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The 20th anniversary of Britpop was almost marked by a new Blur album. But after appetite-whetting new songs surfaced something went awry.
According to Damon Albarn, the band members are now “too busy” to finish a record together and a recent show in Japan will be their last “for the foreseeable future”. So here instead is Albarn’s first solo album, a mixed consolation.
The title track deftly works electronic beats, world music percussion, piano, a flickering violin and Albarn’s sighing vocals into a slow lament, but the theme of technological alienation is unearned: it’s hard to share the singer’s pain when all he’s maundering about is people fiddling with smartphones.
“Hostiles” revives memories of his excellent side-project The Good, The Bad and The Queen but “Mr Tembo” – written for an orphaned elephant Albarn saw in Africa and as irritatingly jaunty as its back story suggests – dashes them.
“Photographs (You Are Taking Now)” is The Kinks’ “People Take Pictures of Each Other” transformed into glum post-Britpop electronica while “Heavy Seas of Love” strives for a stodgy gospel redemption.
But “You and Me” is up there with Albarn’s best work, the singer drifting wraith-like through Notting Hill in a post-Carnival haze, a beautifully tender melody tracing the memory of vanished festivities.