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7. Democrazy (2003): Initially released by Honest Jon's in late 2003 on two slabs of 10-inch vinyl and limited to 5,000 copies, Democrazy was never intended to be anything more than a service to fans. But even in that regard, it fell short: Those fans who did manage to score a copy were rewarded with 14 meandering song sketches (14! Split into FOUR SIDES!), recorded in hotel rooms while on tour with Blur, that were neither illuminating nor engaging. Albarn's lovely voice shines in lower-fidelity settings, and aloofness is essential to his character, but Democrazy took those qualities to ridiculous and unlistenable extremes. Even today, the album betrays Albarn loyalists: You can Buy It Now on eBay for as little as $38 -- probably about what it cost to obtain the thing in 2003. Not a bad return, but if the album were any god, Blur fans would be able to leverage it for Hyde Park tickets.

Damon Albarn doesn’t deserve our love. We want Blur and he gives us … anything but. Sure, Blur is doing a handful of reunion shows in Europe this summer (the total cost to attend if you are a fan living in America? Something in the five-digit range), but a world tour is reportedly out of the question. And a new album? Well, in a recent issue of NME, William Orbit admitted that he had been recording with the band, but Albarn killed those sessions; as Orbit tweeted: “Blur could have been good. But Damon, brilliant and talented tho he is, is kinda a shit to the rest of Blur.”

If you were taking bets in 1997 or so, Albarn would hardly have been considered the most likely member of the Britpop legends to emerge as one of popular music’s most adventurous and exciting artists circa 2012. (The smart money would probably have been on guitarist Graham Coxon.) But over the last decade or so, Albarn has been just that. Along with creating the Honest Jon’s record label — which has released compilations of indigenous soul and folk music from Africa, Latin America, England and the Caribbean — he has collaborated with an insane variety and amount of artists in numerous media. He has also worked on a lot of projects that are not Blur — he now has released work with more non-Blur projects than total Blur albums, including three already THIS YEAR to go along with the Blur “reunion.”

So it’s high time to put these projects into context — by comparing them to one another, ranking them from worst to best. These rankings are not meant to be comprehensive — they leave out (among other things) Albarn’s excellent work on the new Bobby Womack album and last year’s Kinshasa One Two. But these are the projects at which Albarn is the center, or near the center. That’s what we care most about, right? Because even though he doesn’t deserve our love, we love him anyway.

Here for you, is our rundown of Damon’s non-Blur projects, from best to worst — starting with the worst.

Comments (19)
  1. I’d say Gorillaz are the best thing he’s done. Patchy as fuck sure, but those first two albums encapsulate exactly what it was like in the head of a british music fan who yearned for more than Post-Strokes garage, shitty Libertines rip-offs and turgid chart Grime between 2001-2007

  2. Am I the only one on the planet who enjoyed the Ravenous soundtrack? Thought so…

  3. this is more than stupid, the ranking here is, i’d say, from most experimental project to the most normal and commercial ones. I definitely enjoyed monkey: journey to the west and dr. dee in a fabulous way. However, you have to have your ears trained to Albarn’s music, cause it ont work other way

  4. No “identifying voice”? “revolving door could be disorienting”? I think this is being a bit too critical on Gorillaz. Part of what makes Gorillaz great is that there’s always something different from album-to-album and even song-to-song. That “revolving door” has seen some of the best collaborations in pop music over the last decade. It’s a wonderful concept to have a rotating cast under a single creative music voice. Even if they’re all over the place style-wise, that’s EXACTLY what makes this project unique and stimulating for me. There are few people who make pop music as interesting as Damon Albarn. While I moderately enjoyed Rocket Juice, it’s simply unthinkable to rank it over the entire Gorillaz catalogue.

  5. Gorillaz > everything else?

  6. i agree. gorillaz were obviously the best out of any of these projects, but yet again, someone here comes up with the idea of an article and the execution gets forced through the stereogum grinder again:

    “we got 6 albarn projects total, hmm, wonder how we can rank these. 3 have to be good, 3 have to be bad, what do we do with gorillaz? since they saw the most commercial success, our standards indicate that they’re obviously on the chopping block, let’s rank them as a fail.”

    • Rob, not at all — I’m a huge Damon Albarn fan and I ranked these projects as I believed they deserved to be ranked (based on my own tastes). The best Gorillaz songs plainly rank among the best songs Albarn has ever produced. But their catalog as a whole is inconsistent, IMO, while I find Rocket Juice, Mali Music and The Good, The Bad And The Queen to be almost flawless albums. You could just as easily remove Gorillaz from this list entirely, and maybe I should have — it’s inherently unfair to compare six pretty obscure projects that produced one album apiece to one hugely successful project that produced four albums (and remixes).

      • (I should say though that, even though it’s not my favorite Albarn project, I’d hardly call Gorillaz a “fail.” This is an all-time great artist being discussed; even his weaker moments are more essential than many bands’ entire catalogs.)

        • i for one wouldn’t label gorillaz a perfect or even consistent project, but they never made a bad album. what i’m saying its position here, and your subsequent summary, seem to indicate it’s not essential albarn listening. your article seems to state that gorillaz ranks among his “worst” projects, when that’s just inherently unfair. what about a numbered ranking?

          it’s a quibble, and the rest of your piece is well-written and gave me a reason to revisit gb&tq, which i am doing now.

          • michael, i was about to throw my computer across the room because i was certain that you wouldn’t rank The Good, the Bad & the Queen number 1. Green Fields may be Albarn’s most harrowing song–more than the Universal or Out of Time.

  7. Sure, the Gorillaz discography isn’t that consistent but I’d definitely put them at one just for the great collabs with DOOM, Del, De La Soul, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, and others.

  8. Just my two cents: Gorillaz would have been better, and more consistent, if Damon had kept working with Del (the Funky Homosapien). He brought something special to that first album and I’ve always thought that “character” needed to continue.

  9. I’m still listening to Monkey, because it’s a wonderful album.

  10. I really enjoy Gorillaz but anything from the self-titled Blur and ’13′ era Blur can’t be touched in my opinion. With Damon’s ear for melody and Graham’s chops on the guitar they were a force unto themselves. All the Gorillaz albums are sprinkled with some damn great songs but in latter day Blur albums you can hear them really stretching their own boundaries (‘Blur’ and ’13′). ‘Think Tank’ is a nice album too. All the other things Damon had dappled in seem pretty blah to me, especially, ESPECIALLY, The Good, the Bad & the Queen. I spent more energy trying to like that album then those guys spent recording it.

  11. you misspelled “the most similar of Damon Albarn- Blur project”

  12. Maybe its because its one the first albums I got really into, but I think Demon Days is by far the best album out of any of these projects. It does a great job of blending a ton of genres into one coherent idea and the flow is nearly perfect. Plastic beach might have better individual songs and Gorillaz is pretty good as well, but listening to Demon Days is the most satisfying and enjoyable out of any Albarn side project.

  13. The Soundtrack for Reykjavic 101 should be number 1.

    If you are going to make a list with an artists many random side projects you should at least make it complete.

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