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Album Review: Blur – The Ballad Of Darren

2 min read
Album Review: Blur - The Ballad Of Darren

Britpop icons Blur are back with their ninth album The Ballad Of Darren. The record comes after a hiatus following 2015 release The Magic Whip. This reunion is particularly jubilant for the band, as they’ve embarked on a tour marked by two consecutive performances at Wembley Stadium – their largest to date. With the title referencing the group’s head of security Darren “Smoggy” Evans, The Ballad Of Darren is a ripened comeback laced with sentiment.

Dedicated to Smoggy, opener The Ballad takes listeners back to 2003 when frontman Damon Albarn first wrote the song as a solo demo. Smoggy encouraged Damon to finish it, and twenty years later the melancholic piano ballad sees the light of day. Playing like a slow montage, something is missing as Damon reflectively sings, “I just looked into my life/And all I saw was that you’re not coming back.” The tone is unexpectedly wistful, but it is a fitting introduction that establishes loss as a recurring theme.

Second track St.Charles Square flips the switch with gritty, climbing guitar runs directly reminiscent of the raw alt-rock sound that defined the band throughout the nineties. “I fucked up,” Damon admits, “I’m not the first to do it.” As the song raucously unfolds, a confession does not erase his mistakes. Barbaric is an instant catch with its leisurely flow of electronic pulses, short riffs, and shiny melodies. While the chorus feels embracing, the lyrics convey the cruelty of fleeting love. “We have lost the feeling that we thought we’d never lose/It is barbaric.”

Russian Strings and The Everglades (For Leonard) are aching slow waltzes defined by a search for something that has long been lost. The Narcissist picks up the pace, rightfully being the first single from the album. The instrumental is driven yet bittersweet as Damon builds his walls, “But I won’t fall this time/With Godspeed/I’ll heed the signs.” In Far Away Island, Damon seems to find some footing as he is no longer lost, but he is not interested in building foundations with Avalon.  Closer The Heights explores the transience of time. The track finds a way to linger after listening with a vibrant mix of acoustic and electric melodies, harmonious vocals, distantly sharp strings, and an unexpectedly distorted outro.

On The Ballad Of Darren, Blur slows down. Despite each member taking different directions during lengthy hiatuses, the four-piece has come together to bring out an album that shows they haven’t quite outgrown their glory days. With robust instrumentation and moving lyricism, the record is a special experience for both new and long-time listeners.