Damon Albarn is undoubtedly the richest personality to have emerged from Britpop, a scene which dominated the mid-1990s by paradoxically flattering this Anglocentrism and this nostalgia for British greatness which were to triumph in 2016 with the Brexit referendum.
This handsome kid was then the singer of the London group Blur, engaged in a merciless fight against the Mancunian rivals of Oasis, the brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, for the first place on the island podium. “Working North against the middle class of the South”, as Adrien Pavillard’s documentary, programmed on Arte, reminds us.
Profitably orchestrated by the media and the recording industry on the model of the (supposed) rivalry between Beatles and Rolling Stones, this “battle of Britpop” was won by K.-O. in 1995 by Oasis. This was undoubtedly the best service rendered to the vanquished.
It will indeed have allowed Damon Albarn to distance himself from the star-system and to emancipate himself by multiplying the projects: that of Gorillaz, this virtual entity carried out with the graphic designer Jamie Hewlett, animated characters born in reaction to the chain musical MTV, or the supergroup The Good, the Bad
Cynical and lucid words
The images of Blur at the time of its splendor show however that Albarn was not satisfied with this success against a background of Union Jack. We thus hear him making cynical and lucid remarks when he comments on the failure of his group in America (“You are sent there to get rich”) or the cult devoted there to Kurt Cobain (“an angelic face in the malls”), Britpop having been conceived as the British response to the grunge wave coming from the North West of the United States.
The evolution of the musician is well placed in its contexts, from the euphoria of Cool Britannia, during the Blair years, to the agonizing challenges of the third millennium, terrorism after September 11, 2001, climate crisis or Covid-19 pandemic. Traced by Damon Albarn’s second solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, published in 2021, with contemplative beauty.
This choice to present him as an artist of his time, however, comes at the expense of his musical influences – only The Specials are briefly mentioned by the interested party for “integration and open-mindedness”. While Albarn is part of a line that goes through the Beatles, XTC, Madness or The Human League. Without forgetting Ray Davies, the soul of the Kinks, his obvious model for chronicling by turns acerbic, tender or disillusioned with British social classes.
Above all, nothing is said about his family origins, which can nevertheless explain his thirst for curiosity: Damon Albarn is indeed the heir of a family of creators (mathematical design on his father’s side, theater sets for his mother ), which, all of a sudden, makes his journey much less surprising.