‘No More Distance Left to Run’
This album certainly marks the end of an era, whether it be Britpop, the 1990s or Blur in their original formation, before Graham Coxon left the band. Whereas the brilliant Think Tank could be said to be a Damon Albarn project in the vein of Mali Music, Gorillaz or The Good, The Bad & The Queen, this is the sound of a band at the end of the line – literally with No More Distance Left to Run. This sense is impounded by its sometimes dispiriting focus on the death of Albarn’s relationship and the fact that it was followed by a summary (pre-Think Tank) Best Of compilation. Its a very odd album in retrospect, veering between blustery, ephemeral punk and expansive, even progressive tracks – historically uneasy bedfellows. William Orbit’s sonic embellishments are conspicuous and not always successfully absorbed into Blur’s ‘sound’, which by this point was in an ongoing transitional tailspin. It is interesting to note that Orbit’s contributions are more heavy-handed than Fatboy Slim’s involvement on Think Tank, a collaboration that is said to have been the root of Graham Coxon’s departure.
The folksy gospel of ‘Tender’ remains more of an idea than a song; a stylised mood-piece but with highly personal lyrics, it is a song I admire more than I actually enjoy. Slightly overlong, it nevertheless reveals the broadening of Albarn’s musical horizons that would be explored more fully on Think Tank and various side projects. ‘Bugman’, ‘Swamp Song’ and ‘BLUREMI’ are all throwaway punk that ape but lack the curveball shock of ‘Song 2′. The single ‘Coffee and TV’ maybe there last pitch-perfect pop track, although it also goes on longer than necessary. ‘Trim Trabb’ and especially ’1992′ find Albarn sounding his most inert and dispirited, with the former track’s depressing vision of “all those losers on the piss again”. It sounds like Albarn has fallen out of love with England altogether; “That’s just the way it is”, he says, “… I sleep alone”, as the song descends into chaos. ‘Caramel’ starts as a poignantly raw ballad but Orbit’s sonic graffiti is more alienating than enlightening, while ‘Trailerpark’ is too contrived to take seriously. Part Underworld, part Death in Vegas, this track plunders its influences too literally. ‘No Distance Left To Run’ is undoubtably the album’s masterpiece – providing some of the atmosphere of ‘Tender’ but with less style and more soul. One of the great modern break-up songs, it affrirms Albarn’s (underrated) skill for writing ballads. Overall, its a mixed bag; the sound of a band unsure of their direction and most-likely pulling in different directions. Arguably Albarn reached his creative peak after this period, but it remains to be seen if Blur will continue to record or function as a real band.