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Critic's corner: Blur's 'The Ballad of Darren'


The British band Blur, led by singer-songwriter Damon Albarn, has been around for over 30 years. But NPR music contributor Matthew Perpetua says the band's latest album, "The Ballad Of Darren," is all about where Albarn and the band stand today.


MATTHEW PERPETUA, BYLINE: Blur were one of the biggest Britpop bands of the 1990s, along with Oasis and Pulp and The Verve. They kind of exemplify the Britpop genre or the project or this - however you'd want to loosely identify, like, all these bands that were kind of hitting big in England at the same time in the mid-'90s.


BLUR: (Singing) I [expletive] up. I'm not the first to do it.

PERPETUA: But the tone of this record, it's more of a lived-in kind of sadness. And it's pretty clear that Damon Albarn has gone through a breakup, and a lot of these songs are alluding to that but, you know, not enough details to kind of make it, you know, something you really need to dig into. It's just more you get that he's gone through something pretty difficult. But you can also tell that it's from the perspective of someone who's gone through things before.


BLUR: (Singing) Ooh, don't leave me here, baby. Don't leave me completely.

PERPETUA: "St. Charles Square" - it has a very David Bowie feeling, but not necessarily like the David Bowie a lot of people think about. It's more like the David Bowie of maybe, like, the last 10 years or so of his career, where he sounds older. And Damon Albarn has, you know, kind of used David Bowie as a reference point in the past, but I think not so much in the way he sings. So I think right in that song he kind of takes on that kind of like - it's kind of a deep baritone, but it also sounds a little manic.


BLUR: (Singing) Because there's something down here, and it's living under the floorboards.


BLUR: (Singing) Looked in the mirror. So many people standing there. I walked towards them into the floodlights...

PERPETUA: "The Narcissist" - it has kind of a ragged beauty to it. It sounds like the positive side of having gone through things before, having dealt with traumas and moved through them, where you can kind of hear a hope in his voice that he can change, that things will get better that I don't think would really come through in the music that they had made in the past. His lyrics tend to be very cynical and negative. And kind of hearing him have this hope in his voice, even if it's not, like, the strongest hope in the world, feels very uplifting in context for him and for Blur. It kind of communicates this hope and healing.


BLUR: (Singing) I'll be shining light in your eyes.

PERPETUA: The thing I really find compelling about "The Ballad Of Darren" is that it's really unapologetic about coming from a middle-aged point of view and, you know, kind of understands that to age gracefully as an artist, you kind of need to offer your listeners a perspective that they couldn't offer when they were younger.

I think there's a tendency for some artists to try to reconnect with, you know, how they felt or how they performed when they were younger. And they're not trying to do that. They're just trying to be exactly who they are in this moment in time. It's a record that was written and recorded entirely in 2023, so it really is a snapshot of a band that seems pretty happy to be doing what they're doing and grateful for what they have together.

DETROW: That was NPR music contributor Matthew Perpetua. Blur's new album, "The Ballad Of Darren," is out now. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Matthew Perpetua