hatever Albarn’s original motivations were for releasing the scribbles that make up most of Democrazy, it actually functions to both mythologize and de-mystify the alchemical process of writing and recording; turning shit into gold. Except here Damon only lets us see as far as wiping his backside.
It seems that instead of snorting coke from the valleys of eager groupies or sharpening his X-Box skills, Albarn spent part of Blur’s U.S. Think Tank tour demoing tracks with his falsetto, a trusty Casio, crappy drum machine and battered acoustic.
On paper it looks like a textbook exercise in rock star vanity; releasing 5000 vinyl copies on his own imprint because his real label would never put out something as fragmentary and incomplete. And so an instant collectors item is born, destined to be a footnote in the extensive Blur discography and sure to ensnare someone on eBay for a comedy sum of money in a few months time.
This release is not going to win him any new fans, and it’s also unlikely to cause any revision of the commonly held view of Albarn as the megalomaniacal brain of Blur whilst St. Graham Coxon is heralded as the musical soul of the band. Instead, what we get is more Albarn lifting the curtain on his own Wizard of Oz show than anything else. These tracks are about as close as you are going to get to his recording methodology without actually joining the group. Unfortunately, these studio floor tape edits rarely do more than act as mere curios.
Take, for instance, the building repetition of the guitar picking of “Back to Mali”. The song begins to get interesting at the exact point that it’s harshly clipped to an end, leaving the listener little to get lost in or to marvel at the skill of the performer. So, as interesting as this project is, it’s difficult to praise it as a body of musical work when the arresting pieces are so heavily outnumbered by wobbly instrumentals, brief experiments and songs that you couldn’t even call half formed.
The vast majority of Democrazy may well be recycled and incorporated into the forthcoming Blur (the middle eastern elements of “Reedz” and “Saz Book Theory” look like he hasn’t got all of Think Tank out of his system yet) or Gorillaz, and that’s what will make this worth returning to at some point in the future. By giving us a real glimpse into the blurred structures, messy sketches and inconclusive thoughts behind the method of his writing process, it’s obvious that he doesn’t sit at the piano and songs like “For Tomorrow” or “Out of Time” drop out unbidden.
The only pieces that get near to the traditional structure of finished songs are the Woody Guthrie tinted “Gotta Get Down With The Passing Of Time”, “Hymn to Moon” and the sing-along “End Of Democrazy” and while satisfying in their own right, they only make me wish there were more fully realised ideas here. Serving as nothing more than a temporary diversion or side note to his fully realised work, this is worth a cursory listen for the insight alone.
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2003-12-10