Blur: The Magic Whip | Album Review
The Magic Whip
You’re on tour with your band, and you have five days off in Hong Kong. Do you kill the time by hitting the minibar, playing video games or catching up with your emails?
Blur decided to do something constructive with their time off, booking Avon studios in Kowloon and laying down a few tracks. Then they all went back to their respective day jobs, drummer Dave Rowntree to his law practice, bassist Alex James to his cheesemaking, and singer Damon Albarn to his everyday robotics.
A year and a half later, Graham Coxon and producer Stephen Street pulled out the tracks, knocked them into shape, got Albarn to stick on some lyrics and – hey presto! – here’s Blur’s 13th album, The Magic Whip, released 16 years after their last album as a four-piece.
A lot has changed in the two decades since Blur were riding high on a Britpop wave.
Somehow, you don’t imagine anyone getting into a froth over a chart battle between Blur and Noel Gallagher’s High Fying Birds. Since they reconvened in 2009, Blur have been running on nostalgia, playing sellout arena shows for fans who want to relive their 90s youth. So why bother recording a new album?
For one thing, Blur have stayed one step beyond: The Magic Whip sounds less like a band trying to recapture their glory days, and more like a band who are still looking ahead.
From the first choppy riff of Lonesome Street to the final, wobbly twang of Mirror Ball, it’s clear that Albarn & Co have rediscovered the chemistry, and still have a lot of distance left to run.
The overall sound is informed by Albarn’s varied and successful solo projects – the woozy beats of Gorillaz, the Asian kitsch of his Monkey opera – and by Coxon’s twisted, wobbly guitar style. Synth bleeps pepper the album, conjuring visions of Japanese manga, K-pop and Hong Kong nights, but even though the album looks east, Blur can never shake off their London calling. Go Out is a rather facile, lager-fueled anthem, but I Broadcast is a crisp signal of intent, while Ice Cream Man is a tasty vignette whose simple tune conceals some rich flavours. Dreamed I Was a Spaceman and My Terracotta Heart are deep and wide, while the marching beat of There Are Too Many of Us drives the bleak message neatly home.
Next time you and your band find yourselves with some downtime in a strange city, don’t squander the time – for Blur, this may have been their most fruitful five days this century.