In the 1990s, Blur exploded out of Essex and put up a fight to become the voice of a generation. They were one of the biggest bands around, a group who epitomised the hedonistic ’90s with their bolshy sound that had the credentials to back up their bravado and an arsenal of tunes that made them more than just another Britpop band.
Their collective careers outside of the band speak volumes about why Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree were a perfect combination. Whilst Albarn has gone on to create even more history in a different field with Gorillaz alongside Jamie Hewlett, Coxon has quietly carved out a solo career that deserves more celebration.
Over the last couple of years, he has swapped his trademark licks in and leaned more into the atmospheric world of television soundtracks, creating the music for Netflix’s hit show, The End Of The Fucking World. That has allowed Coxon to explore a more mature side to his musical self, which he has excelled at, even if it is a step away from the sound we will associate with him.
It’s hard to argue with the fact that Coxon is one of the most talented and influential guitarists to have emerged out of Britain over the last number of decades. Coxon has earned his right to be in the conversation when it comes to great British guitarists. This feature celebrates some of his finest day’s in the sun, which was excruciatingly impossible to narrow down to just six, considering the vast weaponry he has forged over his time.
Graham Coxon’s best riffs:
Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree as a collective are national treasures. Their ascendancy to this status arrived off the back of Parklife and The Great Escape. However, without Modern Life Is Rubbish, their legacy may never have happened, and who knows if Oasis would have ever had any challengers to their throne.
‘Chemical World’ punctuated the album right in the middle and showed the evolution in Blur within one song. Coxon completely steals the show over the final furious sector of the track. It sees the band slowly build before the guitarist delivers a sermon that he’d never got close to before and has only competed with on a handful of occasions since.
Blur in 1995 was at their scintillating best following a hattrick of splendid albums, and there was no stopping them. The story behind ‘Charmless Man ‘is about as Britpop as you can get, as it rumoured to be about Albarn’s girlfriend at the time, Elastica’s Justine Frischmann and a dig at her previous partner Suede’s Brett Anderson — a love triangle made up entirely of indie royalty.
‘Charmless Man’ is one of the true definitive Britpop anthems that epitomised that era that still so many are pining its loss, even 25 years later. This record was the last true album in the mould of the sub-genre by Blur, who advanced their sound following The Great Escape. Their innovativeness is why they are revered as highly as they are today. You don’t get more Britpop than ‘Charmless Man’.
‘Song 2’ may have been born out of a joke, with Blur producing a piss-take effort designed to annoy their record label executives who asked for a radio-friendly single and off the cuff, they delivered this gem, which they thought would go down like a lead balloon. Whilst it started as a parody of the grunge movement, which dominated the airwaves at the time, Blur turned it up to 11 and demonstrated that they could out rock anybody.
Coxon was the mastermind who changed a pretty acoustic ditty that Albarn had written into a brutal anthem, which they didn’t think much about when they created it. The venomous vocals coupled with Coxon and Alex James deliberately trying to be as belligerent as possible on their respective instruments accidentally led to creating a masterpiece.
‘Coffee & TV’
This 1999 effort was the brainchild of Coxon dealing with his life-changing once he gave up alcohol and entered sobriety. The juxtaposition between Coxon’s upbeat punchy addition to the track with dejected lyrics makes for an almighty concoction.
As the track was such a personal one for Coxon, he also took up the reigns on vocals for arguably Blur’s most-beloved song. On top of that, his solo is something to behold, Coxon told NME in 2012: “I just put something there because we wanted to fill a gap, and said ‘We’ll come back to it’, and the song developed, so we kept it,” he said. “It’s one of the nicest things about making songs. And that solo, I wasn’t even looking at the guitar, I was just stomping on pedals.”
For Coxon’s fifth solo album, 2004’s Happiness In Magazines, he teamed up again with Stephen Street, who produced Blur’s first five albums. He unlocked that special something out of the guitarist once again as he produced his finest solo effort under Street’s stewardship.
‘Freakin’ Out’ is Coxon returning to his Britpop roots. Listening to the song immediately transports you to the lukewarm lager filled nights and sticky-floors of indie nightclubs across Britain in the mid-2000s. The track was a reminder from Coxon that if it’s a punchy riff you’re after, he’ll always be the man.
‘This Old Town’
It’s always a risky moment when two icons in their own right join forces, but when news spread in 2007 that Graham Coxon had linked up with Paul Weller, there were no worries about the EP being anything but a shimmering listen.
The two stalwarts of British music didn’t disappoint one iota, and ‘This Old Town’ is a serotonin booster that both Blur and The Jam would be proud to9 have created. Weller and Coxon have worked together numerous times over the years, but we are still waiting on a full-album from the two that The Modfather hinted at in 2012, telling 6 Music: “I’d love to do a whole album with him, it’s just a matter of getting the time to do it. I think we could do something really special together.”