All the People: Live in Hyde Park

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Usually, a six-year gap in activity isn’t long enough to qualify a band for reunion status -- that’s just one year longer than it took the Stone Roses to record a second album -- but in Blur’s case, their 2003 album Think Tank felt more like a coda than a conclusion, arriving several years after guitarist Graham Coxon left in a storm of bad blood. Instead of carrying on with the name, Damon Albarn pursued Gorillaz and the Good, the Bad & the Queen while Coxon carved out a career as an indie popster, Alex James retired to a farm to make cheese, and Dave Rowntree unsuccessfully ran for office. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, at least for certain fans and bandmates, so Blur kissed and made up for a quick summer reunion tour in 2009, playing only their beloved England and going no further than that. Even the double-disc live souvenir All the People: Blur Live in Hyde Park July 2 2009 didn’t appear outside of the U.K., and the album reveals that Blur’s playlist was also Brit-centric, a virtual riposte to the Brit-pop-shunning compilation Midlife that accompanied the summer reunion. In Hyde Park, Blur leaned heavily on their classic mid-period -- no less than eight songs from Parklife surface, another five from Modern Life Is Rubbish -- but whatever nostalgic bent there may be is undercut by a ferocious, aggressive performance that turns even “Country House” into a muscular stomp. It’s good to hear that the reunited Blur can still threaten to careen out of control just as they did in their peak -- “Song 2,” “Parklife,” and “Jubilee” are manic, while “Popscene” almost flies off the rails -- but there’s also no disguising this is an older band, with Albarn’s voice sounding deep and gravelly, threatening to go short of breath at times. Damon also underscores the band's advancing age by needlessly updating his lyrics -- “love in the ‘90s/was paranoid,” “and the mind gets dirty/as you get closer/to 50” -- but that’s kind of the point of this whole weird reunion: it’s designed as clear-eyed nostalgia, a one-time thing with an explicit expiration date. It may be a load of fun, but it’s clear from Albarn’s barking command that he has no interest in these good times lasting any longer than necessary.

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