Blur – ‘The Ballad of Darren’ Review: Their brilliance continues

Blur – ‘The Ballad of Darren’ Review: Their brilliance continues

Damon Albarn, the renowned songwriter of Blur, is known for infusing deep emotion into every creation he releases. At the recent reunion shows of Blur held at Wembley Stadium, Albarn’s performance of their 2012 single ‘Under The Westway’ left a profound impact on both the audience and himself.

The song, named after the west London underpass, stirred strong emotions in Albarn, and he was moved to tears during its performance, reflecting the tenderness and beauty of the song’s message: “paradise is not lost, it is in you.”

The Westway has been a recurring theme in Albarn’s music, previously referenced in songs like ‘For Tomorrow’ from 1992 and ‘Fool’s Day’ from 2010. This poignant and mournful song remains one of their most touching pieces. It’s no surprise that Albarn’s emotional connection with the song aligns with the overall theme of their latest album, ‘The Ballad of Darren,’ which delves into nostalgia, loss, and melancholy.

The album’s lead single, ‘The Narcissist,’ showcased its profound impact during a BBC 6 Music and Steve Lamacq’s show, evoking tears from those present. ‘The Ballad of Darren’ is undoubtedly an album that strikes a powerful emotional chord with its listeners, capturing the essence of Damon Albarn’s unique and deeply heartfelt songwriting style.

Over the past two decades, Blur has remained a significant yet somewhat distant presence in the lives of its members. While each band member has pursued various projects and ventures—Damon with Gorillaz and multiple side-projects, Graham with a solo career and The Waeve, Dave Rowntree in politics, and Alex James with his passion for cheese—the sense of unfinished business with Blur has always lingered.

Despite never officially splitting, each time they resurface, it feels like rekindling a long-estranged affair. With only two albums released in the last 20 years since 2003’s ‘Think Tank’—’The Ballad of Darren’ and 2015’s ‘The Magic Whip’—it’s evident that the band shares this sentiment.

Emotions are running high as Damon began writing demos during his Gorillaz tour last year. When he presented these demos to the band, the recording process quickly took shape. The lead single ‘The Narcissist,’ released in May, serves as an aftershock and reflection on their current state, with Damon looking back on the friends he has lost, including Bobby Womack, Tony Allen, and late tour manager Craig Duffy and his wife. The opening line of the song, “Looked in the mirror / So many people standing there,” carries deep resonance and is already regarded as one of Blur’s great songs.

Contrasting their last record, which occasionally revisited the energetic spirit of the mid-’90s, ‘The Ballad of Darren’ exhibits a more muted and contemplative side of the band. The songs are filled with moments of sheer heartbreak, with Albarn subtly alluding to the personal circumstances behind them in recent interviews. The album’s devastating opener, ‘The Ballad,’ expresses the pain of loss, singing, “I just looked into my life / And all I saw was that you’re not coming back.” On the track ‘Barbaric,’ he openly references a breakup, describing two individuals who have lost the feeling they once thought would be eternal. These emotions evoke comparisons to the bleakness found in their classic track ‘No Distance Left To Run.’

In summary, Blur’s latest album ‘The Ballad of Darren’ resonates with raw emotion, heartfelt introspection, and deep personal experiences, making it a powerful addition to the band’s discography. Fans can expect a more subdued and contemplative side of Blur, while still embracing the essence of their iconic sound.

Amidst the somber tone of their latest record, ‘The Ballad of Darren,’ there lies a resolute and life-affirming spirit that speaks to the band’s cohesive momentum. Unlike their previous album ‘The Magic Whip,’ which was pieced together in separate takes, this new release showcases the band moving as a unit with a sense of purpose. The highlight track, ‘Barbaric,’ carries a hint of Gorillaz-inspired liveliness, while ‘Russian Strings’ exudes a low-key yet powerful majesty.

Drummer Dave Rowntree’s subtle and electronic moments on the record stand out, and bassist Alex James delivers understated but impactful basslines, keeping the compositions far from feeling lackluster. Tracks like ‘Avalon’ evoke the grandeur of earlier hits ‘This Is A Low’ and ‘The Universal,’ adding depth to the album.

‘The Ballad of Darren’ is brimming with a sense of brotherhood, a bond that has only grown stronger over time. The intertwining vocals of Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon, who have been close friends since their teenage years, evoke heartening emotions.

Their lyrics seem to speak to each other directly, emphasizing the deep connection between them. On ‘The Heights,’ Albarn expresses gratitude for the unwavering support from the Blur faithful over the band’s 30-year journey. The song’s gentle acoustic strum complements his heartfelt sentiments.

Blur’s albums have always captured specific moments or emotions rather than striving for timelessness. This unique quality sets them apart. ‘The Ballad of Darren’ is no exception, as it resonates deeply and touches the soul with every sung line and played note. In a recent interview with NME, Rowntree expressed how everything came together effortlessly during recording, creating a magical atmosphere that lingers throughout the album.

This unforgettable and touching record is a testament to the enduring spirit of Blur. The emotions conveyed in ‘The Ballad of Darren’ are palpable, and its impact is destined to remain timeless. With the band’s cohesive unity and shared purpose, they continue to captivate listeners, leaving a lasting impression that will never fade away.

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