London falling

By JAMES PARKER  |  February 21, 2007

There is much self-consciousness here, much flattering of the critical sensibility, but in the end you can allow Albarn his London Fields and his Hangover Square, you can allow him the Specials, the Kinks, the Clash, even the ghost of the Ruts, you can allow him J.G. Ballard and Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, because by packing on these geological layers of influence he is only imitating the city that is his subject, carbon-black with the coatings of age. London works like this, compacted into a simultaneity by its own historical weight: at the utterance of the words “palace walls” in “Kingdom of Doom,” William Blake appears in angelic form, chanting, “And the hapless soldier’s sigh/Runs in blood down palace walls . . . ” And the voice in which Albarn sings to this city is, appropriately, not altogether his own but a voice made for the purpose, sighing with the fatalistic vowels of old London, where “no” becomes “now” and “day” turns into “die.”

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