tue 30/11/2021

Album: Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

Album: Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

A great English pop musician in insular, melancholy solo mode

Damon Albarn’s second solo album in a career otherwise defined by open-hearted collaboration confirms he sees operating under his own name as a chance for melancholic introspection.

The deliberate austerity of its predecessor, Everyday Robots (2014), was shown when accompanying, full-band gigs revealed the bright pop song finery beneath the album’s bleak camouflage. Where others go solo to satisfy band-cramped egos, solo Damon is a place of anticlimax and indirection, where his gift for melody is befogged and hazy.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows began as an orchestral project inspired by Albarn’s sometime Reykjavik home, played by Icelandic musicians. The cheap, irritant pulse of a Casiotone drum-machine betrays its homemade, lockdown finish. The title is a line by John Clare, the working-class Romantic poet whose early enraptured accord with rural rhythms became so fractured he was committed to an asylum in Albarn’s native Essex; a Syd Barrett-style walk back to his Northamptonshire home has added to his sanctity as an artist of the brokenly beautiful, lonely and lost. The title track is accordingly infused with mourning and wistful remembrances. Couched in Clare’s antique language, it’s sluggish and near-numb with loss, inspired by the death of Albarn’s friend and bandmate, the great drummer Tony Allen.

The following track, “The Cormorant”, updates Seventies Bowie’s influence on Nineties Blur to the shivery end-games of The Next Day and Blackstar. Inspired by a bird he’d see daily on the Devon coast near his home studio, Albarn’s voice takes on Bowie’s theatrical quaver and latter-day, wounded wooziness as he recounts days “when we were happy here, on the beach/We played with our children...” An uncharted cruise ship floats by the song’s island – battered Albion, here as desolate as Rockall. By the end of “Royal Morning Blues”, its uptempo funk brass has evaporated like morning mist, leaving him aching for company “at the end of the world”. “Daft Wader” comes closest to the bittersweet anthems Blur conjured in such terrain, observing a “Lancelot in his beaten up old car”; “Particles”, too, with its relatively fulsome romantic plea: “I have cried for you, darling/Are you coming back to me?”

“The Tower of Motevideo” speaks directly to lockdown’s state of exile, already fading now, its lessons unlearned. “Once there were cinemas, and we had parties,” Albarn murmurs, as music and footsteps become phantoms, and a sax soars in an empty Argentine ballroom.

This is an insular and hypnotic, intimate yet distant album, lapped by literal, musique concrete waves. The frayed strands of melodic beauty Albarn allows into his solo retreat are themselves ghostly, reaching out to touch the listener from the hermetic place where the former Britpop king conducts his private experiments, like Dr. Dee, or Robinson Crusoe.

Solo Damon is a place where his gift for melody is befogged and hazy

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Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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