Mon, 04 September 2023
Blur - The Ballad of Darren
Verdict: A listenable pop record with strong choruses.
What’s the story?
The Ballad of Darren is the ninth studio album by English rock band Blur. The album’s songs were written by frontman Damon Albarn in 2022 while on tour with Gorillaz, and composed by Albarn and the rest of the band. Its title refers to Darren “Smoggy” Evans, the band’s longtime bodyguard. To Albarn, the record signifies “an aftershock, reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now”. He claimed the album reflects their generation but also “has enough of the modern world in it to kind of be relatable to people younger as well.”
Worth a listen?
Early on in The Ballad of Darren, the unexpected and understated Blur reunion album, Albarn sings “We have lost the feeling that we thought we’d never lose,” a line that could easily be interpreted as the vocalist addressing his bandmates. Albarn spends the album pondering severed connections and vanished spaces, sentiments that could be read either as mourning a personal loss or as a meditation on a post-pandemic world, yet The Ballad of Darren doesn’t feel precisely sad, not in the way Damon’s solo albums often can. Blur gives Albarn’s songs depth and dimension, resulting in an album that feels age-appropriate without being stodgy: it’s mature and nuanced, cherishing the connections that once were taken for granted but now seem precious.
Greta Van Fleet - Starcatcher
Starcatcher find Greta Van Fleet making a bid for street cred: they’re stripping away the studio gloss so they can stand on their merits as a rock and roll band. The basic tracks are bashed out live in the studio, then given minimal overdubs for colouring. The lack of polish on Starcatcher does make Greta Van Fleet seem leaner, but not meaner: there’s some brawn in the rhythms, particularly in the furious blast of “Runway Blues,” but it often feels like all the power on the album is produced by pushing the levels to 11. All of the compositions are much too much, lurching from riff to riff as if the group wanted to cram each cut with as many ideas as possible.
Post Malone - Austin
As close to being self-titled as possible, this is the most authentic and vulnerable Post Malone has sounded to date. Finally embracing the guitar-based, rock side of his personality, it’s bound to be polarising. On one hand, this set is a gift for fans of such pop-polished hits as “Circles” and “Sunflower” (as well as his online rock covers, like the Nirvana tribute he did in 2020). Melodic and heartfelt, Austin surprises at nearly every turn, whether that’s by an unexpected sonic detour or the simple fact that Post Malone has never sounded this fearless.
Neil Young - Chrome Dreams
In the ‘70s, Neil Young got in the habit of creating some of his best work and keeping it to himself. He created an album titled Chrome Dreams that would have a highly uncommon trajectory for the next 40-odd years. Made up of 12 songs recorded between 1974 and 1977, many of which became some of the most loved in Young’s repertoire, Chrome Dreams was considered for release in 1977, but was instead reconfigured. Bootleggers got hold of the recordings and issued many different illicit versions of Chrome Dreams over the years, and Young even went so far as to make Chrome Dreams II in 2007, when the first chapter of the series was still living primarily as an obscure collector’s item traded between the more obsessive of his fans. The first officially released version of Chrome Dreams is full of slight variations and differences in now-familiar songs, standing as one of the more famous ‘lost albums’ in rock history.