November 11, 2021
(Transgressive)One of the most driven artists of the Britpop era, now unbothered by commercial success, is back with a second solo album that drifts along in a melancholy, stoned mist
Damon Albarn: The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows review – beautifully haunting
When May’s Glastonbury livestream finally creaked into life, it offered viewers an interesting study in contrasts. At 9pm, Coldplay appeared, rolling out the big hits from their 20-year career on an illuminated platform in front of the Pyramid stage, the empty field filled with lights. It was a performance with a distinct hint of top-dog gamesmanship about it: ignore the running order – everyone knows who the headliners are here. Afterwards, the cameras cut to a mulleted Damon Albarn seated at a piano. He performed a series of serpentine unreleased songs, decorated with shivering, abstract electronics and guitar and occasionally atonal string arrangements. He played a song from Dr Dee, his 2011 opera about the 16th-century mathematician, astronomer and occultist. And when he finally dished up something from the Blur or Gorillaz catalogues that the casual observer might know, it was rearranged in a way that made it sound darker and sadder.
It was a neat illustration of Albarn’s contemporary approach to music-making. By all accounts one of the most zealously driven artists of the Britpop era, he has spent the last 20 years doing something you would expect more major rock stars to do, but that hardly any actually seem to manage: using the space and time created by vast success in order to do exactly what they want, unbothered by commercial concerns. Doing exactly what he wants has sometimes occasioned more vast success – Gorillaz’s second album Demon Days sold 8m copies worldwide – but there have also been musicals with lyrics in Cantonese, collaborative projects influenced by Sun Ra, Funkadelic and Fela Kuti, and soundtracks for immersive theatre works performed by the Kronos Quartet, none of which appear to be have been made with an eye on the charts or top billing at festivals.
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