February 16, 2004

Damon Albarn "Democrazy"

If you're the frontman of one of the best bands of the 1990s, and your first 21st Century release is mercilessly slaughtered in the press, what do you do? Do you retreat to safe, common musical ground? Do you disband your band? Do you damn the critics and go about your own merry way? Do you just not give a toss to what the critics say? Do you let it get to you, do you let it bring you down? Do you find a way to balance past glories with future success? Surely these questions must have passed through the mind of Blur's Damon Albarn. Their newest record, Think Tank, was torn to shreds upon release. Many said that when Graham Coxon left, he took the band's brilliance with them. This really isn't the time or place to analyze Blur's track record, especially considering I'm not that much of a Blur fan, anyway.

In Albarn's case, his answer to these obvious questions/doubts was simple: make music. As I'm sure he probably always has on Blur's other tours, he took along his DAT recorder and other little music-making toys and played around when he had some alone time. These little gadgets helped him keep his sanity while on tour in America (dig the pun in the title, Democrazy--it works on so many levels!), as well as serving as a Big Chief tablet for whatever he has in store for his next musical project. The concept of listening to an artist's art in the process of creation is always interesting, even if it doesn't prove to be rewarding in that finished-album kind of way.

Democrazy isn't anything it's not, and it's best to listen to it with that in mind. Even though I imagine it to be inevitable, it would be wrong for the listener to place Democrazy against Albarn's other, offical records. You simply cannot compare this to Parklife or 13 or any of his solo work, because these songs aren't really songs. They're ideas, and, ultimately, this ride is meant mainly for the hardcore fan--of course, anything that's limited to 5000 on double 10" vinyl isn't aimed at the casula listener; besides, would average Richard Casual British Listener really, truly want to hear the instrumental playing-arounds of "Dezert" or "Half A Song"? I doubt it. Hell, I don't know if I really need to, but I've enjoyed every ounce of Democrazy, and I wouldn't want any of that time back.

Don't be fooled, though--there are a few songs on here that are indeed worth noting. "Five Star Life" is an interesting--albeit rather scratchy--sketch; he's ranting and raving about living the 'five star life', which is made all the more ironic because the song sounds like less than two stars. In an interesting twist, "A Rappy Song," which is said to have been recorded at "Dre's Gaffe," sounds more like it was recorded in "Malkmus' basement," and it also sounds as if Damon's prepping ideas for the next Gorillaz album. "Gotta Get Down With The Passing of Time" and "Subspecies of An American Day" also clearly show that Coxon wasn't the only member of Blur that was influenced by American indie-rock, too.

One wonders if Albarn's not trying for a little bit of damage control with Democrazy, as if he's trying to give something back to those who might have written him off. Of course, given the limited nature of this set, you'd think he's thinking of nobody but his hardcore, it's still worth seeking out if you're one of those nosy types. While such an oddity as this might not necessarily work, it's far from a waste of time; indeed, it proves that the professional cynic's heart is still in it. And that, more than anything, makes Democrazy a fun little curiosity.

--Joseph Kyle

No comments: