Blur turn against Blair... ...in new battle of the bands

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The Independent Online
Paul McCartney's knighthood seems to have inspired a new respectability in rock music. Blur, once Britpop's brightest lights and arch-rivals to Oasis, have emerged from a year's exile extolling asceticism and maturity - and despising the Labour leader Tony Blair.

While Oasis had a well- documented year of global success and laddish behaviour, Blur retreated from the limelight. They have returned as new men.

Damon Albarn, the heartthrob leader of the band, is disdainful of the pop-star antics of his rivals, Instead, he advocates studious concentration, and drinking only in moderation, if at all. And he has become the first rock star to urge the virtues of a coalition government.

It is barely a year ago that Blur seemed likely to outshine Oasis. It was Blur not Oasis who won the much-hyped battle for the first No 1 single from their respective new albums in 1995. But after that Oasis's fame erupted, and Blur retreated into splendid isolation, seemingly forgotten by their fans. In the Radio 1 listeners' poll this week, Oasis had two tunes in the listeners' all-time top 10. Blur had none.

Now, shortly to release a new album, the former crown princes of Britpop are back. The band's front man, Albarn, remains sparing of speech, but what he does say signifies a new respectability that could see him following in the steps of Sir Paul McCartney in 30 years' time.

Asked by Q magazine how he would be voting in the general election, Albarn says: "Blair has a worryingly conservative streak and he's taken his own personality so far into the arena of appeasement he's no longer a valid leader of a socialist party. But I will be voting for him, and Labour will get in. Just don't expect any changes, that's all. We'd do better with a coalition government."

On the subject of rock stars behaving like rock stars he is quick to point out his own outfit's new asceticism. "Graham has stopped drinking completely," he says of one fellow band member. "I still drink but in small bouts, although I've never really done it to excess."

Pointedly, he stresses that the year-long making of the band's new record required "concentration" and a rejection of the tabloid antics of certain other groups. He says: "It wouldn't have been possible to make this record if we'd been visible, or doing big gigs, or splashed over the tabloids. It required a lot of concentration."

And Albarn even places himself in the vanguard of the middle-aged, firing a broadside at one of the most popular rock stars in the world, Bono of U2, sounding for all the world like a parent in the Sixties, as he accuses Bono of not being able to sing tastefully.

Asked if he is looking forward to the new U2 album, Albarn replies: "I'd like a lot of U2 tunes if they'd just take the vocal off. I have a problem with Bono's voice. The rest of them make tasteful music ... He'd be a lot more respected by musicians if he'd tone down those mannerisms."

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