Blur – “Out of Time”

Released: 4.15.03

Peak: Did not chart

Damon Albarn could be contemporary white male Britannia’s greatest gift to pop. When it comes to world music, Albarn not only “appreciates” rhythm, as did (do?) his globally minded UK predecessors like Sting and Peter Gabriel–he cultivates an actual sense of it, and he’s got good ears rather than mere “good taste.” His reasonable distrust of celebrity and liberalism has never soured into reclusive pessimism–he’s worked almost strictly in a collective setting. If only he didn’t always sing like Damon Albarn.

Smart lad, Albarn makes something of that sob his larynx nurses–never strictly joyless, he can stir up a fine comic sad-sackery, as though whiling away the time after pirates set him adrift off the Gold Coast in a DX-7. And even this shortcoming bespeaks his good sense–unlike his lesser elders, he’s too decent to fake a soulfulness beyond his grasp. Still, taken more than a song at a time, his melancholy saps your strength. Even the rappers on the Gorillaz albums sound as though they’re forever fleeing his marshy drawl. No wonder Albarn’s most consistent effort over the past decade, Mali Music, entrusts vocals elsewhere.

In other words, Damon’s what we used to call a singles artist, faring better at stark snapshots than panoramic vistas. Awash on an increasingly disorienting arrangement by the Group Regional du Marrakech “Out of Time” is the dour miniaturist at his most lovely and expansive. The lyric suits his low-affect pessimism perfectly, with a chorus whose fatalism be heard as quotidian, existential, geo-political, or all at once, with that glockenspiel accent on the chorus ever so lightly hammering the last four nails in our coffin. Now if only he could transform his commitment to rhythm from a show of intelligence into a reason to live, Albarn might become a genius yet. Maybe he just hasn’t met the right girl.

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