The wait is over. The new Blur
album is finally out. After a decade plus of break ups, public spats, and stalled recording attempts, The Magic Whip
has finally arrived. Damon Albarn has kept himself busy
since the break up of Blur; still, somewhere in his heart, the iconic Brit-Pop band of the 90's was something that he couldn't let go. It seemed strange that an album never materialized after so many live shows and the few singles that were dropped along the way. Thankfully, that's all behind us now. With a burgeoning solo career and the Gorillaz
set to record next year, it makes sense that Damon handed the reins over to Graham Coxon to turn their jam sessions into the next step in the Blur legacy. That kind of trust is important and something we haven't seen in Blur for a long time. It's that willingness to give up control that finds the band returning to form.
The band isn't exactly breaking new ground with The Magic Whip
, but they don't have to at this point. With an established legacy, any minor update to their sound whilst paying homage to their past would have been enough for fans. Obviously, the album isn't Parklife
, but in 2015, it doesn't need to be. Instead, the group has created a powerful set of songs that span a variety of genres showing exactly what could have been if they had decided to stick together. Album opener "Lonesome Street" has all the energy of an old Blur record. It's a welcoming sound as Coxon's energetic guitar sound, which has been missing since 13
, is immediately thrust upon the listener. Familiar consumerism existentialism is plaguing Albarn as he opens up the album asking, "What have you got?/Mass produced in somewhere hot." It's like stepping into a time machine, except there is no sci-fi horror story at the other end of the trip.
Elsewhere, "Go Out" features a strong bass line and unsettling vocal harmonics from Albarn. Scratchy and distant guitars mixed with unstable drums build a chaotic instrumental with punk roots. As Damon describes a female "dancing with herself" you can picture everyone at the concert moshing alone. It's a weaker "Song 2," but with how much energy that classic track has, it is almost impossible to match "Song 2"'s vibe. "Ice Cream Man" has more electronic elements. With a repetitious synth line acting as the backbone for the song, a lush acoustic guitar and relaxed drumming give the song an ethereal vibe. The song is odd lyrically with Damon detailing, "Here comes the ice-cream man at the end of the road /With a wish of his magic whip/All the people at the party froze." Albarn has always been a weird lyricist, but this may take the (ice cream) cake.
The emotional centerpiece of the album is "My Terracotta Heart" and "There Are Too Many Of Us" with one song focusing on a decaying relationship while the other laments the disconnect between the highly digitally inseparable human race. "My Terracotta Heart" is an emotional ballad to say the least. As Albarn declares, " I don't know if I'm losing you again," you can hear the exasperation of his voice and instantly connect the song to his turbulent relationship with Coxon. The soft piano gently plays a sad tune as melancholy strings arrive with clapping drums that are eerie and almost out of place. On the follow up "There Are Too Many Of Us," the band is going for epic grandeur. Albarn has highly effected vocals as the drums imitate a marching band. With philosophical conundrums such as, "We all believe in praying for our immortality/We pose this question to our children/That calls them all to stray/And live in tiny house of the same mistakes we make," Albarn is taking aim at the human race.
The Magic Whip
is a good, sometimes great album. At times it can be too slow, ambient, and meandering, like some have accused Albarn's solo work of being. In other places the experimental nature of electronic drums such as on "Thought I Was A Spaceman" or the heavily synthesized "Pyongyang" give the band a jolt of energy in the highly diverse soundscape of 2015. The album is far from perfect, but it didn't need to be.
Check out "Ghost Ship" below and pick up the album here