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Pop Music Review

Blur Redraws Sound Approach and Hits Upon a Harsher Tone

April 03, 1999|MARC WEINGARTEN

No one can accuse Blur of playing it safe. The quartet, once the most distinctively English of all the '90s Brit-pop bands, abandoned the arch narratives and melodic cheer of its past in favor of darker hues on its 1996 album, "Blur," and has entrenched itself in noisy guitars and unsettling abstraction on its new album, "13." As if to underscore its commitment to its new approach, Blur played the new album in its entirety at the Mayan Theatre on Thursday, with only a few older songs reserved for the encore set.

Because Blur's show followed the sequence of the album, it opened the show with its new single "Tender," a stately plea for human kindness. With a full choir providing the requisite evangelical fervor on the chorus, it was the evening's emotional highlight.

From there, the band trudged into "13's" sonic muck by refashioning its tics to accommodate the new material's harsher tone. Singer Damon Albarn toned down his faux Cockney accent in favor of a guttural yelp, while guitarist Graham Coxon relied on angular atonalities that brought to mind Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.

But the band's commitment to "13" at the Mayan felt like hard-sell zealotry; the musicians seemed just a little too eager to redefine themselves at the expense of their older material. By staking out new territory, Blur lost sight of pacing and wound up sounding more monochromatic than it really is.

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