blur: To The End Review

blur: To The End
Britpop titans Blur reunite after eight years apart to record their ninth studio album and prepare for two huge Wembley Stadium gigs. The band rehearse and reconnect while embarking on a short warm-up tour that includes a trip to Colchester, the Essex hometown of frontman Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon.

by Lou Thomas |
Updated on

Best known for era-defining ’90s hits including ‘Parklife’, ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘Country House’, Blur escaped the Britpop ghetto to become sophisticated indie rockers while maintaining their large, devoted fanbase. With blur: To The End, director Toby L offers an intimate, revealing portrait of the quartet now.

In early 2023, frontman Damon Albarn invites his bandmates to a Devon recording studio to make The Ballad Of Darren, their first album in eight years. He almost crashes his car — a morbidly funny scene given Albarn had just been ruminating on death. This sets the tone, with more laugh-out-loud moments of gallows humour to follow. Before a Colchester Arts Centre gig undertaken as a warm-up for two huge Wembley Stadium shows, Albarn and self-deprecating guitarist Graham Coxon return to The Stanway School, which they attended as children and now has a classroom named for them. The headmaster is dumbstruck when Albarn profanely explains why he was beaten up daily and at his suggestion the room is furnished with a bowl of weed for budding musicians.

Small, serious moments give the piece real texture. It’s a shame there aren’t more.

It’s not all pedagogue embarrassment, though. Albarn weeps during album playback and sometimes cuts a melancholic figure, possibly due to a long-term relationship dissolving before recording. Elsewhere, the band pointedly reflect on the disaster of Brexit. These small, serious moments give the piece real texture. It’s a shame there aren’t more. Bassist Alex James still clearly still loves to party, while sensible, sober drummer Dave Rowntree suffers a bad knee injury that jeopardises but doesn’t thwart the triumphant Wembley gigs. They’re all looking exhausted, but that’s rock ’n’ roll.

An uplifting finale comprises snippets of Wembley’s triumphant nights — including a riotous ‘Song 2’ and ‘The Universal’, as profoundly beautiful as ever — where the band are at their most happy and energised (a full concert doc will follow this release). Evidently, it’s worth making it To The End.

Out front and backstage, this illuminating but not quite revelatory documentary shows a vulnerable, exhausted Blur and the band at their best. Interesting to casual fans, essential for devotees.
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