I've never been a big Damon Albarn fan. I think I was probably a convert to Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish album for a brief time in the Nineties, I enjoyed the first Gorillaz album, and I've admired some of Albarn's production work. But that's not really a huge amount to hang a hat on over the course of more than two decades, and I've generally found his forays into afrobeat and other "solo" and side projects rather ordinary. Nevertheless, a brand new Blur album is still a relatively newsworthy event, so I thought I'd take a sneaky peek at what the 2015 version of the band has to offer.
recorded in Hong Kong, The Magic Whip is Blur's first studio album since Think
Tank in 2003, and the band's eighth overall. The album presents such a hybrid mix
of the many different styles that kept the band's music so fresh and vital all
those years ago, some pundits have dared to call it a "return to
form" ... though after more than a decade away, it's perhaps a little harsh
to suggest the band had "lost form". It's more likely they'd simply
lost phone numbers.
Even after such a
long period apart, the album is immediately identifiable as being a Blur album –
with prototype Blur eccentricity and unpredictably right at its heart. The
string-laden opener 'Lonesome Street' instantly reminds us that one of Blur's
best loved party tricks is the one that invokes a keen sense of nostalgia, and
it’s an ideal way to kick things off. With the rocky guitar stabs of first
single ‘Go Out’ we’re then reminded of just how important Graham Coxon is to
the chemistry of the band. Coxon's skills had largely been rendered superfluous
to requirements during the recording of Think Tank, so his return here is a
welcome development. ‘Go Out’ is classic Blur in that brooding, yearning for
something, kind of way.
pretty good stuff all the way through. From the beautiful simplicity of the
acoustic ‘Ice Cream Man’, which is probably the album’s highpoint (for me), to
the gentle psychedelia of ‘Ghost Ship’, the Asian flavours of ‘Pyongyang’, and
the simple formula pop of ‘Ong Ong’, it’s almost as though they’ve never been
away. In keeping with some of Albarn’s more recent work, there’s afrobeat
textures on ‘There Are Too Many of Us’, and an electro-funk feel to closer
‘Mirrorball’. The Magic Whip is a veritable feast in terms of musical
Having said all of
that, the album is also something of a sleeper or slow burner, and it took
quite a few listens for me to fully get my head around it. I picked up my copy
of The Magic Whip as far back as April or May, so this review has been a long
time coming. Rather like the album itself.