"Under the Westway", the band's first single since "Fool's Day" in 2010, is a typically bittersweet Damon Albarn tune, with a wistful prayer for transcendence at its heart. First played by Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon at a benefit concert on 19 February, the version played and streamed live on Twitter by the full band yesterday alongside another new song, "The Puritan", is far more affecting.
While Coxon channels David Bowie's early 1970s right-hand man Mick Ronson, the song's core is a raw emotional verse recalling Blur's 1999 gospel-heavy hit "Tender". On "The Puritan", Albarn suggests that we "stop sucking our thumb through a TV", in a full-speed thrash with an idiot "la-la-la" chorus.
Watching the slightly shaky transmission live from a roof in the vicinity of the Westway, the west London dual carriageway, The Beatles' iconic 1969 rooftop concert comes to mind. Seeing Blur back together, looking solicitous of each other as they play, I'm also reminded of The Beatles' semi-posthumous 1995 single "Free As A Bird", their career's unexpected, late full stop. "Under the Westway" feels like a warmly played valediction; a parting shot, at least for now, from one of Britain's great bands.
The group will perform in Hyde Park next month in a show which coincides with the Olympic closing ceremony. In a question-and-answer session via Twitter, the band confirmed the concert would be a career-spanning set "including the new tracks".
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