Blur – The Ballad of Darren
Britpop icons Blur are finally at ease with their middle-aged selves, opening up the possibility of a thrilling third act of their career
It’s been a while since Blur made a record, and even longer since they made a record like this. Their late-period output, when assessed in the context of their wider catalogue, is imbued with a certain darkness – whether it be the melancholy of 2003’s Think Tank, made as the relationship between Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon was wearing irreparably thin, or the claustrophobic strangeness of 2015’s The Magic Whip, as they tried to recapture past glories in a Hong Kong studio and were only partially successful.
There’s been a heaviness, a weight to latter-day Blur – until now. They shake it off on The Ballad of Darren, a handsome set that sounds like four mates having fun again. They seamlessly slip on many of the masks of old; they’re rabble-rousers on Barbaric, nonchalant pop-rockers on St Charles Square, fond repurposers of their US alt-rock influences on Goodbye Albert and endearingly lovelorn on the aching Far Away Island.
The instrumental palette is relatively simple and the melodies played straight, where on their last couple of records, some of Albarn’s Gorillaz-world weirdness found a way to creep in. There is no more potent reminder on The Ballad of Darren of what a back-to-basics approach makes possible than the outstanding lead single, The Narcissist. It's the gorgeous, understated sound of a band that suffered such growing pains for so long finally settling handsomely into their own skin. In that respect, it’s the whole album in microcosm.
Listen to: The Narcissist, St Charles Square, Far Away Island