- 20 Jul 23
Ninth album from Britrock stalwarts
Back in the mid-’90s when the Blur versus Oasis debates were in full swing, few would have predicted that it would be Damon Albarn’s mob who would still be in the zeitgeist almost three decades later. Certainly, the throwaway pop of ‘Country House’ didn’t exactly scream ‘legacy act’. And yet here we are, with the Britrock quartet back from hiatus, garnering excellent reviews for their live show and generally proving themselves to be an enduring cultural phenomenon.
Ninth studio album, The Ballad Of Darren, sees them in world-beating and occasionally world-weary form, from the mid-paced melancholia of ‘Russian Strings’; to the serrated guitar and spiky attitude of ‘St. Charles Square’; and the smooth and sunny pop chops of ‘Barbaric’, reminiscent of Ian Broudie at his finest (and that’s high praise indeed).
Lead single ‘The Narcissist’, complete with ‘60s-style backing vocals, proves that they haven’t lost the ability to bang out a classic pop tune. ‘The Ballad’, meanwhile, is evidence that perhaps Albarn could have a future career as a crooner if he ever decides to hang up his indie boots, his voice veering from deep timbre to sweet falsetto in the space of a few lines. Deliciously ramshackle and gorgeously discordant, ‘Goodbye Albert’ combines a kaleidoscope of descending arpeggios with Albarn’s most aching lyrics since ‘To The End’.
Further highlights include the warped waltz of ‘Far Away Island’ and the string-laden ‘The Everglades’, before ‘Avalon’ swoops from swooning to strident in the space of a few bars. It also finds Albarn wondering, “What’s the point in building Avalon if you can’t be present when it’s done?”
Named after their former bodyguard, Darren ‘Smoggy’ Evans, who still works for the frontman, this is the sound of a band in harmony, even as they’re still kicking against the pricks. A very welcome return.
Read our insightful cover story interview with Blur in the current issue of Hot Press – with the Britpop heroes discussing reinvention, Irish memories, '90s chaos, Elvis, The Pogues, and more...