Damon Albarn OBE: Lesser Known Contributions to Music
So Damon Albarn is receiving an OBE for his contributions and services for music. The former Blur frontman released his first solo album in 2014, which debuted as number 2 in the UK Album Charts. But his music extends past his famous beginnings in Blur, and arguably his peak of fame with Gorillaz; as a result here is a review of three of Albarn’s projects you may not have heard of.
Rocket Juice & The Moon:
Rocket Juice & The Moon is an afrobeat funk supergroup comprised of Albarn, Flea (famously the bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers), and afrobeat legend Tony Allen on drums. As of yet, the only release by Rocket Juice & The Moon has been an eponymous 18-track album released in 2012. Albarn’s unique influence seen in Gorillaz (particularly Plastic Beach and The Fall) is heavy within this album, as is the influence of funk from Flea’s background and the influence of afrobeats from Tony Allen. They somehow combine to create a seamless, unique dynamic, ranging from the elegant Poison, to Lolo (ft. M.anifest and Fatouma Diawara), and the funky instrumental Leave-Taking. Although a number of tracks are largely forgettable, being such a unique mix will mean that whether you think Gorillaz are great, you are a fan of funk or you adore afrobeats there will tracks that you will take away as favourites. Even if none of these catch your fancy, it is worth a listen as the album takes you to places you won’t have been, and you may find you enjoy it very much.
The Good, The Bad And The Queen:
Although this peaked at number 2 in the UK Albums Charts and rode on some of the success of Demon Days, this album consisting of members Albarn, Tony Allen, Simon Tong (of The Verve) and Paul Simonon (of The Clash) lays largely forgotten, maybe because of its lack of media recognition. Released in 2007, prior to Albarn’s release of D-Sides with Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen is an alternative rock album centred on modern life in London. Herculean is one of the songs that stands out with clear roots in Albarn’s previous work, namely Blur and can be seen as a stepping stone between this and some of Gorillaz’ later work. Overall this album leaves an interesting conclusion; very few songs actually stand out but the album itself is enjoyable, relaxing and one that is very hard to dislike. I would liken it to Albarn’s solo release Everyday Robots, albeit a more alt rock sense is present.
Monkey: Journey To The West
All music for Chen Shi-Zeng’s 2007 opera was composed by Albarn, and the art was by Gorillaz member Jamie Hewlett. You may recognise this from BBC’s advert during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, featuring the characters from this opera along with Albarn’s music. The soundtrack from the opera was released in 2008, and features 22 tracks, some of which are revisited from his original pieces and some are new arrangements. The album is almost ethereal and Albarn’s compositions seem to match the mood of Chen Shi-Zeng’s opera as closely as possible. As the title would suggest, the album feels very much like a journey as well. With soundtracks it is hard to discern better and worse tracks considering it is created very much to provide an overall feel with tracks relating to one another. A personal favourite from this is track 8, Heavenly Peach Banquet, which is as relaxing and delicate as the name would let on. As a soundtrack and an album, Monkey: Journey To The East follows the mood and atmosphere that you would expect and although not all tracks make an awful lot of sense in isolation, listening to this track 1-through-22 is a pleasant and satisfying experience. (If this album catches your ear, then Hong Kong from Gorillaz’ album D-Sides is recommended highly and ranks in my top 10 songs ever.)
Written By Dimitri Psarianos
I’m an 18 year old Newcastle University student, doing Classical Studies. I’ve always felt an aptitude for writing about my interests, from poetry to political blogs. Music is perhaps my greatest passion, I write and play guitar/bass, and listen a wide range; reviewing music bridges both of my biggest interests.