In June 1999, Blur surprised everybody. Not with a public tiff with another band or controversial off-stage behaviour, but with a single that saw guitarist Graham Coxon take centre stage as lead vocalist, with Damon Albarn supplying his signature lilt to backing vocals.
The song was, of course, 'Coffee + TV', a track that became the indie disco soundtrack for the final summer of the 20th Century. The song stole the limelight from its proceeding single 'Tender' taken from the same album ('13'). 'Coffee + TV' used many more elements of the successful Blur formula than the gospel heavy 'Tender'. Despite the more muscular guitar sound that had become favoured by Coxon on '13', and 1997's 'Blur' before it, 'Coffee + TV' had a more familiar Brit-pop era song structure. The song was also aided, in no small part, by the memorable promo video made by Hammer & Tongs.
The video proved prophetic in a way, showing Graham Coxon appearing as a missing family member on the side of the animated milk carton (known as Milky). Coxon is portrayed as a lost character eventually, returning home thanks to the efforts and sacrifices of Milky.
Unlike other songs on '13' which dealt with Damon Albarn's break up with Justine Frischmann, 'Coffee + TV' focussed on Coxon's troubles. Graham Coxon's personal struggles ultimately led him to be largely absent from the band's 2002 album 'Think Tank' and remain so until 2009 when the line up reformed for their well-received 2009 Hyde Park gig.
The promotional boost provided by the charming video helped the song buck the trend in the US, where Brit-pop enthusiasm had waned, and 'Coffee + TV' helped Blur remain a winning band in the MTV world. Marketing aside, the song won acclaim for its lyrical content, juxtaposing the introspective subject matter with the cheery tune, framing one of the most lauded guitar solos of the period.
In a 2009 interview with Fender, Coxon stated "I think it's one of my favourite solos I’ve ever done. That solo had no predetermined plan; it’s just the thumping on of a load of effects pedals on the floor and bending notes to see how they fit. It’s kind of like Jackson Pollock style."
When Blur came together again to record their 2015 comeback LP 'The Magic Whip', 'Coffee + TV' remained part of the live sets that supported the long-awaited release. It might not be from their perceived the Brit-pop heydey and Damon doesn't sing the lead vocal but 'Coffee + TV' is one of the greatest song's Blur produced and one of the most quietly brilliant songs of the 1990s.