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Blur: The Magic Whip

Blur: The Magic Whip

Blur is probably the best band to have never made a great album.

Blur: The Magic Whip

2 / 5

Blur is probably the best band to have never made a great album. Sure, Damon Albarn and company made good albums and they’ve written several great songs, but they haven’t made a cohesive piece of music that stands alongside the best long players of their era. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but a lot of undue expectations have been placed on their new album on account of this misconception of the group. The Magic Whip isn’t a great album, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is how The Magic Whip fails. On their triumphant return to the songwriting well after a 13-year absence, the London lads have done worse than make an uneven, spotty record; they’ve made an unmemorable one.

It’s hard to imagine why Blur decided to head back into the studio after such a long hiatus. The Blur story was essentially finished, and aside from the occasional cash-in gig where Albarn, Graham Coxon and company would play old favorites, it seemed as if everyone involved had moved on. Yet here is The Magic Whip, another chapter in the band’s often-confusing story.

What is refreshing about the album is that Albarn’s influence is wisely reduced. The frontman’s rebirth as a pseudo-renaissance man could have led to The Magic Whip becoming a ponderous, ego-driven slog in the vein of the band’s previous final album, Think Tank. Perhaps having Coxon back in the fold has kept him in check, but there aren’t the slightest traces of Gorillaz, Democrazy or any of Albarn’s other extracurricular interests here. For better or worse, The Magic Whip is a band effort.

The band kicks things off in fine form with lead track and single “Lonesome Street,” a throwback that’s as close to “classic Blur” as you can get. But it doesn’t seem as if the band is cannibalizing their past so much as getting back into a familiar groove and remembering what made their best singles work. “There Are Too Many of Us” recalls the band’s later work, which it makes it a more enjoyable, yet somewhat bittersweet experience. It’s hard not to hear some moments like this and “New World Towers”–easily the strongest track here–and wonder how the band would have evolved if internal fighting and Coxon’s departure hadn’t gotten in the way.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in the past decade is that Blur is best taken as a song-by-song band, and The Magic Whip is a stark reminder of this. Most of the album consists of half-baked experiments and songs that rely on texture and atmosphere more than melody or composition. Tracks like “Ice Cream Man” and “Thought I Was A Spaceman” sound like daydreams that stop before they’re finished. For a grand return from one of Britain’s most beloved bands, you’d think that The Magic Whip would present a more assertive Blur. Instead, they just seem to meander through their songs until they get to the next one.

There are a handful of good songs on The Magic Whip, just as there are a handful of good songs on every Blur album. Blur are still capable of writing truly great music; their 2012 single “Under the Westway” was one of the best things that they’ve ever done. But the new album fails to deliver on that promise, and I’m still scratching my head as to why they bothered. It sounds like the band may be asking themselves the same question.

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Jimbo

    Ok, forgive me, I’m trying to keep cool when confronted with such an enormous wall of ignorance and stupidity.

    First a fact: Parklike is THE definitive album by any British musician in the past 20 years. Forget OK Computer, Kid A, Definitely Maybe or anything else you “rate”. Everybody in the UK knows Parklife inside out. They know the characters in each of the songs, each of which which serve as satirical vignettes of life in Britain at the time. Like all great art the album is wholly ironic, including the Cockering accents. Practically everyone in England is intimately familiar with the artwork (a visit to the dog track) and what that represents in terms of a comment on class and culture. The prime minister used it to lampoon Russell Brand FFS. Ask anyone and they will basically understand that Parklife is the nearest thing to Sgt Pepper since the Beatles.

    That is how important this band are, and why people get annoyed when someone who hasn’t got a clue what they are talking about opines from some pseudo superior haze that they understand how important Blur are when they do not have the slightest clue what they are talking about.

    I haven’t even mentioned Modern Life is Rubbish or any of the others. I’m seriously can’t be bothered explaining it. I feel sorry for you that you don’t understand Parklife, but to my mind that says it all about your ability to pass judgement on any music. Maybe if you listen to Kinks, early Pink Floyd, Bowie long enough you might start to understand the new one.

    BTW the Magic Whip is both an ice cream (in English) and also means an actual whip in the Chinese characters on the cover – which is a reference to the album’s main theme of invisible state control – hence Pyongyang. But, like I said, it’s not the band’s fault they are smarter than the reviewer in this case.

    Reply

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