BRIT-ROCK: BLUR AND MORRISSEY
The Boston Phoenix (Sep. 19, 1997)
review by Matt Ashare
submitted by Daniel Cox
|Three years ago, over a pre-gig dinner at what was then the Pizza Pad
in Kenmore Square, singer Damon Albarn summed up his band's frustration over their
commercial performance in the US by wryly wondering aloud whether Blur would ever
"get off Lansdowne Street." At the time they were touring behind Parklife (SBK),
a breakthrough in England that is often credited with catalyzing the '90s Brit-pop revival
and that had the band playing stadiums on their home turf. But what Albarn had helped to
bring back was a specifically English strain of Brit-pop that has rarely ever appealed to
a broad American audience, "a strain whose lineage can be traced back to the '60s
Kinks (whose singer, Ray Davies, was incidentally last seen in these parts playing the
Lansdowne Street Playhouse), through the Smiths (and Morrissey as a solo artist), Squeeze,
the Jam (and Paul Weller as a solo artist), and even the Fall.
Two jewels in the Brit-pop crown - Blur and Morrissey - proved they'd at least graduated from the clubs of Lansdowne Street to the larger Orpheum Theatre last weekend. Blur drew a capacity crowd to their Saturday show, at which a smiling Albarn remembered, after a rousing encore rendition of "Parklife," to offer a hearty "goodbye" to Lansdowne Street. And Morrissey, who didn't even bother to tour the US behind his last couple of releases, filled the Orpheum the following night.
Blur are currently in phase three of a dynamic career that has seen them put their own spin on groovy Manchester-style psychedelicized rock; embrace the crafty buttoned-down look and sound of Englands mod heritage on the subsequent Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape; and then loosen up enough to let the scruffy aesthetic of American indie rock infiltrate the new Blur (Virgin). It's a disc rife with Pavement-style abraded guitar textures, discordant distortion, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Yet the band have been smart enough not to disown any of their early work (or fans) as they've moved forward.
Blur's Orpheum set drew on each of their five albums, opening with the caustic yet tuneful blast of three gritty tunes from the new one ("Beetlebum," "Movin' On," and "M.O.R."), closing with the pretty, synth-string-laden "The Universe" (front The Great Escape), and segueing from bouncy renditions of their first singles ("There's No Other Way" and "She's So High") to the darker mood of the very Pavementy "Country Sad Ballad Man" and the tongue-in-cheek synthpop of the Parklife single "Girls and Boys." Rather than seeming like a mere I exercise in hit-and-run styie-hopping, Blur's mix-and-match approach came off as a refreshingly rare case of a '90s band comfortably fluent in more than one dialect of the increasingly fragmented language of pop.
The same could not be said of Morrissey, an artist whose relevance though he continues to make solid albums (including the new Mercury disc, Maladjusted) appears to be waning. If, fronting the Smiths, he once was poised to conquer the world for the meek, he now seems content merely to sympathize with them for an hour or so. And perhaps because he didnt tour behind his last two albums, his Orpheum set met his fans only halfway, neglecting his best solo material in favor of middling tunes from the new disc, 94s Vauxhall and I, and 95s Southpaw Grammar (both Sire/Reprise). Although the buoyant new single "Roys Keen" and Vauxhalls "Speedway" carried some momentum, they werent up to the par of the two oldies he played, the Smiths gems "Paint a Vulgar Picture" and "Shoplifters of the World Unite." For now, at least, Morrissey, like Paul Weller, seems to be in a holding pattern here in the US. And Weller is playing Avalon on, yes, Lansdowne Street, next Friday.