Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

The Ballad of Darren marks Blur’s triumphant return

"The Ballad of Darren"

Release date: 14 July 2023
Blur The Ballad of Darren cover
21 July 2023, 09:00 Written by Adele Julia

After eight years spent away, Blur return with their signature cynicism, proving that modern life is still pretty rubbish all these years later.

Though they haven’t released new music since 2015’s The Magic Whip, Blur continue to prove their relevance in British pop culture. Their records not only carved out the revolutionary sound of britpop, but soundtracked the social and political change of the 90s. In the decades since, their legacy lives on – many still champion Oasis as their preferred act and “Song 2” will live out its fate of being overplayed in indie bars until the end of time.

But as Albarn croons, “Every generation has its gilded poseurs” and The Ballad of Darren prove that Blur are some of the best ever to do it. Indeed, the ghost of generation’s past is eerily present throughout, even sonically in the recreation of Parklife’s iconic opening “Oi!” in the rumblings of "St Charles Square". In fact, Albarn’s narration hasn’t aged a day, still tinged with misanthropy and eager to rewrite his wrongs. “I fucked up”, he starts on the very same song, driven by not only the need for redemption but to escape the hauntings of bad habits that have “grabbed me by the neck with its long and slender claws”.

After a rocky breakup, it’s a miracle the band has come together so perfectly on this record. As drummer Dave Rowntree, in a recent interview said; “We love each other and we cannot stand each other, simultaneously, in the way that only a family can.” And in an effort to put old squabbles aside, The Ballad is imbued with a brand-new sense of aged wisdom and more importantly, an overwhelming desire to change.

Though our musicians may appear changed for the better, they make a point to keep the world around them trapped by stasis. Emblematic of an England stuck in its ways, the settings of The Ballad are nightmarish portraits of mundanity, a witty take on the Anglophiliac appeal of their earlier music. Swapping “A very big house in the country” for a “Basement flat / with window bars” as the “Grey painted aeroplanes fly over”, Albarn recreates the album cover’s poignant image of a dull horizon, with little hope of progress.

However, the album’s production refuses to wallow accordingly, full of large orchestral arrangements like the big brass-band outfit on "Avalon" that’s particularly arresting against a sprawling glam rock guitar solo. Continuing on closer "The Heights", they are determined to go out with a bang – its string parts intertwining effortlessly with the band’s lyrical adoration for the listener themselves; “Standing in the back row / this one’s for you”. In its final moments, the composition ultimately succumbs to an all-consuming static, perhaps suggestive of the ominous storm approaching just around the corner, but as Albarn reassures, irrelevant of age or status, it’s “Just something that comes for us all.”

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