Blur have always led two lives. Undoubtedly part of Britpop’s upper crust, the band peppered the 90s with some of its most iconic singles. Yet alongside this lay a desire to evolve, to shift and change – the path from ‘Girls & Boys’ to ‘Beetlebum’ wasn’t without its traumatic aspects, but the undiminished power of the group’s legacy speaks for itself.
In spite of the incoming tour, news of new album – their ninth to date – ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ has come a something of a shock. The road to 2015’s ‘The Magic Whip’ wasn’t an easy one, with sessions darting between different producers during a somewhat chaotic three year spell. Hitting number one on the UK charts, it also contained some of the band’s most abrasive, out-there music to date.
By way of contrast, ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ wasn’t even being discussed at the opening of 2023. Indeed, drummer Dave Rowntree had enough time on his hands to polish of his debut solo album – speaking to Clash, he gave nothing away, and it appeared for all the world as though this summer’s dates would be a (no doubt thoroughly entertaining) retread.
But not now. New single ‘The Narcissist’ is online now, and it’s beautiful – stunningly affecting, it acts as a rumination on the passing of time, the distorting impact of fame, and the way those early pressures bonded Blur into what they are now. It feels wholly natural in a way ‘The Magic Whip’ – for all its rightful praise – didn’t, an unforced return rooted in one of Damon Albarn’s most plaintive vocals.
Indeed, it’s classic Blur – it’s all there in the DNA, the movement between melody and voice, the crisp chords, the playful harmonies. The band feel unified, the song itself bashful and unhurried; it may tap into their precocious early years, but ‘The Narcissist’ has the wisdom of its years, and is unafraid to let the cracks show, either.
Produced by James Ford – best known for his continued associated with Arctic Monkeys – there’s little here beyond the song itself, with each part acting in service to the whole. A real pearl, we can’t wait to hear what ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ has yet to disclose.
Photo Credit: Reuben Bastienne-Lewis