Demon Days (Virgin)

The Longest Yard
A funny transformation occurred as Blur frontman Damon Albarn pursued Gorillaz, his high-concept side project. This virtual band of cartoon characters has somehow become Blur, and Blur has become the arty bore Gorillaz might have been. Maybe this is due to the fact that Gorillaz' debut sold a surprising six million copies worldwide. Or maybe it's reflective of how Blur has fizzled since guitarist Graham Coxon left the band. Either way, this album (and Blur's tuneless 2003 mess Think Tank) clearly demonstrate who Albarn is saving his best ideas for these days.

Albarn's Brit pop roots are all over Demon Days, surfacing regularly from within the shards of dub, trip-hop, and punky dance rock that surround them. Albarn and new collaborator Danger Mouse (who replaces Dan the Automator) have created a sci-fi soundscape more ambitious than Gorillaz' first release, with better-integrated guests -- Shaun Ryder's delirious cameo on "Dare," the near-tribute to Human League, could qualify it for comeback tune of the year. The album possesses a bleaker outlook, but the melodies trapped within virtual mash-ups like "Feel Good Inc." are the strongest reminders that there's more to Albarn than pinup looks and arch theory. He may no longer believe that modern life is rubbish, but Demon Days shows that wisely, he hasn't abandoned the old days either.

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