Blur
The Ballad of Darren


3.6
great

Review

by Raul Stanciu STAFF
July 21st, 2023 | 78 replies


Release Date: 07/21/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: At their most vulnerable.

It seems Blur finally settled into a pace of their own, allowing themselves to feel the joys of playing together once again. Conflicts between Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon are settled, the two offering each other the necessary creative space these days. 2015’s The Magic Whip was unsurprisingly solid, touching various moments from their discography amid new directions. Its eclectic sound left many doors open as to what we could further expect from the band. Functioning as an on-and-off project since the 2009 reunion, there was no pressure to maintain any momentum. Also, working spontaneously seemed to be the trick to keep things interesting for the quartet. As a result, The Ballad of Darren was as much of a surprise for them as it is for us apparently. Almost a decade after its predecessor, entering full legacy mode, you could say there’s no need for them to release new music. Still, this is an act that became more interesting after their commercial peak. The record could have taken any sonic form, especially due to a newfound eagerness to record fresh material. While more familiar with their mid-‘90s output than their experimental phases, the LP definitely puts a mature spin on it.

Most of the tracks have reportedly started as demos composed by Damon on tour with Gorillaz last year, then passed on to the guys to work their magic on them. The entire record was developed and finished this spring. At a length of 36 minutes, this is by far their briefest affair. Nevertheless, it does not feel rushed or a jukebox selection of Blur’s previous styles. The intimate vibe it boasts offers a different experience from the more bombastic, big budget records they usually craft. In most cases, you can hear just the four musicians playing their instruments and minimal overdubs. “The Ballad”, a tune bodyguard Darren kept nagging Albarn to finish for 20 years now, fittingly opens this late evening listen. A straightforward, reflective number, it sets an overall bittersweet mood via a dry drum beat and soft piano chords. Over them, Coxon’s weeping guitar solos become an instant treat, but perhaps too swift to truly sink in. Meanwhile, “Russian Strings” and “The Everglades” share lovely, low-key moments, whether the former’s lush, aristocratic-like, piano-led melodies or the mellow acoustic guitars of the latter. The rather downcast tone in the front man’s voice haunts most of the album, laced with corresponding lyrics often talking about loss and longing. A handful of Albarn’s friends passed away lately, so it’s understandable he unloaded this burden in these mournful cuts.

Unfortunately, the upbeat tracks are scarce on The Ballad of Darren. Thankfully, the ones present are all highlights: “St. Charles Square” harkens to The Great Escape, Graham’s dissonant leads being a tad more poignant. It’s a fun tune coming from a side of Blur that should have had more dedicated room here. Then, “Barbaric” infuses a dose of Gorillaz-ness that can’t be unheard, yet its playful rhythm and charming singalongs automatically get you hooked. It is probably the catchiest ditty here alongside first single, “The Narcissist”. With infectious vocals, especially during the chorus and sweet guitar chords, it makes for one of the most immediate Blur singles in over 20 years. The remaining numbers all share laid back tempos, the most memorable of them being “Goodbye Albert”. There are some gorgeous harmonies between the melody and Damon’s croon. An added vocoder layer doubling him without detracting from the overall appeal is a rare, memorable feature for the respective instrument. Even though these are all solid songs, a couple of more energetic ones would have balanced the listen, especially during the second half. In the end, The Ballad of Darren presents itself as probably the most humble collection in the band’s catalog. With considerable pretentiousness stripped off, we catch a glimpse of sustained vulnerability rarely seen on their records. The sound is familiar, yet miles away from previous efforts. That makes it interesting and ultimately, a success coming from an act who could have easily just rest on their laurels. Much like The Magic Whip, it maintains multiple sonic doors open for a follow-up, whenever it might happen.



Recent reviews by this author
Moby Always Centered At NightBat For Lashes The Dream of Delphi
Stonebride Smiles RevolutionarytripleS ASSEMBLE24
High on Fire Cometh the StormBongripper Empty
user ratings (84)
3.4
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
July 21st 2023


6202 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

I think Sputnik will dig this more than I did. Great album, but a bit too low-key.



Stream here - http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_ngG9c06C8rkYhY4KaA302aXiujzm1Elos

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
July 21st 2023


47738 Comments


honestly think this might be one of their strongest albums. absolutely lovely stuff, the CD bonus tracks are gorgeous too

zakalwe
July 21st 2023


39238 Comments


As I watched this band belt out Turning Japanese on MTVs Most Wanted 30yrs ago I would have been staggered if you’d told me they would still be going in 2023, playing Wembley and releasing great albums.

Life is a funny old game.

DoofDoof
July 21st 2023


15326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Three songs in and already this is going to be nowhere near last year's Suede for me.

zakalwe
July 21st 2023


39238 Comments


Not a lot is.

Morning doof.

DoofDoof
July 21st 2023


15326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Morning, I'd say you know my opinion on Blur and they'll never surprise me...but my opinion of Suede was way lower and then last year that album totally won me over.



Everyone loves a ballad, Albarn's really gone all in for that resigned vibe since about 2010 - still doesn't quite translate for me, this is ok though. Still probably prefer listening to him do this than Alex Turner whose voice stands out as gimmicky to me with a muted backing behind him.

zakalwe
July 21st 2023


39238 Comments


Yeah Damon does some a proper stroppy bollocks the last few years. Worst dress sense of all time as well.

DoofDoof
July 21st 2023


15326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

does seem a bit of a designer label casualty

Pikazilla
July 21st 2023


30124 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

blur have always been shite imo



plebs seem to love the ice cream cone album as well, ig they are fooking deaf



and yes last year's suede was great

DoofDoof
July 21st 2023


15326 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

this is better than the ice cream cone but think we're heading towards a matching rating here pika

MyMentality
July 21st 2023


1514 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Far Away Island is wonderful. Think this one will take a few spins to click, it's very downbeat. I love me some melancholic Blur though, Think Tank is probably my favourite album of their's because of those types of tracks.

markjamie
July 21st 2023


742 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is gorgeous. Give me this, 13 and Parklife and it's all the Blur I will ever need.

onionbubs
July 21st 2023


21331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

stoked for this v excited to throw it on. do agree that suede's newest is hard to compete with tho

markjamie
July 21st 2023


742 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

They're such different albums in the context of each band's career, but pretty similar in quality I think. Where they are alike, and both so impressive, is in their resistance to recycling past glories. There really isn't another Blur album like this.

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
July 21st 2023


6202 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6

@Rowan - unfortunately, I didn’t have the bonus tracks in the stream, but will buy the CD soon. Curious if they are more upbeat or mellow?

MyMentality
July 21st 2023


1514 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Gave this a few spins now, and something is amiss. Not sure if it's the lack of immediacy, or slow pacing, but it's not doing a lot for me. Coxon and his creative use of Guitar sounds is my biggest takeaway from this, there's some really nice musical flourishes throughout.

The Interpol-esque "Narcissist" is quite the banger, it goes down well live. Far Away Island is also very lovely. I'm just not getting drawn into particularly anything else, which is a shame. There's elements of something great, but I just want more from it to be honest.

The Magic Whip is better.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
July 21st 2023


47738 Comments


@insomniac The Rabbi is a bit more energetic and Graham heavy, Swan is a bit more mellow. both really lovely tunes

onionbubs
July 21st 2023


21331 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this rules. top 3 blur. absolutely gorgeous stuff



bonus songs are phenomenal too

MyMentality
July 21st 2023


1514 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I really want to like this... Will give it a few days I think

gschwen
July 21st 2023


989 Comments


I absolutely loathed the Magic Whip, so that I think this is average or slightly above is a bit of a shock... what really appeals to me is how good "The Narcissist" is.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2023 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy