Music man extraordinaire Damon Albarn is one of those people who you’ve heard on the radio hundreds of times and never knew his name. He heads a handful of noteworthy projects, one of which have been popular for going on 20 years. His genres of choice span from popular rock to alternative rock to hip-hop to world music. He’s a household name in the UK, but here in the US he might as well be the bag boy at the Food Lion down the street from your aunt’s house. The truth is that Albarn doesn’t try very hard to be as popular as he should be. There is something respectable about that. Anyhow, despite his better efforts I’m going to try and shed some light on this phantom of the airwaves.
I might as well do this chronologically:
In 1992 Albarn emerged as frontman of Britpop powerhouse Blur. Formed in 1988, Blur
didn’t make it big until the early 90’s. Hit single after hit single, Blur spent the 90’s tearing up British charts alongside bands like Oasis and The Stone Roses. The British public all but salivated over these upbeat, guitar heavy tunes for years before America finally caught up with Blur in the mid-90’s when they released their self-titled disc which included mega-hit “Song 2”. Blur unofficially called it quits in early 2000’s but has recently released the single “Fool’s Day” and plans to record again soon.
In 1990, Albarn teamed up with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett to create a multi-media
animated band The Gorillaz. The cartoon band consists of four characters: 2D(Damon Albarn), Murdoc, Noodle and Russel. The music, in actuality is the product of a culmination of artists with Albarn the only static member. Their 2001 eponymous album was an enormous success selling over ten million copies around the globe. It sported singles like the smash hit “Clint Eastwood” and “19-2000”. Gorillaz continued by releasing their 2nd album “Demon Days” in 2005. It debuted at #1 in the UK and at #6 in the US, it sold just as many copies as the first release. Collaborators included De La Soul, Ike Turner and even Dennis Hopper. Their third and most recent effort, Plastic Beach was released earlier this year and debuted at #2 on the UK Albums Chart and did just as well on the Billboard Top 100 in the US. Collaborators included Bobby Womack, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg and Mos Def. The Gorillaz never cease to amaze me with how catchy a well-written song can be. They have been one of the most consistent acts in the last ten years. I look forward to every one of their releases, no matter how far apart they might be. I’ll be holding my breath for a fourth installment for probably another three or four years.
Mali Music: 2002
In 2002, Albarn got together with Malian musicians; Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté and Ko Kan Ko Sata to record an album of music inspired by Malian music and cultures. It is a fascinating look into African music as a whole. I heard “Sunset Coming On” on satellite radio and was hooked from that moment on. Something about African music stirs the soul. They’ve got it down over there, they’ve got it down good. It’s not often that you come across a project as unique as this one that works so damn well. I only wish there were more artists willing to throw their soul into projects like these.
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen: 2007
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen is a 2007 album by a British supergroup with no name. The album was produced by Danger Mouse. The group consisted of Albarn himself at lead vocals, former Clash bass guitarist Paul Simonon, former Verve guitarist Simon Tong, and 67 year old(at the time) drummer-percussionist Tony Allen. The album, according to Albarn, is a look at modern life in England. It’s a recording l like more and more every time I hear it. You can tell that the four members really jive well on this disc. Each musician plays perfectly in sync with the next.
No matter what form Damon Albarn takes, its a sure thing it will sound awesome. I make it a habit to pick up anything his name is attached to. It’s always proven to be a good choice.