Album Review

Blur - The Ballad Of Darren

Older, wiser and more reflective.

Blur - The Ballad Of Darren

The announcement back in May of a new Blur album came as something of a surprise. With a smattering of festival appearances and stadium shows on the books while the clock struck 30 years on ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’, it seemed the band were destined to be bringing only anniversary celebrations to the table. Yet while many of their one-time contemporaries are indebted and imprisoned in the decade from whence they came, Blur have shimmied out of the woodwork armed with new material a number of times, firstly with single ‘Under The Westway’ in 2012 and LP ‘The Magic Whip’ in 2015 which crackled with energy and invention.

There’s a feeling of unity in the aging process across ‘The Ballad Of Darren’, with the four-piece all now in their mid to late 50s; the group’s ninth album is christened as a nod to people of their generation. Damon Albarn starts out on the bouncy singalong ‘Barbaric’ noting “I have lost the feeling I thought I’d never lose”, but by the end of the track that ‘I’ becomes ‘we’. Among his band mates of three decades, he’s able to tap into a perspective that rarely makes itself known in his Gorillaz universe.

The rose-tinted lenses are slipped on during gorgeous opener ‘The Ballad’, led by piano and flourishes of strings where the frontman professes “the words are hitting him in a full-on assault”. Glimmers of memories gone-by slip through the cracks in Graham Coxon’s backing vocals: “I met you at an early show,” he sings. “We travelled round the world”. ‘St Charles Square’ shakes the cobwebs off with a chugging glam blitz which mines the more raucous sides of ‘Parklife’ proving they can still manifest a screamer. Damon’s roars bookend the pre-chorus among Graham Coxon’s off-kilter riffs which hold the askew cabaret of classic Blur.

Musically, the gentler side of Blur slips into frame more frequently to accompany the album’s more wistful energy. This works beautifully on ‘Russian Strings’ which extends a handout to the warring country - “Where are you now? / Are you contactable?” - and the fragile acoustic-plucked strings of ‘The Everglades’. ‘Far Away Island’ may trail off into cookie-cutter Damon melancholia, but new fields are plowed on ‘Avalon’ - a brass-led stomper indebted to a little Motown - and ‘Goodbye Albert’ which bobs atop a pulsating synth-bass.

What’s clearly potent here is the chemical constitution of the four-piece. Written for the most part on a Gorillaz tour last year, never for a moment does it feel like the group are trying to ape another sound or reclaim parts of their younger selves; it’s the same energy which still rampantly fills the air around them - but it’s older, wiser and more reflective. A wonderful surprise album whose existence in 2023 actually makes perfect sense.

Tags: Blur, Reviews, Album Reviews

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