blurrrr

Life and times on tour: leave out the philosophy, print the photographs . As Damon says, 'Fans couldn't give a toss about your intellectual manifesto. Most people just want to see you drunk on the pavement.' Photographs by Paul Postle

The Beatles carried it off, and so did the Jackson 5. If the test of a great pop group is how appealing they would look as cartoons, then Blur surely are the best new band in Britain. In the animated tales of Blur, singer Damon Albarn would be the chirpy, pretty boy who picks fights with Oasis, but always manages to scarper in time. Bespectacled guitarist Graham Coxon would look puzzled. Whenever they were in a scrape, ginger drummer, and licensed pilot, Dave Rowntree would rescue everyone in his plane. Bassist Alex James would swig from a bottle of Dom Perignon without taking the fag out of his mouth. It's not a far-fetched project: Blur are officially the nation's sweethearts.

Having won a record four awards at last year's "Brits", their album Parklife has still not left the top ten, and a new album, The Great Escape, went straight in at number one. They beat off arch rivals Oasis to have their first chart-topping single with "Country House". They've even had their own comic strip history in the Star. The Adventures of Blur is bound to happen sooner or later.

In 1991, Blur were just another second-rate indie band with daft haircuts. After scoring their first top ten hit with the melodious "There's No Other Way", their debut album, Leisure, was something of a lumpen disappointment. By 1992, Blur had been written off. Their descent was accelerated by a benefit gig they played for Shelter: having been upstaged by support band Suede, a drunken Albarn told the audience, "You might as well go home now, because we're going to be crap."

And that's where it should have ended. Second album Modern Life is Rubbish flopped, despite the band's new Mod image, a revitalised capacity to write tunes and Albarn's sharp, "Diary of a Nobody" style lyrics. Why then was Parklife - basically Modern Life part 2 - such a monster hit? If Modern Life is Rubbish was ahead of its time, then Parklife caught the post-grunge mood perfectly. Up until then, if a band wasn't, as Albarn put it, "Nirvana, or Nirvana lite", it had no chance of making it. By the time Parklife came out, teenagers had had enough of being miserable. They looked at their big brothers' Madness and Jam records and decided they wanted to have fun. Albarn became their figurehead and single-handedly made it glamorous to be British again.

With The Great Escape, Blur have shed the laddish, "Britpop" tag, to become something altogether darker. Graham Coxon's frenetic, discordant guitar work calls to mind not Paul Weller, but Syd Barrett. Damon Albarn's lyrics are stronger, and certainly more sympathetic. "When the days seem to fall through you, just let them go", runs "The Universal". Thatcherite casualties litter the album, such as the protagonist of "Globe Alone": "Because he wants it, needs it, almost loves it/He's here on his own, on Globe Alone". Blur, in their current incarnation, seem more humanitarian, more truthful, than any group around. Not only are they the best band in Britain, they are also the best band for the end of the century

Julia Priestly

'Blurbook' is published by HarperCollins on 2 November, price pounds 9.99. Paul Postle & Blur 1995

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