I first heard of Damon Albarn in 1996 when my dad bought Blur’s The Great Escape album which I listened to a lot at the time. Since that album I was hooked on Blur and pretty much every side-project since (Gorillaz, The Ailerons, The Good, The Band & The Queen etc). So when this album was released I was very excited especially after the lack of new material from Blur in recent years.
The opening track does nothing for me whatsoever. The first song from the album to be released, it just doesn’t tickle me the way I expect Damon’s songs to. The second track, Hostiles, is a different story and reminds me a lot of Damon’s writing on The Good, The Bad & The Queen album. It could almost be an unused track from that album. It’s very good and doesn’t feature the awful production the title track does. The reverb effects in particular remind me of that album and Damon’s vocals are very beautiful. Normally every album that Damon does has at least a few songs that make me want to re-listen to it immediately and Hostiles is one of them.
Lonely Press Play is a track we first heard in a stripped down form when Damon played it at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year. That was a fantastic performance featuring just acoustic guitar, piano, strings and vocals and the song still sounds great here but is slightly ruined by the awful production. I don’t really think there’s any need for the bass or even the percussion. That said, it’s still a nice enough song and probably an album highlight for me. It ends by going straight into Mr Tembo, the first properly upbeat song of the album and the medley effect is a nice touch. I’m not sure what to think of this song yet, it doesn’t do much for me sadly. It’s followed by a quick instrumental called Parakeet which is a nice little recording.
The Selfish Giant…where to begin. The intro, in my opinion, just doesn’t go. The piano is gorgeous but that bass isn’t. Simple as that. Too loud in the mix and the piano is too low. However the bass thankfully ends when Damon starts singing, even though a ridiculous electronic beat comes in which (just like the bass) is too high in the mix. The song itself is actually very nice but I can’t help but get distracted by the awful beat and bass. Get rid of them! Unfortunately You & Me suffers from the same awful production. It features some beautiful acoustic guitar and piano but then for some reason a random beat comes in out of nowhere disrupting what was once good.
- Everyday Robots
- Lonely Press Play
- Mr Tembo
- The Selfish Giant
- You & Me
- Hollow Ponds
- Seven High
- Photographs (You Are Taking Now)
- The History Of A Cheating Heart
- Heavy Seas Of Love
Guess what? That awful beat returns in Hollow Ponds. I think you’re getting the picture now. It’s awful. Just like the previous two songs, the song itself is actually very nice (even though the years mentioned do get repetitive) but that production is pretty awful. The song though features some nice moments, especially what sounds like a french horn solo which really fits nicely into the mood created by the lovely melody, backing vocals and laid back guitar playing. It’s followed by the second instrumental of the album called Seven High which features some nice piano playing and is a welcome interlude.
Photographs (You Are Taking Now) starts very nicely, that is until the same beat comes in again. Thankfully it’s not as bad as in previous songs, even though is still is FAR to high in the mix. The piano and vocals are gorgeous here. Next up, The History Of A Cheating Heart, is probably the best song on the album in terms of production because it’s simply just an acoustic guitar and Damon singing, along with some strings later on in the song. Very nice indeed. If only this could have been the case for the whole album. Absolutely beautiful.
The final song, Heavy Seas Of Love, is simply awful and the worst song on the album by far. The opening vocals by Brian Eno are out of place from the start and the best thing about this song, sadly, is when it comes to an end 3 minutes and 45 seconds later. A pretty awful end to the album.
Overall my feelings on the album have improved since first hearing that title track a few months ago. The album makes more sense when you listen to it as a whole, or at least it does to me. The songs themselves aren’t that bad, even though it’s probably Damon’s most uneven album in terms of writing quality. You look back at his previous albums (Demon Days, The Good, The Bad & The Queen) and they feature GREAT songwriting. This album does in places, but not all the way through. But what the album really suffers from is the awful production. The beats in certain songs were too high in the mix and arguably didn’t need to be there in the first place. I really think the album would have benefitted with a more simple production, no beats, no bass, and just Damon singing with guitar, piano and string accompaniment. So just like his Sundance performance.
There are a couple of songs I’ll go back and listen to now and then (Hostiles, Lonely Press Play) but it’s not really what I expect from Damon. Like I said at the start of this review, I was really excited when this album was announced. But I can’t help but feel a little disappointed now I’ve heard it.