I've sat on this one a couple of weeks contemplating ... is this a great album by Blur, or is this a great album because it's by Blur and I want it to be great?
No, my ears did not deceive me, and I need no fanboy excuses to declare this a great album.
There are echoes of Bur-past, echoes of Blur-current and future, and some of Damon Albarn's arty-fartiness and meandering melodies and lyrical tracts are kept in check.
There have been recent interviews where each member has expressed the notion that when the four of them come together, something clicks, chemistry chemists, and Blur comes forth.
After the release of their debut album, one could be forgiven for thinking they may not have a bright (or long) future. Their re-invention of themselves and evoking a Mod-infused view of England changed fortunes (slightly) on 2nd release 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'. But it was 3rd album 'Parklife' that seared them into the national consciousness. Continual re-invention followed: 'The Great Escape', 'Blur', '13', 'Think Tank' - all Blur, but all a different version of Blur.
When 'The Magic Whip' arrived in 2015, all signs were Blur were back, but ultimately the album didn't deliver in the long term (certainly for me, repeated listening is limited at best).
So why would I expect anything more from 'The Ballad Of Darren'?
Well, early release 'The Narcissist' suggested there was something special on the way, and now the full package has arrived those early thoughts are not misplaced.
Opening with "The Ballad" which evokes "The Universal" from 'The Great Escape' (maybe not as epic) followed by 'St Charles Square' showing Blur are placing themselves in their post-Britpop years re-inventing themselves for current times. They know what makes a Blur song, and now have the opportunity to imbue it with autobiography and experience.
"Barbaric" is an achingly melancholic earworm, and you could be forgiven for believing the album has peaked by track 3 - far from it - the peak is ridden from now through to the final track "The Heights".
OK, there is an argument that this run of tracks rarely lifts from the considered, slower, emotive and withdrawn. But where there may have been riffing, there is now considered arpeggios, where there was once solid rhythm backing there is now considered service to the song and lyrics. And there be the voice of experience - too many slow Blur songs on the trot could once have paled, now the collection is right for the band (and let us not forget the great moments of their passed are not the "Oi Oi ... Parklife" moments, but the feted "The Universal", "Tender", "No Distance Left To Run" et al
I wanted Blur's return with 'The Magic Whip' to be a monumental moment - it nearly was, and I had to wait a few years for 'The Ballad Of Darren' to be that glorious return moment.
St Charles Square