Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn on his huge 2023 comeback | The Sun

SPEND enough time with Damon Albarn and you get used to his singular trains of thought.

Take this one. “I was born on March 23,” he muses. “So 2023 is my year.

“My daughter’s 23 as well. All those 23s must mean something . . . good or bad!”

It’s hard to argue with him. How many performers are star attractions at America’s biggest music festival, Coachella, AND Wembley Stadium shows this year?

Then consider that he’s frontman of two very different acts.

First up are synth pop-orientated Gorillaz and then it’s over to Blur for a giant guitar-fuelled summer reunion party.


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We’re meeting in what can loosely be described as Damon’s “office” on the top floor of his London studio, in the shadow of his beloved Westway.

Today, he’s going for a baggy denim skateboarder look, in keeping with the boyish spirit that still dwells within the 54-year-old cultural polymath.

We’re surrounded by racks of the vintage keyboards — Casio, Yamaha and others — which he employs for his various projects.

Whether it’s Gorillaz or Blur or solo work or Africa Express or you name it, Damon has always got something on the go.

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“I’ve been having a good run with my songwriting,” he affirms.

“Though, to be fair, the creative juices have never really gone away.

“I just enjoy what I do. I have genuinely found my vocation and I’ll keep going until I can’t do it any more.”

The main focus of our chat on a clear blue February morning is the eighth Gorillaz studio album, Cracker Island.

It’s a typically effervescent song cycle featuring some of the most stellar guests in the cartoon band’s 25-year history.

Among them is Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny (Benito Ocasio), the hottest music property in the US right now if the charts are anything to go by.

He applies a Spanish language masterclass to Tormenta in a style known as “reggaeton” — a conflation of dancehall, hip-hop and Latin American music.

“Bad Bunny’s the real deal,” enthuses Damon. “He’s got one of those annoying voices which is exactly right every time. So accurate and so consistent, it’s amazing.

“When I hear people like him, I think, ‘If I could sing like that, I would be the biggest artist in the world, but I can’t, so I’m not!’”

Damon credits his work with Bad Bunny to daughter Missy and her friend Salima.

“They grew up together and went to the Spanish school at the top of our road,” he says. “So they’re attuned to Latin music and into reggaeton.”

With Bad Bunny on Damon’s radar, “a long period of to and fro” messages ensued before they finally recorded a song.

He says: “Towards the end of lockdown when everything was opening up, we went to Jamaica to do the Gorillaz EP Meanwhile.

“And because Bad Bunny lives in Puerto Rico, which is close by, it was the perfect place for us to meet up.

If I could sing like Bad Bunny, I'd be the world's biggest star… but I can't!

“I went with my daughter and her mates and so they got to meet him, too.

“We recorded the track very quickly, very spontaneously, after a huge storm, hence the name Tormenta (Spanish for storm).”

Elsewhere on Cracker Island, Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks lends gorgeously sultry vocals to Oil while Thundercat strikes up a handsome bass groove and sings on the scene-setting title track.

Classy contributions also come from Tame Impala, rapper Bootie Brown, Beck and one-time Amy Winehouse backing singer Adeleye Omotayo.

As with everything Gorillaz, there are two narratives at play. One belongs to Damon and his songs about global concerns and real emotions.

The other is artist Jamie Hewlett’s wacky virtual world of 2-D (singer/keyboards), Murdoc Niccals (bass), Noodle (lead guitar) and Russel Hobbs (drums).

This time, both sides collide because Damon decamped to Los Angeles to record with in-demand producer and songwriter Greg Kurstin (Adele, Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney and countless others).

‘Old school synths’

And, in the fictional narrative, the cartoon characters pitch up in the LA suburb of Silver Lake, where band leader and supreme ego Murdoc sets himself up as Great Leader of the Last Cult.

The original idea had been to make a Gorillaz movie, so what better setting to make it than in the home of the Hollywood film industry?

Damon admits: “The movie was the reason for going in the first place.

“We had a contract with Netflix but got unceremoniously dumped when our guy there moved on. That’s LA!”

Despite this setback, the change of scenery proved a breath of fresh West Coast air so he hooked up with Kurstin instead to make music.

“It was a great experience with Greg,” he says. “He’s a brilliant musician, same age as me and we grew up loving the same stuff.”

They also bonded over their shared love of old school synths.

“He’s got a couple of instruments I don’t have,” admits a slightly rueful Damon.

“One is a Yamaha synonymous with the big keyboard sounds of the Eighties.

“I didn’t buy one at the right time and now you’re looking at paying nearly £100,000 for one. But I’ve rinsed Greg’s on this whole album.”

Damon says the songs came thick and fast. “We literally banged out the record in nine days. Just him and me — apart from a little bass from Thundercat.”


STUART POT, aka 2-D, is the sweet-voiced singer and keyboard player in Gorillaz.

A fan of zombie films and peppermint beverages, 2-D joined the band when Murdoc ran him over.

That was the first of many knocks on the head, which gave the blue-haired frontman a unique way of seeing the world.

Ambition: Running the dodgems at the funfair.

At the same time, he fell in love with his surroundings. “I don’t know what happened, whether Los Angeles decided it liked me or I decided I liked Los Angeles,” he adds.

I had hated it for many years, having been stuck in the static environment of Sunset Boulevard where all bands stay when they’re touring.”

But during lockdown and before heading out to the US, Damon learned to drive again, despite the bicycle being his preferred mode of transport.

This allowed him to get back the licence he briefly owned 25 years ago but lost when he accrued nine points.

“When I got to LA, I hired a car for the first time,” he says. “So I was driving myself everywhere — upstate, downstate, into the desert, into East LA where the Latino culture I love exists.

“I suddenly realised that it was a very creative place and that I had completely and utterly misjudged it. Pure ignorance had caused my prejudice.”

Damon’s new base soon had a profound effect on his endeavours, as he explains.

“So many of my favourite musicians live there. You can call up Beck or Stevie Nicks because they live round the corner.”

That said, he remains wary of being sucked into the lifestyle of LA’s rich and famous.

“I don’t want to live there,” he stresses. “I’m not going to be one of those!

“I’m wary of the transformation that takes place when I spend too much time there.

“In The Hills, you get the feeling that everyone lives in such rarefied air.

“It’s very Roman in the sense that they look down on the city.

“And in downtown LA, skid row is a real thing which upset me so much.

“You see an impassive Amazon robot delivering a pair of socks, travelling past poor homeless people.”

We digress so I ask Damon how he got Nicks on board for the Gorillaz record.

“Greg Kurstin instigated it,” he replies.

“I originally had that tune down — believe it or not — for Julian Casablancas (The Strokes singer).

“But Greg asked, ‘Why don’t you try Stevie? I know her and I’m going to see her next week’.

“I said, ‘Be my guest, play it to her’. I didn’t think she would agree in a million years but she liked the subject matter.”

Oil reflects Damon’s attempt to assimilate “the madness of planet earth” which, metaphorically speaking, is like being bombarded by “interlocking cluster bombs”.

He’s pleased to report that, rather like 2010’s Plastic Beach, the album has an overarching theme.

“Every time you go on social media, you enter a labyrinth of cults,” he says. “And then you go and live in a cult-de-sac.

He repeats “cult-de-sac” and says: “That’s worthy of The Sun isn’t it? Who needs an Oxbridge education to come up with a pun like that?”

Damon elaborates: “Cracker Island starts in a dark place. A ‘cracker’ is American slang for a crazy white person and I thought it would be good to put all the crazy white people on an island to indulge in theories about flat earth etc.”

Closing song, wistful, acoustic Possession Island featuring Beck, serves as the album’s reality check. “It’s the place for reaching an understanding that all of this doesn’t really matter,” says Damon.

Current single Silent Running, which bears the soulful tones of Adeleye Omotayo, gives him cause for special celebration.

“It’s on the f***ing Radio 2 A-list!” he exclaims. “I’ve never been on it in my entire life.

“When I was down in Devon, an old guy I know turned up unannounced and said, ‘You’ve got a new song, haven’t you?

“‘I’ve heard your music, but don’t understand a bloody word you’re saying’.”

But Damon’s not complaining and continues: “It’s nice to get played. I haven’t been afforded the luxury that often.

“Maybe my music’s too left field? The mood tends to be a bit melancholic while radio goes for subtle up, up, up.”

Finally, he spares thoughts for Gorillaz associates no longer with us, Terry Hall of The Specials, who sang on 911, and Dave “Trugoy” Jolicoeur, of De La Soul, who co-wrote and performed on Feel Good Inc.

“I’ve lost two good friends who have really inspired me,” he says. “I had no idea Terry was so ill, otherwise I’d have gone to see him.

“What he and Dave had in common was building bridges between cultures in a very meaningful way.

“For my development, both were hugely important. I’m just carrying their flames.”

At some point in the future, Damon would like someone else to carry the Gorillaz flame.

“I’d like to pass it on to another guy who’s a cartoonist and a musician,” he decides. “That would be amazing.”

Gorillaz forever!


GORILLAZ founder/bass maestro Murdoc Niccals is driven by his insatiable need to be loved, which is ironic seeing as he makes enemies of almost everyone.

The thinking person’s hedonist, Murdoc is always last to leave a party, often in handcuffs with a uniformed official.

Some claim he sold his soul to the devil to get famous.


SFTW has spoken to some big names over the years . . . but none bigger than Murdoc Niccals of Gorillaz.

We can’t meet him face to face due to his packed schedule running a band and the Last Cult.

But thanks to Zoom, Murdoc talks to us from the “throne room” at his Silver Lake mansion.

He’s wearing full high priest-style cult regalia, comprising long flowing robes and a ridiculous hat.

Just before unveiling the video for new single Silent Running, he grants Simon Cosyns an audience.

GREAT Leader and “seeker of the truth”, what’s your best advice to all the lost lambs of the world?

Bravo mate, excellent question and solid effort with my cult titles, too.

I’d also accept ‘He-who-shall-not-be-gazed-upon’.

Well, Simon, my advice to you (as clearly you are the lost lamb of your question) is to embrace your cosmic smallness.

Stop trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Waste of calories, mate. What will be will be.

Ultimately you are powerless to prevent the imploding of the universe, so you might as well stop fretting and go to the pub.

Why did you move to Silver Lake, oh wise one?

Officially, this is Year One of the Last Cult, thus I have been presiding over my flock here at Silver Lake since the dawn of time.

But, in the before-times, we upped sticks from Blighty after a demonic sinkhole opened under our West London studio.

You should pop over some time. Just turn left at Greenland.

Why did you choose pink as cult colour of choice?

Some cultures believe that pink, being equal parts red and white, represents the coming together of humans and gods.

Personally, I like it ’cos it doesn’t clash with my greenish pallor. I almost went for a maroon red, then I got a cease-and-desist letter from the Sunflower Apostles of Venus.

How’s 2D doing these days . . . still having cups of tea with your nemesis Moon Flower?

2D is a heretic and a non-believer, Simon. I’ve excommunicated him for indulging in precisely what you described.

Just a little catch-up for your readers, turns out our next-door neighbours are also a cult.

Lot of them about in LA. Anyway, 2D’s been fraternising with them, got pally with their head honchess Moon Flower and her acolytes, call themselves the Forever Cult.

The lad is incredibly weak-minded and susceptible to techniques like hugs, kind platitudes, hot beverages and so forth.

What’s all this about him being sacrificed?

I know! I’m as furious as you are, pal. If anyone gets to sacrifice 2D it should be me, not those numpties next door.

That’s why we’re staging an intervention. Russ reckons he’s figured out the time and the place of the sacrificial ceremony and is advocating a rescue mission.

Originally I had a diary clash but I’ve managed to move Pilates to the following week.

Last year, Russel predicted the Great Rupture for New Year’s Eve, but there’s still no sign of it?

Yeah, Russ convinced himself that at midnight a crack would open above the Hollywood sign, revealing a pathway to paradise.

He hiked up there by himself, even packed a suitcase.

Obviously nothing happened. He came home with the right hump.

It’s a shame really, people always expect too much from New Year’s Eve.

Now Russ is saying he got his dates jumbled up, and the Rupture is actually happening some other time.

But that time is most definitely ALMOST nigh, he assures me.

I hear Noodle’s been looking into the Forever Cult?

Our Noodle’s been digging into Moon Flower and her goons.

Reckons the neighbours in the Forever Cult were an old movie studio back in the dark ages of Hollywood.

Even found a review of one of their silent films, a real turkey.

Finally, what do you know about Cracker Island?

Ten tracks of era-defining sonic gold, mate, featuring Gorillaz, a load of our pals, and a big dose of LA sunshine.

And a modicum of culty spiritual nourishment from yours truly.

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OK, ta Simon, always a pleasure. Better go prepare to cast my beneficence on that ungrateful blue-haired wretch. Praise be to Murdoc!

Thanks for your precious time, Your Magnificence!

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