Was Damon Albarn's creative split with Graham Coxon the best thing that ever happened to him? Since Albarn called time on the 1990s Blur era with a best-of compliation, Albarn has reached something of a creative peak - irreverently declaring the likes of Country House 'a joke'. He subsequently invented the Gorillaz franchise, completed Blur's best (and ultimately un-Blur-like) album Think Tank and is now firing off successful side projects. Whereas Park Life era gave Albarn the unwelcome association with the pop-cultural phenomenon of Britpop and its New Labor subsidiary Cool Britannia, this album could be construed as a hangover from that time. With its dub-tinged dolldrums, it reminds one of The Specials and The Clash in its dark evocation of London life and its wintry reflection on a 'stroppy little island of mixed up people'. A collaboration with Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and Fela Kuti's Tony Allen, there is a consistency in its vision of London in a period of pessimism about the Iraq war and environmental degradation: "I wrote this song ... years ago ... before the war and the tidal wave".
This is very much an album album - not a few singles and some filler - which is why it is best viewed as a whole. Its mood is sombre but it is given levity by the lightness and subtle dynamism of the production - from the Spanish guitar of The History Song to the shimmering electronics of Herculeum. There is also some fine whistling (really!) and some Enio Morricone guitar (unsurprisingly considering the name of the project) mixed into to its oppressive vision of morning-after-the-night-before metropolitan life. Sometimes Albarn's world-weary vocals grate a little in their repetitiveness, but there are enough musical surprises and inventiveness to keep the listener engaged.
What makes Albarn's current musical output so impressive is that it blends genres in a way that is fresh and experimental without sacrificing a pop sensibility. While the music industry is down a creqtive cul de sac only signing artists who imititate acts gone before, the former Blur frontman is producing music with a distinctive and authentic soul. Albarn may yet be remembered for his enormous contribution to the musical landscape of the noughties as much as he helped define the 90s. He should be.
8 people found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?