Album: Damon Albarn – The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows review

by Philip Moss

The shapeshifting Albarn moves into spaces he hasn’t occupied before

On the day that Damon Albarn released his new album, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, he also revealed that Netflix are going to be releasing a ‘full length’ film about Gorillaz. But we are so used to the songwriter balancing the many guises through which he releases music that, when he should be focused on promoting his new record, no one bats an eyelid. The most staggering part though: the sheer quality – 30 years and two months on since his first record, Blur’s debut, Leisure – of his continued output.

There has always been nuance to Damon Albarn’s work. Here it is channelled into reflection. In moments, he guides us – on Royal Mountain Blue, ‘Memories of you / At the end of the world / Stay by my side.’ In countless other places, he gives us the space to escape into our own thoughts as The Nearer The Fountain wanders – meanders – through beautiful, wordless nothing. The spaces are conjured from field recordings, iPad strings, an Elka Space Organ, and a whole magic box of brass and carefully curated instrumentation. There are momentary roars of jazz. Whispered backing vocals. Eruptions of noisy stabbing synths. Tangled passages of trippy quiet. Yet while being of a consistent mood throughout, such is the eclecticism of its soundscapes that they act a metaphor for Albarn’s entire career.

The closest The Nearer The Fountain comes to a hit single is Darkness To Light. But rather than its melody, it is the binary opposite of its title that resonates – a touchstone to a theme that is woven into the record’s fabric. ‘The sweetest leave us and the fairest decay’ he sings on the title track. ‘I can hear music / I can hear footsteps / Ghosts of an empty room…’ on The Tower of Montevideo. ‘Cross dressers of these terrible roads / Your love is great’ on Daft Wader. In parts, social observations, in others, odes to lost compadres (such as former The Good, the Bad, & the Queen percussionist, Tony Allen). Using the time, through lockdown, to put this collection together means Albarn’s poetic mind is attuned more deftly than perhaps ever before.

Perhaps only second to David Bowie, no other musical artist or songwriter has such a jigsaw of work that can sit at polarised ends of a spectrum, yet still feel intrinsically like it could only be them. Sir Elton John recently described Albarn as ‘the most interesting English musician,’ and The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows only confirms this. It finds him continuing unbounded on his musical journey – yet, one feels, no matter how close he comes to reaching the source of the said ‘fountain’, he has no interest in actually finding an answer. The shapeshifting continues.

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