Ever since Rick Rubin stepped into a studio with Johnny Cash, ensuring that the singer spent the last years of his life rescued from the wilderness, the idea of teaming legends who have lost their way with the new generation has verged on becoming a cliche – saved by the fact that the results are, more often than not, pretty impressive. At first glance, both sides of the generation gap evident on The Bravest Man In The Universe fit the brief perfectly. Bobby Womack had an influential career that crashed in spectacular circumstances, rounded off by a successful battle with cancer. As for Damon Albarn, well he’s tried everything else so why not this. Throw in XL boss Richard Simmons and what could go wrong?
Pretty much nothing. If The Bravest Man… set out to marry the old and the new it puts not a single foot wrong. Comparisons will be made with Gil Scott Heron and Jamie xx’s We’re New Here but, while that felt more like a remix project, this is very much Womack’s album – one that has been guided into the 21st century by sympathetic and skilful hands. Right from the opening seconds of the title track, it is his voice that dominates. Rich, soulful and strong, Womack’s performance belies his advancing years and troubled life, the quality of that first song more than enough to convince that the coming together of this trio was a very good idea indeed.
Certainly, Albarn and Russell’s role shouldn’t be underestimated, no matter how subtle and refined it is. There is drama when there needs to be, likewise beauty (‘Please Forgive My Heart’) and fire (‘Stupid’). ‘Sweet Baby Mine’ offers a touch of Gorillaz style funk, while ‘If There Wasn’t Something There’ heads for altogether darker territory. It isn’t exactly a guest-fest either, with Lana Del Rey popping up for a largely pointless cameo on ‘Dayglo Reflection’, hardly enhancing her reputation in the process. Womack’s prestige, however, emerges stronger than ever, eclipsing most of his career to date. For a man who has lived a life as full as this, that’s little short of astonishing.