Zane Lowe appears on the screen, referring to his presence in a chinese restaurant in Soho. Admitting that various members of the Music press were in toe, it was obvious what was about to happen. The group joined and had a laugh with Zane about ‘formalities’, beginning fist bumps and intentionally awkward interviews. Lowe pressed them to admit what they were hear for, the band remaining tacit, avoiding the inevitable reveal, there was a new album. The album due out on April 27th as revealed by Zane Lowe with pre order available now http://smarturl.it/apoTMW.
The band also announced that they are going to be playing on June 20th at Hyde Park, the first band to play 4 times. The group seemed hopeful they would avoid the rain again, a fortunate track record for the venue.
Blur explained that the album came about when there was a cancellation in Hong Kong, so not wanting to waste their time in the city Coxon says they hunted for a studio, a little hot hole. The sessions in June 2013 remained unfinished and from then onwards it seemed like they were to be a brief spontaneous moment. The band went to Jakarta to perform a show, disbanded for bit, did some further shows and then left the idea of an album behind. Albarn jokes that he let the speculation run ahead by getting too excited and announcing the album on stage despite the sessions remaining unfinished. After that Albarn explained he didn’t think there would be a new record, ‘I really don’t think anything is going to happen.’ he says with great irony.
Coxon explained the idea was rejuvenated when he contacted Albarn to see if there was a chance he could look at what they recorded and got in touch with Producer Stephen Street (Park life, Modern Life is Rubbish, The Smiths). Alex James and the group said the process was different. The ideas were put down in the studio instead of demos being brought in by the members. Street jumped onto the seated area with Zane and the band and helped confirm how the sessions began. Albarn says, ‘Graham said I think we have something here… I said great go and have a look at it. Graham and Steven went off and they sent it back and I thought, oh god this is really good.’ he said with regret to amused chuckles. Albarn had been busy with his solo album Everyday Robots and so was pretty confident a new Blur album was the last thing to come out at this stage, especially with the recently reignited flame of Gorillaz.
Neon signs, an ice cream and a tiny little cloud featured on the album cover echoing the land where the sessions began. Tony Hunt who created the artwork was in person at the conference, revealing that it is a photograph of an actual neon sign he created for the group. The image looks iconic already, similar to Milky the carton who adorned artwork and the music video for Coffee and TV back in the 90s.
Coxon says the album has things ‘… that are obviously blur, but there are things that aren’t classically blur…’ – promising that the album is a good mix of what we love with a touch of a band grown up. Lowe says to the waiting press that he has heard it and personally thinks it is fantastic. Zane Lowe took over the PR for the group, seemingly knowing more about the actual release. The group might be on Zane’s Radio 1 show.
Alex James revealed his thoughts; ‘Everything felt right. We didn’t have any pressure because we were just playing and being natural. We had been playing together [live], but we weren’t trying to do a big comeback single or anything.’ Rowntree added, ‘There was a real urgency to making the most of it.’ adding that the process meant ‘ The structure was put in there. [Hong Kong]’
Watch the lyric video for the first track from the album – Go Out. Featuring a lady showing how to make an ice cream, the chorus is a fuzzed up hark to Blur’s 13 with a more dark and brooding character.
James ‘I had a camera with me, Stu filmed us filming in the studio. I watched the footage and drank a bottle of Jack Daniels. I then *puts head in his hands* and thought it was good but it’s not going to happen…. ‘I’m so bloody delighted it happened.’ Hong Kong became the birth and inspiration for the record, with the tracklist showing a running motif and even the lyric video featuring simplified chinese. Albarn admits that due to his recent trips to North Korea, Hong Kong, and work on Monkey: Journey to the West meant he developed a huge affliction to the continent. The lyrics came from the initial sessions plus the inspiration of these places. The group have always drawn a huge affliction in their work to cities where the album takes place, typically London. 2003’s Think Tank came from sessions in Marrakech and thus some of that was reflected in tracks like Out of Time.
Stephen Street admitted that it was 18 years since he had produced Albarn since last working on Beetlebum. The group and producer Stephen looked happy to be back and the new single seemed to be a much better testament than Under the Westway and The Puritan were in 2012. Rowntree said of the secret that …’I had no idea we could keep it quiet until Christmas… Hats off to everyone who knew that didn’t blab.’ Albarn and Rowntree joked that they kept being asked about a new Blur album in interviews until November last year they didn’t think one was happening, then everyone stopped asking as soon as it was on the cards.
The 12 song tracklist was also revealed:
- Lonesome Street
- New World Towers
- Go Out
- Ice Cream Man
- Thought I Was A Spaceman
- I Broadcast
- My Terracotta Heart
- There are too Many of Us
- Ghost Ship
- Ong Ong