America, take note. President Barack Obama’s deft wielding of pop culture in his successful reelection campaign has drawn comparisons recently to former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia.” Except Oasis’ swaggering, blue-collar vision of Britishness, so clearly triumphant in its time, has since just as clearly been usurped by Blur’s cosmopolitan, self-aware, irony-barbed variety. There’s no exact parallel between those groups and Obama’s pals Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Bruce Springsteen, of course. But it’s worth thinking about.
As the United States inevitably makes way for other rising powers, it could do a whole lot worse than to follow the patriotic-yet-poignant example Blur set with their performance of new song “Under the Westway” during the Olympic Closing Ceremony at London’s Hyde Park. Underneath a stage version of the Westway, the highway of the song’s title, Blur’s sometimes-sardonic take on British life crystallizes into familiar, warts ‘n’ all affection. There’s a power in seeing such a large crowd move their lips along with lyrics as tender and emotionally nuanced as: “On a permanent basis I apologize / But I am going to sing, ‘Hallelujah.'”
Blur have already released a digital album of the Hyde Park show, then thought to have been possibly the band’s last. This “Under the Westway” clip is a preview of the band’s upcoming five-disc CD-DVD Parklive package. Nor is Damon Albarn limiting his role as post-imperial British spokesman to his work with Blur, which will be playing at least a couple of festival dates next year. He’s putting together an audio collage for BBC Radio’s 90th anniversary. Over on this side of the pond, NPR is only about 40 years old, so Jay-Z or whoever has some time to play catch up.