It’s a cliche to imagine the great artists of our time getting lost in their work. Francis Ford Coppola getting so tied into the production of Apocalypse Now that he refuses to stop shooting even while Martin Sheen is having a heart attack in the middle of the jungle. Daniel Day Lewis refusing to use modern technology and only be addressed as ‘Mr. President’ on the set of Lincoln. Jean-Michel Basquiat using the squalor of his own graffiti-filled New York City to inform his at once repugnant and beautiful work. We, as an audience, love to see a tangible connection between a creator and their final product, as the devotion we often strongly desire from the most creative minds is conveniently laid out and illustrated.
Now, Damon Albarn, for his latest album The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, he didn’t just go into tourist mode to bring the natural wonders of Iceland to life. No, he actually went and became an Icelandic citizen.
Albarn told The Sunday Times that he first visited Iceland at the tail end of Blur’s heyday while the so-called ‘Battle of Britpop’ was winding down in 1996. After being relegated as runner-ups following the release of Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, the band absconded to Iceland in order to get away from their status in the UK. Iceland became a refuge, and Blur recorded vocals for a few songs from their self-titled 1997 album in Reykjavík. From there, Albarn had found a home away from home, but now it seems that he’s made it a more permanent residence.
Elsewhere in the interview, Albarn mentions that Blur are never truly a past-tense entity and that he is eager to rejoin the band once his schedule clears up. “It’s funny. I’m not opposed to [more Blur] — it’s just getting round to it,” Albarn explains. “I love playing those songs. It would be light relief — compared to what I do now — to play something upbeat and funny.” To say that the material on The Nearer The Fountain is at the opposite stylistic end to something like ‘Country House’ or ‘Bank Holiday’ is an understatement, but Albarn is music’s modern day renaissance man for a reason.
He’s not the only one in the band who has expanded his interests. Alex James is still hard at work at his Oxfordshire cheese farm, Dave Rowntree is busy campaigning for Labour Party issues (Albarn has some not-too-nice things to say about Labour during the same Times interview), and Graham Coxon shacked up with Duran Duran as their guitarist for their latest album Future Past. Albarn and Rowntree have both stated their desire to kick Blur back into gear once the pandemic dies down, but it seems that it’s more of a juggling act these days than ever before.
Of course, Albarn can always fall back on Gorillaz. The singer has indicated that a new season of the virtual band’s Song Machine project is imminent after the release of The Nearer The Fountain. The band already has a Bad Bunny collaboration in the bag, and Albarn indicated that the new Latino-influenced LP will come out sometime next year.