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Blur – St Charles Square Review

For most, the implication of a named square brings to life their own town’s city centre. Usually bustling with activity or drunks, for those from the North East, likely both. Not all of us had the pleasure of living near to The Stanley Jefferson, though. Blur certainly did not and instead they find themselves traipsing through a titular college none of the band attended. Yanking St. Charles Square from the usual hot spot of harsh guitar pockets and a darker side to Blur which has not truly been explored before. Their self-titled album had the throes of panic, while The Ballad of Darren hosts hindsight stuffed with envy and some flutters of hope. It can be heard in St. Charles Square.  

Damon Albarn focuses on a harshness Blur has not explored in some decades. The Magic Whip never had much room for it and his work elsewhere was not defined by the chilling depths of St Charles Square. Blur engages the beige fixtures and dull fittings which dominate the modern era, a complete reverse of the flashy 1990s where their heyday lies. It can be seen in all the workings of The Ballad of Darren, from the first single The Narcissist to the glum skies which dominate the cover. St. Charles Square engages messy displays, accidental or intentional. Those whining bars for the opening relay this Modern Life is Rubbish throwback but Blur is concerned with the maturity which detaches them from their earlier and best works. They’re spiralling and whining away and it is, mostly, thanks to the seedy David Bowie on his cocaine and bell peppers diet style which opens this one.  

Graham Coxon is the key, as he often is to these Blur tracks of supreme quality, firing away with the high expectations always levelled at him. They flutter through their past, the bars on the basement windows as they try and make it or break it in the glum scatterings of pain, performance and pleasure. That’s all it takes and the floorboards under their feet are remembered well. Blur does not strike as a band with much chance at conceiving their own past, of reflecting on anything but the immediate moment. St Charles Square gives them a shove to understanding where their roots still lie.  

They can’t escape their roots, nobody can. Blur embrace it well with the claustrophobia which builds and pushes through the final verse. Coxon keeps a steady flow, Albarn begins rising and rising, and the weird vibrations and fear of hauntings from the past start to play on the mind. Regret and a tinge of apoplectic shame figure themselves out on St. Charles Square, a defining moment in the long-running career of those involved in Blur. Paramount to this success is understanding the rare chance of self-reflection of a longer form, rather than the intermittent and immediate fixations on problems or passions in the moment. Blur find themselves looking back on themselves and accepting the highs and lows, not apologising for them, but noting them down and working from there.  

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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