Graham Coxon, Newcastle University

Shy guitarist battles to escape shadow of Blur
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Graham Coxon walks on stage to a hero's welcome, plugs his guitar in and nonchalantly wanders to the mike to offer an apologetic "hi''. The crowd cheers in unison, safe in the knowledge that the suited- and-booted frontman is still the archetypal reluctant star.

When Blur delivered the Brit-Pop blueprint with Parklife, the band member who seemed least likely to overcome the sudden glare of the limelight was the guitarist, Coxon. Painfully shy, racked with self-doubt and seemingly at odds with the wilful disposability of the band's pop sound, it came as little surprise that his departure from the dizzy heights of the Top of the Pops day job saw him taking the well-trodden pop path to both solo infamy and the doors of the Priory, where he was treated for alcoholism.

With this month's release of his sixth solo album, Love Travels at Illegal Speeds, however, such personal diversions as alcoholism and pop stardom would appear to have been left in the distant past. And yet as Coxon struts, spits and barks his way through a set of retro-punk belligerence, it becomes increasingly clear just how fresh those old memories are, in fact so much of what he does seems to be defined by his opposition to Blur.

His entire solo voyage has been about regaining an air of authenticity in the wake of Blur's artifice. So just as his former frontman has culture-vultured his way from world music to cartoon character, so Coxon has ploughed an ever- deeper punk-rock furrow.

Despite his obviously frail character traits (he finds relationships hard to sustain, would prefer to keep animals) his music sounds increasingly muscular. The lo-fi navel gazing of his earlier albums has been replaced by a full, fat and melodic guitar onslaught worthy of The Ramones or The Buzzcocks - the two bands his latest album most recalls.

Take "I Can't Look At Your Skin" with its buzzsaw energy, or the thrash pop tones of "You Will Always Let me Down", songs that beg to be included on a best of 1977 compilation album.

As the band work through an hour of such punk wanabe classics, it is slowly becomes clear that the biggest problem with Coxon's need for an authentic voice is that he's just too self-consciously stuck in the past. And not even his anti-star frailty can take the bittersweet taste of rehashed history out of a show which seems to collapse in a self-mocking, out-of-key parody after the slow-burning "Happy Since I Met You".

As the band finale with a thrashed-up version of the sub-Blur "Freakin' Out", you are reminded of the one real fatal flaw in Coxon's live solo shows - he's just not a front man a la Albarn, which is a shame because Coxon's recorded output far outshines Blur's. It's just his live shows that leave you wanting.

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