I’ve been a wee bit unkind to Damon Albarn on here. Shallow poster boy. Mock-cockney posh boy from middle class Colchester. Pretentious twonk with too many fingers in too many pies. The Africa trotting, Chinese opera-plotting indie Sting. All of this is true, of course, and he is so easy to dislike, but….
…you can’t argue the fact that he’s one prodigious talent. It’d be hard to disagree that Blur are (?)/were (?) one of the great singles bands, right up there with Madness when it comes to looney tunes and merry melodies. And it’d be hard to argue that Gorillaz aren’t that far behind. Dig deeper and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a whole host of other terrific records. And not just the afore-mentioned Chinese opera or melodica-enhanced African soul music. The widely eclectic list of folk he’s collaborated with would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. Off the top of my head – Lou Reed. Snoop Dogg. Mark E Smith. De La Soul. Gruff Rhys. Shaun Ryder. Dan the Automator. Half of The Clash. Michael Nyman. Del Tha Funky Homosapien. Bobby Womack. Flea. Toumani Diabaté. Ike Turner. Fela Kuti’s drummer, Tony Allen. All have answered the Albarn call, done their bit and waited while Damon has worked his magic in the studio and re-packaged the results to feature his toot-toot-tooting almost-in-tune melodica and unmistakable genre-defying, melancholy-applying vocals. Regardless of the collaborator or genre, the Albarn record, with its hangdog vocal and uplifting gloominess is instantly recognisable.
The current Mojo (the one with Weller on the cover) has a good wee feature on Albarn’s extra-curricular activities. It focusses on the stuff he’s been doing with the polyrhythmic Tony Allen and Flea as Rocket Juice and The Moon. The prospect of sock on the cock slap bass and rapping doesn’t fill me with too much excitement, but I’m keeping an open mind. Especially as Mojo compiled a list of essential non-Blur Albarn tracks, most of which were new to me, all of which are terrific:
Trek To the Cave (Albarn & Michael Nyman)
Time Keeps On Slipping (Albarn & Deltron 3030)
Sunset Coming On (Albarn & Toumani Diabaté)
Every Season (Albarn, Tony Allen & Ty)
Feel Good Inc. (Albarn, Danger Mouse & De La Soul)
Kingdom Of Doom (The Good, The Bad and The Queen)
Heavenly Peach Banquet (Albarn, Shi-Zeng & David Coulter)
Hallo (Albarn, Tout Puissant & others)
It‘s an excellent place to start your re-appraisal of oor Damon if, like me, you felt he was getting a bit too big for his well-travelled boots. My favourite Damon Albarn moments? That’ll be Dare, with Shaun Ryder on vocals. Great cooing Damon backing vocals and a subtle chiming percussion track that takes its cue from Talking Heads’ Once In a Lifetime. Initially called It’s There, it was renamed after unsuccessful attempts to get the newly re-toothed Ryder to pronounce it correctly when he sang.
And the look of ecstatic fanboy joy on his face as he punches the air when Bobby Womack comes in on Stylo (below) is magic. Damons’ own wee Jim’ll Fix It moment, I’m sure. (2mins 10 seconds, if you want to fast forward. Though, why would you want to fast-forward?)
Close friend and fellow music obsessive Rockin’ Rik reckons Albarn is the 21st Century Brian Wilson. While he’s still to write his Sunflower, let alone his Pet Sounds, on the evidence so far I can just about go along with this.
In keeping with the pan-global spirit of this post, here‘s Gorillaz‘ Feel Good Inc. incorporated into some Fela Kuti afrobeat rhythm track. You can get a whole album’s worth of this stuff here. Go! Go! Go! And then Go! Go! Go! here and catch some of those Blur Fanclub-only singles that keep being deleted by the man. Gotta be quick though.