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Blur - The Ballad of Darren (Album Review)

Friday, 21 July 2023 Written by Craig Howieson

Photo: Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

“Looked in the mirror, so many people standing there,” Damon Albarn sang to introduce The Narcissist, the first single from Blur’s ninth album. In fewer than 10 words he conveyed an awful lot about the band, reminding us of the many guises they have worn over more than 30 years in each other’s company.

From Britpop pioneers to lo-fi experimenters, forgotten greats to revered reunion tourers, the group have a lot of baggage. But, as the ecstatic response to their recent Wembley Stadium shows proved, they also have a hell of a lot of fans. 

If 2015’s ‘The Magic Whip’ was Blur’s ‘proper’ reunion record, coming 12 years after ‘Think Tank’, it didn’t leave a significant dent.

Despite being a commercial and critical success, not to mention a thoroughly enjoyable listen, few of its tracks might warrant inclusion in a greatest hits set. For confirmation, see the running order from those big nights at the home of English football. 

‘The Ballad of Darren’, in contrast, is full of them. The record as a whole has the feel of a band reinvigorated. St. Charles Square finds Graham Coxon in thoroughly fine axe-wielding form, with thrilling lead lines morphing into a moody overdriven chug. Beyond its contextual weight The Narcissist is a wistful, rose-hued promise to learn from past mistakes. And, as Coxon's unassuming backing vocals prop up Albarn and the band shake their way into the chorus, it’s a delight to hear brothers back in arms. 

There is a leisurely pace throughout that suits Blur, from the shuffle of Barbaric allowing Alex James’s bass to pop its head above the mix to the faux jazz of Avalon, where Albarn can let his voice roam free. The relaxed atmosphere brings out the best in each member, without robbing the tracks of their impact. 

For a band in their 50s, it is perhaps only fitting that the passing of time casts a shadow over ‘The Ballad of Darren’. And whether mortality has become a preoccupation for Albarn, or merely an inescapable part of everyday life, it is dealt with head on. Recognising on Russian Strings that, “There’s nothing in the end only dust,” and accepting it’s “Just something that comes to us all” on Avalon, he provides  reassurance that there will be music to soundtrack all that may come.

In terms of special, stadium-ready moments, album closer The Heights stakes a strong claim as its lonesome interplay of acoustic and electric guitars gradually swells into a near orchestral experience. The lyrics could be read as a love letter to music fans and music itself, channelling a determination to make the most of shared experiences while time remains. 

‘The Ballad of Darren’ feels like the third coming of Blur, stoking hope that it is the start of yet another new chapter. But, regardless of whether it does or doesn’t spark a creative boom for the band, it offers further proof that they have a body of work that will carry on long after life overtakes us. 

Blur Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat July 22 2023 - LUCCA Lucca Summer Festival (Italy)

Tue July 25 2023 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

Wed August 09 2023 - OSLO Toyenpark (Norway)
Thu August 31 2023 - LISBON Bela Vista Park (Portugal)

Compare & Buy Blur Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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