Blur - The Magic Whip

by Nathan Fidler Rating:8.5 Release Date:2015-04-27

It’s pretty much a win-win situation for Damon Albarn: if the new Blur album flops, he can go back to his 'side-projects'; if it does well, then it’s simply the status quo. For the other three members of the band, there is probably more at stake, with unsuccessful attempts at becoming an MP for Dave Rowntree, a middling solo career for Graham Coxon, and for Alex James... cheese.

The Magic Whip has been a long time coming but despite all the rumours of a potential album, it still came as a bit of a surprise. Therein lies the success of this record, it was as much a surprise for the band as it was for us - with a short stint for jamming sessions in Hong Kong seemingly relieving them of the pressure of actually making an album.

‘Lonesome Street’ has already been hailed as song of the year, even by former archrival Liam Gallagher in a recent tweet. It carries that same baggy-meets-Britpop sound, bubbly and yet somehow lazy. Albarn is once again back at his best, tacking the mickey out of society: “This is the place to come to/ or it was”. He even sounds like he’s having fun at times, simply making noise in the intro to the second verse.

What best brings this album together, though, is Graham Coxon, once the force which tore the band apart on Think Tank. He’s back to his best with his guitar as an instrument of harmony, used sparingly. On the standout track, ‘My Terracotta Heart’, Albarn pours his heart out to the guitarist (“When we were more like brothers/ but that was years ago”) while Coxon runs up his guitar-neck solemnly. Even the short solo, repeated, feels like the most emotional and honest contribution he’s made to music for some time.

Shades of Damon Albarns other work do seem to overshadow the band at times though. Tracks such as ‘I Thought I Was a Spaceman’ and ‘Pyongyang’ are both akin to Gorillaz tracks, but great to drink in nonetheless. ‘Ice Cream Man’ sounds otherworldly, even with settled acoustic guitars, but you can’t stop yourself from singing along to “With a swish of his magic whip all the people at the party froze”, possibly a reference to being so close to China at the time of writing the lyrics.

Quite a few songs seem like a lament for lost times and a fear for future generations. ‘There Are Too Many of Us’ is a heavy-handed example of this, while ‘Ghost Ship’ sounds like an exotic summer love song, but makes reference to Hong Kong and Kowloon along with other geographic iconography. The Magic Whip can simply be an album of great music if you wish, or you can choose to read it as Blur taking a look at the tumultuous time we live in - with Communism, lonliness, and the immediate access to information we have, all under scrutiny in some way.

These four men have certainly all grown up now. Whether it was done enjoying success or struggling to be noticed, there is no denying how good they sound together. While you wish some bands hadn’t reformed, this is certainly not the case with Blur.

This album, however, needs to have its memory treasured, and not tarnished with a rushed follow-up. Perhaps another jamming jaunt abroad beckons?

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