Most associate the name Damon Albarn with his primary projects Blur and Gorillaz, but ol’ mate has his fingers in soooooo many more delicious (liquorice) pies!
If we’re talking supergroups, here’s a sampling: The Good, the Bad & the Queen (with The Clash’s Paul Simonon, The Verve’s Simon Tong and Tony Allen – master drummer of Afrobeat); Mali Music; Rocket Juice & the Moon (with Flea and the late Nigerian drummer Tony Allen) and Africa Express… and that’s just a few!
Then there’s Damon’s remarkable solo output (2014’s Everyday Robots and 2021’s The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows – here’s our review of the latter), a Chinese opera (Monkey: Journey to the West) and a musical based on the life of the medical and scientific advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, John D (Dr D).
Is there anything this Great Man hasn’t turned his hand to?
The answer is a resounding “no”, as the below seven examples of Damon’s wonderful lesser-known work goes some way towards illustrating.
Damon Albarn, Closet Romantic (1996)
Damon composed this piece, which sounds like a merry-go-round at a fantastical theme park on loop, for the Trainspotting soundtrack. The song’s only ‘lyrics’ see him reciting the titles of the seven Bond movies in which Sean Connery (the OG James Bond) starred: “Dr. No, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Thunderball, Never Say Never Again.”
Closet Romantic plays during this cult film’s closing credits.
Damon Albarn & Michael Nyman, Ravenous OST (1999)
Did you know that Damon collaborated with Michael Nyman on the score to the Guy Pearce- and Robert Carlyle-starring cannibal film, Ravenous? Neither!
(Although Nyman actually insisted during an interview that this score was a “joint composition” since Damon composed 60% of the tracks and he did the rest. Interestingly, Damon Albarn & Michael Nyman are credited on the record’s front cover while, on the back cover, their names are listed in reverse order.)
It’s gotta be said that Damon’s flair for capturing moods via multi-instrumental sonic experimentation is clearly evident throughout this pre-Gorillaz soundtrack work.
Fun fact: Damon made his acting debut with a small role in Ravenous director Antonia Bird’s previous film Face, starring Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone. Check out his chops!
Fun fact #2: Blur’s album 13, which contains Damon’s glorious breakup song about Elastica’s Justine Frischmann Tender, also dropped in 1999.
Malian Musicians with Damon Albarn, Sunset Coming On (2002)
This incredibly moving song truly embodies farsickness, with traditional Malian instruments perfectly complementing Damon’s own wistful vocals and multi-instrumental contributions (including melodica, which he used to great effect on Gorillaz’ “sunshine in a bag” smash hit Clint Eastwood).
Sunset Coming On is from the Mali Music album, which Damon recorded during a trip to the West African country in 2000. Malian artists that feature on the record include Afel Bocoum Lobi Traore, Toumani Diabate and Ko Kan Ko Sata Doumbia (said to be the only woman who plays the kamale n’goni, a traditional eight-stringed lute).
When you listen to the Mail Music record, the respect Damon has for Malian musicians and their culture is clearly evident so the fact that he’s been welcomed back to Mali to work with local musicians many times since comes as no surprise.
Gorillaz feat. André 3000 & James Murphy, DoYaThing (2012)
Initially, Converse asked Gorillaz to design an exclusive kicks collection featuring Jamie Hewlett’s superb artwork, but then also managed to persuade Damon to broaden this partnership to also contribute a collaborative track as part of the brand’s self-explanatory “Three Artists. One Song” series. And what a tasty duo Damon recruited for this crafty cut!
The song was recorded IRL in Damon’s London studio in just three days and kicks off with him ad-libbing a rap (in character as Gorillaz’ 2-D).
Damon also features on guitar, Murphy plays bass and André 3000 raps over DoYaThing’s drum machine beat. Murphy also takes the falsetto chorus, which you could be forgiven for thinking Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor supplied. DoYaThing was released in two different versions: a radio edit (released as a free download on Converse’s website) and an explicit, 13-minute version (released for streaming on the Gorillaz website).
We particularly love DoYaThing’s coverart, which was inspired by Matt & Kim’s I’m A Goner single cover. Alongside Gorillaz characters 2-D and Murdoc, Hewlett depicts Murphy as a baboon ninja and André 3000 as some kinda shirtless masked avenger with ripped physique and Zorro-style hat.
Mura Masa feat. Damon Albarn, Blu (2017)
UK producer Mura Masa (Alex Crossan on his passport) said during an interview: “Meeting Damon Albarn was mad because [Gorillaz’] Demon Days was the first album I bought, so getting to meet up and actually work with him was crazy.”
Damon’s vocal – sometimes vocodered, sometimes not – makes Blu the transcendent somnambulant lullaby we didn’t realise we needed. And those harp trills throughout are so damn exquisite!
Poté feat. Damon Albarn, Young Lies (2021)
“Oh, children of England your emollient is running into the soul and the kiss of a crackhead is greater than the obsequious behaviour of your politicians…” – Damon delivers eyebrow-raising, chin-strokerish lyricism that’ll have many reaching for the Thesaurus during Young Lies, which boasts a slowly building percussive beat based around minimal marimba.
Poté (an English artist from Saint Lucia, real name: Sylvern Mathurin), previously worked with Damon on a remix of TRANZ by Gorillaz (2018) and was also part of the Africa Express project, which spawned the EGOLI album (2019).
Paul McCartney, Damon Albarn (remix), Long Tailed Winter Bird (2021)
Damon remixed Long Tailed Winter Bird – the opening track on McCartney’s McCartney III album (2020) – for the McCartney III Imagined project, adding trademark dynamic nuances and poolside-in-Ibiza atmosphere.
Fun fact: Idris Elba also remixed Long Tailed Winter Bird for the McCartney III Imagined project.