Depressing pools, overcast skies and waves within the manky-looking sea give all the glum associations of British living on Blur’s new album cover. Teasing The Ballad of Darren with the aptly titled The Narcissist, the band are back and sound as confident as ever. Capturing the usual, striking Blur imagery with roots traced back to Charmless Man, latest track The Narcissist has outlying comments on addiction and fear of the dark and misery which comes through. A track powering through and hoping to shine that often-mentioned light, the connection made between one individual and another, the love between and the positivity it can encapsulate. Damon Albarn’s lead vocals are hopeful, strengthened by exceptional lyrics. Blur is back, not with a bang, but with a considered and moving mental note of what the band have been through.
Floodlight walking introductions, an expectation of self-importance and a wink to the rubato within, The Narcissist is a growing beast of a track. We are what we reflect, and Blur reflects sincerity on their latest track. Where Albarn takes centre stage on this one with a dominant lyrical performance, there is still time to note exceptional percussion from Dave Rowntree and the ever-important presence of Graham Coxon, managing those guitar strokes with extraordinary, inevitably impressive riffs. He takes a neutered approach to this one, and knows when to interject or slide through the track, but this is, mostly, an Albarn-helmed single. The Narcissist holds the fine line between what Blur was and what they are now.
Mid-tempo indie rock momentum continues on for Blur. What else? It was hardly going to be a tech-clad pitch explosion. Blur assumes what is expected of them, the mood and moment strike with consistency. Now is not the time for adding mandolins or turning their attention to the benefits of a theremin. Sticking to their guns, but not afraid to fire off a few emotional powers. Right in the sweet spot which brings in those who enjoy their talents and music, but also engages a new audience, a fresh mind who may not be best equipped with the deep dives of their work. The Narcissist blurs the wonderful familiarities of their broad style with the effective and innocent expectations of new music from firm hands. Albarn, Coxon, Rowntree and Alex James handle this with ease, three of the four marking a busy year for music. Gorillaz, The Waeve, a solo album and hopefully some cheese from James is quite the year. The Narcissist tops some of those efforts.
For those who will turn their nose up at The Narcissist and what Blur may go on to achieve with The Ballad of Darren, it is important to note the continuing appeal of a band from almost thirty-five years ago. New generations of fans hop on to see what the fuss is, and are remiss or horrified to see they can no longer hear their efforts in the making, in the moment. The Narcissist is not just a tremendous first single ahead of a surprise record announcement, but a genuine and enjoyably stacked Blur track. A tad repetitive, but those spots of copycat merit are just that, full of merit. Albarn’s lead and Coxon’s backing vocals pick up right where they left off. The Narcissist shows the band has not missed a beat, a true relief for those heading off to see them live, and a warm embrace ahead of their ninth album.