Blur less large

Britpop crew sober up with Think Tank

BLUR and MOVING UNITS at the Kool Haus (1 Jarvis), Monday and Tuesday (July 21 and 22). $39.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN

There was a time not long ago when the members of Blur could be counted on for mayhem. Their old sparring partners in Oasis might have had the tabloid market cornered on tales of boozy bust-ups and hotel room demolition, but privately Blur could match them pint for pint. The group’s alcohol consumption reached heroic levels, enough to send guitarist Graham Coxon staggering away from the band permanently last year in a storm of booze and depression.

It comes as something of a shock, then, to hear of the newly mature and suddenly sober Blur winding their way through America in a haze of culture rather than chaos.

“It’s not the same kind of raucous frenzy that it used to be,” confirms bassist Alex James, the man who famously plowed through £1 million worth of champagne in a year and a half – three bottles a day for 18 months.

“I could large it like none other, but our tours are a good deal more stately these days – museums, art, contemplation, bookshops. You lot have got bookshops sorted here, much more so than in Britain. I love the fact that you can take a punt on something and spend $5 rather than $50 on a book about, say, steam hammers.”

That sudden shift to the sober was part of the process that led to Blur’s seventh album, Think Tank. To get there, the group recorded for over a year, partially in the Moroccan desert with Fatboy Slim.

While the idea of three posh Brits suddenly plunked in the north of Africa is an intriguing one, the results on Think Tank aren’t always as extravagant or exotic as you might hope for. To hear James tell it, though, the process was as important as anything.

“It’s just about getting free. You’ve got to get to the little bit of you that hasn’t been boiled dry. You’ve got to get that freedom, whether it’s by getting smashed or falling in love or going to Morocco.

“You have the illusion of travel when you’re in a band, but I’m about the same distance from a Starbucks today that I was yesterday. We wanted to cancel that out, so we created our own environment. We built a studio in the desert and were in command of things. We could record toy instruments through a million dollars’ worth of equipment in a derelict barn in the middle of sand and no one would question it.”

Where that leaves the band is anyone’s guess. Think Tank sounds a lot like the end of something, and not just because their guitar player mysteriously walked out of the band.

“Blur has grown and changed and expanded beyond what any of us would have predicted,” James insists. “It had to. I need motivation to make music these days. I certainly don’t need to do it for the money.”

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