Released: 21st July 2023
Nostalgia is one hell of a drug. Bands long since anointed to superstardom, returning from a time when the musical world was smaller and the menu more limited, hitting the big gig circuit, reheating those past glories. Remember when you were young? When everything was less awful? Wasn’t that great? That’ll be £80, please. Don’t forget the merch.
But that’s not blur. Though Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave may have signed up for a summer of big shows – including two triumphant nights at Wembley Stadium – they’ve something new to show for themselves too. ‘The Ballad of Darren’ – their ninth studio album – is a perfectly pitched statement of where the band find themselves in 2023. Arriving 32 years since their debut, it’s a perfect mix of past and present – while also proving there’s always going to be a future for an act that always shines brightest when fate brings them back together again.
While 2015’s ‘The Magic Whip’ was a better-than-just-good record, it was also one that had an unusual birth – pulled back together by Coxon from an aborted unplanned Japanese recording session after a cancelled festival appearance. Albarn’s lyrics were only written after the rest of the band presented him with the music. This time around, their iconic frontman was front and centre, laying down demos while on the road with Gorillaz. The result is an album that is packed with raw emotional intent.
To say it’s blur embracing their age would be somewhat of a stretch – ‘St. Charles Square’ is a scrappy, screaming nod to their punkier edge, impish and unapologetic in a way that recalls many of their most iconic stands – but throughout, they feel at ease as a band in their fifties, still able to connect with those of a much younger vintage. ‘Barbaric’ may sound musically bright and breezy, but the melancholy-soaked lyrics offer up something altogether more heartbreaking, while lead single ‘The Narcissist’ has the tinge of a band stepping back from the light, recounting past glories but understanding they’re not done yet.
The anthemic edge which so often elevates blur above their peers remains in check too – ‘Avalon’ and its wistful, vivid imagery bleeds into closer ‘The Heights’, tugging at the heartstrings before fading into a wave of distorted fuzz. It’s more of a potent ellipsis than a full stop on a record that both carries blur’s legacy forwards, and proves it’s far from over. Carrying their past while still living in the present, it walks the perfect line between memories of The Good Ol’ Days and something fresh and new. Unlike any of their previous work, it’s a vibrant testament to their constantly creative spirit. ‘The Ballad of Darren’ is – if nothing else – confirmation that blur are very much a going concern. While there may be prolonged periods spent away – perhaps long enough to make us ask the question if they’ll ever return again – their artistic journey is far from over. As ‘Far Away Islands’ offers, “I know you think I must be lost now, but I’m not anymore.”