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‘The Ballad Of Darren’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Blur’s Ninth Album
Reuben Bastienne-Lewis

‘The Ballad Of Darren’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Blur’s Ninth Album

As this track-by-track guide to Blur’s ninth album shows, ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ is a fitting addition to the British indie heroes’ legacy.


After a run of career-defining records that stand among the best albums of the 90s, Blur’s work rate slowed in the 21st century, as the four bandmates embarked on other projects. Each new Blur release has been worth the wait, however, and the group’s ninth studio album, The Ballad Of Darren, has immediately taken its place among the best Blur albums. As this track-by-track guide to the Ballad Of Darren shows, Blur won’t just be remembered for penning some of the best 90s songs – theirs is a legacy that spans decades.

Listen to ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ here.

‘The Ballad Of Darren’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album

The Ballad

In a history of bold-move opening songs, Blur kick off The Ballad Of Darren not with a reminder of their chart-storming indie-pop days (think Parklife’s era-defining opener, Girls & Boys) or a throwback to the alt-rock reinvention that heralded their self-titled fifth album (now what you done, Beetlebum?), but with a midtempo torch song. Don’t be fooled by the low-key drum machine that starts things off – The Ballad simply soars, Graham Coxon’s cascading guitar lines and strings from Damon Albarn’s regular collaborators The Demon Strings (Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, The Magic Whip) combining in a way that recalls the cinematic beauty of Parklife’s To The End.

According to Albarn, the Darren of the album’s title (Darren “Smoggy” Evans, Albarn’s long-serving security guard) had been nagging him to finish the song for 25 years – and with good reason. In twining an undefined loss (“I just looked into my life/And all I saw was that you’re not coming back”) around a reflection on music as an unstoppable life force (“Oh, can’t you see, when the ballad comes for you/It comes like me”), Albarn faces up to “a full-on assault” of the two things that sustain him: emotional honesty and songwriting. Listen closely: when Coxon joins in on backing vocals (“We travelled around the world together”), you can hear the sound of hearts breaking from here to Antarctica.

St. Charles Square

With a little laugh, Albarn lets loose a knowing “Oi!” at the start of St. Charles Square, but it’s Coxon who goes gonzo throughout, firing off frenzied guitar lines as if soundtracking a fight between Super Furry Animals and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)-era David Bowie. It’s the perfect framework for Albarn’s paranoid visitations (“’Cause there’s something down here/And it’s living under the floorboards/It’s grabbed me ’round the neck with its long and slender claws”), and as muscular as The Ballad Of Darren gets. A reminder of more boisterous times for Blur, St. Charles Square also sees the former Britpop poster boy roll his eyes at “gilded poseurs” whose moments come and go with each new fame cycle.


While Coxon switches between rough-edged chords and delicate lead lines that recall Johnny Marr at his most sparkling, Albarn again seems to acknowledge changing fortunes (“Now you can’t play to every taste/The powder keg of common cause”) while suffering a crisis of self-confidence (“I have lost the feeling that I thought I’d never lose/Now where am I going?”). Having been expected to account for himself by British tabloids ever since the Parklife and The Great Escape albums made Blur one of the biggest bands in the country, Albarn can be forgiven for side-stepping any such demands (“And in lieu of an explanation/I will pour oil from the cup/On the pyre of abdication”); though, as with The Ballad, Barbaric again weaves allusions to a real-life upset (“And I would like, if you’ve got the time/To talk to you about what this break-up has done to me”) into a wider existential struggle. The song’s upbeat melody and some of Coxon’s prettiest contributions to the album attempt to offset Albarn’s curt summary: “It is barbaric.”

Russian Strings

While Albarn contemplates mortality during a trip to Belgrade (Gorillaz shot their Silent Running promo video at the city’s High School Of Electrical Engineering “Nikola Tesla”), an immersion in sound once again offers support: “So turn the music up/I’m hitting the hard stuff,” he sings. Feelings of dislocation and disconnection are enhanced by Coxon’s wistful guitar solo, pitched somewhere between island fantasy and homesick daydream; his final shimmering chords emerge from a cloud of strings like beacon of hope in the distance.

The Everglades (For Leonard)

Albarn demoed The Ballad Of Darren while touring Gorillaz’s Cracker Island album in 2022, and has described being inspired by a mural of Leonard Cohen which was visible from his hotel room in Montreal, Québec. Starting as a gentle acoustic ballad recalling the early works of the legendary Canadian poet and songwriter, The Everglades (For Leonard) expands into something almost hymnal, The Demon Strings carrying Albarn aloft as he shifts from heartfelt entreaty (“There be songs to play/There be grace for everyone/And calmer days will arrive”) to passionate defiance (“And we are not giving in/We are not going to shy away/We are growing tall with the pain”), demanding recompense from God before wavering on the edge of defeat (“And furthermore, I think it’s just too late”). The shortest song on The Ballad Of Darren, it is nevertheless one of the most generous moments in the Blur catalogue.

The Narcissist

Emotional states of being are again understood through music’s effect on the soul, Albarn feeling “rubato” and reaching out for a lifeline amid layers of guitars that crash like waves around him. Bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree offer solid support on The Ballad Of Darren’s indie anthem, while Albarn chronicles the experience of finding the artist within. “Looked in the mirror/So many people standing there,” sings the shape-shifting mastermind behind Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen and numerous other projects. “There was distortion everywhere/I found my ego.”

Goodbye Albert

Whether Albarn is taking leave of himself or coming to terms with the loss of others, The Ballad Of Darren is a particularly grief-stricken work – and that’s even taking into account the personal reckoning that resulted in Blur’s 13 album. On Goodbye Albert, the overall tone is set by Coxon’s textured guitar parts, alternating between sympathetic responses, cyclical motifs and thick layers of fuzz as Albarn pledges loyalty to a relationship pulled under by the tides. “Washed away for hours/I’d be there, not just send flowers,” he sings before making one final plea: “Why don’t you talk to me anymore?/Don’t punish me.”

Far Away Island

Though he feels cast adrift through much of The Ballad Of Darren, on Far Away Island Albarn begins to find a way back – to himself, if nothing else. “I am dancing alone with the moon and the white whale,” he sings over a gentle waltz enhanced by moonlit organ and a martial beat, before closing the song with a reassurance: “I know you think I must be lost now, but I’m not, anymore.” Recalling the Old Blighty love letters of The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Far Away Island also stands right up there with the best Blur songs of all time.


On Modern Life Is Rubbish classics such as Sunday Sunday and the extended Visit To Primrose Hill mix of For Tomorrow, Blur heralded the Britpop era with a winking use of vaudeville horns. On Avalon, however, a brass quartet strikes a more valedictory tone, Albarn perhaps casting a glance over his career-making legacy as he asks, “What’s the point in building Avalon/If you can’t be happy when it’s done?” Encroaching darkness and the sight of fighter jets trouble the image of paradise, though bright piano and Coxon’s soothing backing vocals rise up and point towards the light. Despite striking a note of optimism (“I’m dialling in, I’m dialling out, but the glass is still half full”), the song ends in capitulation: “Then I overdo my dose and I don’t even know I’m here anymore/Just something that comes to us all.”

The Heights

For the briefest of moments, The Heights’ opening acoustic guitar recalls Bowie’s Space Oddity, but The Ballad Of Darren’s closing song quickly asserts itself as a stellar Blur track in its own right. “I gave a lot of heart, so did you/Standing in the back row, this one’s for you,” Albarn sings, seemingly addressing the fans who have followed Blur’s fortunes ever since the release of their debut album, Leisure, in 1991. With any luck, there’ll be more to come. Newly committed to the moment (“Seeing through the coma in our lives”), Albarn seems prepared to forge ahead (“I’ll see you in the heights one day/I’ll get there, too/I’ll be standing in the front row/Next to you”). See-sawing strings aid a victorious climax, but it’s only when layers of distortion submerge Albarn that his journey seems complete. After everything that’s gone before, it’s a fitting way to conclude Blur’s tribute to the power of losing – and finding – oneself in music.

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