Yoga is better than heroin, says Blur's Damon Albarn
"The Ballad of Darren", only their second album in 20 years, came as a surprise to everyone
PARIS (AFP) – British band Blur are back with a new album and reunion tour – a chance to "time-travel" for band leader Damon Albarn, even if he admits the years are taking their toll.
"The Ballad of Darren", only their second album in 20 years, came as a surprise to everyone – members of Blur included.
"I didn't tell anyone I was writing it," Albarn told AFP during a visit to Paris, saying it happened while touring with his other band, Gorillaz, in the United States last year.
"I came back in January and said: 'Come to the studio, I've got something to play you.'"
He presented the band with 20 songs and told them to pick their favourites for the album, which is out on July 21.
They are a typically strong set of tunes, but mostly the softer Blur of "Tender" than the perky pop of "Girls and Boys" or grungey rock of "Song 2".
"I'm a profoundly sadder person in my 50s," the singer offered as explanation, laughing as he said it.
"It's OK -- I'm leaning into my sadness. It's not that far from happiness. I'm comfortable with melancholy."
Indeed, Albarn admits his cheeky-chappy persona in the 1990s was never a natural fit.
He thinks about that younger self as he considers the huge upcoming dates at Wembley – England's national stadium – which Blur never played at their peak.
"That would have terrified me beyond comprehension. Panic attacks, everything," he said.
"Yoga helped me massively. Firstly it was heroin, and obviously I knocked that on the head 100 years ago. And now yoga – if I do it pretty much every day, I'm calm. That it's not taught in every school is absurd."
He also takes heart from the surreal sight of all the young people coming to Blur concerts these days.
"It's like time-travelling. The audience is young again," he said. "It's weird -- you forget where you are sometimes."
Albarn was always the most restless of the Britpop stars, exploring new sounds and styles on each album. It brought global fame, but he said it cost him mainstream acceptance back home.
"It feels good at the moment of course -- people have suddenly realised I exist again -- but it's been a while since England is a place where I feel welcome," he said.
Albarn's desire for the spotlight is central to infectious recent single "The Narcissist", which sees him cast back to his teenage years "with my strobe light and mirror and synthesiser in my dark bedroom, playing along with my favourite records.
"That was the beginning of my narcissism," he said, though the song is also about "the fact we live in the most narcissistic age of man ever".
"I don't have a phone but I understand the principle. We all carry this machine that sends pictures of ourselves, we look at them, check them, we manufacture our own narcissism."
Not that he enjoys writing lyrics. At all.
"I struggle hugely, almost inhumanely, with my lyrics. There's always a month when I'm trying to finish the lyrics of something... ugh, it's awful."
'Lost our minds'
Since Blur's first hiatus back in 2003, it has been France that has been more welcoming of Albarn's experimental projects, including a full opera he is planning at the Lido in Paris next year.
"Last time I tried something like that in England, it was at the National Theatre and I ended up being bullied into doing a Christmas show for 'commercial concerns'," he said, spitting the last words.
There are also happy memories from Blur's first visits to Paris: nights at the legendary Bains Douches club ("a fairly explicit place," Albarn deadpans), and the Refuge des Fondus in Montmartre, famous for serving its wine in baby bottles.
"Imagine being a 21-year-old English lad and being given red wine in baby bottles and melted cheese. We lost our minds!"