Damon Albarn's Five Best Solo Moments...
For a man who has fronted not one, but two hugely multi-million selling and arena-filling bands, Damon Albarn still has a frightening work ethic.
Every year brings something new, whether that’s with Blur or Gorillaz or as part of supergroup The Good, The Bad and the Queen or something entirely different. Albarn has scored a musical and an opera, founded Africa Express, the freewheeling collective that brings together musicians from African, Middle Eastern and Western countries to create something new, worked on film soundtracks and produced for other artists.
Somehow, amid all that, he has also found time to become a solo artist, and returns this week with The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, his second LP under his own name, following 2014's Everyday Robots.
The album, which was originally conceived as an orchestral piece, has been inspired by the landscapes of Iceland, Albarn has been a frequent visitor to Iceland for almost three decades and owns a house in Reykjavik.
Denied the chance to record with a full orchestra due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Albarn made the LP alongside Simon Tong, his bandmate in the Good, the Bad & the Queen, and Mike Smith, a longtime touring member of both Blur and Gorillaz.
With the album hitting shelves in hmv this week, we thought we’d celebrate Albarn’s return by honouring the five best moments from his solo work. And, by solo, we mean no Blur, no Gorillaz and no The Good, The Bad and The Queen. Some gems from the career of a true polymath…
'The Selfish Giant' (from 2014's Everyday Robots)
The only other LP Albarn has recorded under his own is quite a different adventure from his new lush effort. Everyday Robots is a lo-fi, slightly wonky, wistful pop record, with Albarn in a deeply reflective mood.
'The Selfish Giant', with its clicky beats and gentle piano, is the best summing up of the album's moods and templates. It also features a luscious guest appearance from Natasha Khan, better known to us all as Bat For Lashes.
'Xhosa' (from 2019's Egoli)
Albarn's Africa Express collaborations are always a joy. This one, from 2019's Egoli, sees Albarrn bring together afro-psychedelic future poppers Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness, South African rockers BLK JKS, pop singer Georgia, South African soul singer Moonchild Sanelly, Nick Zinner, guitarist with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Ugandan singer Otim Alpha for a freewheeling sonic carnival bursting with life and energy.
'The Bravest Man In The Universe' (from Bobby Womack's The Bravest Man In The Universe, 2012)
In 2011, Albarn and Richard Russell, owner of XL Records, came together to produce soul legend Bobby Womack's first album for 18 years, and, sadly, what turned out to be his final LP.
Albarn, a long-time fan of Womack, had previously persuaded him to work with him on a track for Gorillaz, and the pair then agreed to work on new music.
The result is a raw, powerful record, lovingly crafted and impeccably produced. The album's title track is a perfect summation of the LP as a whole.
'Blu' (from Mura Masa's self-titled LP, 2017)
Albarn lends his vocals to this sprawling, dreamy bit of psychedelic electronica from alt-dance wunderkind Alex Crossan, a.k.a Mura Masa. A highlight of Crossan's 2017 debut LP, the track showcases the versatility and distinctiveness of Albarn's voice, and his commitment to boundless experimentation.
'Deep Blues' (from Kano's Made In The Manor, 2016)
On this collaboration with hugely acclaimed rapper Kano, Albarn offers the same dreamy vocals, only on top of a very different sonic palette. The rapper's stabbing beats and jarring pianos give away to a delicate vocal performance from Albarn, which sits in perfect contrast.
Damon Albarn’s new album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, is out now in hmv stores and available to purchase here in hmv’s online store.