BLUR’S comeback album has been a long time coming.
After the disintegration of the band during the recording of 2003’s Think Tank, they’ve reformed twice. First there was Glastonbury and Hyde Park in 2009, which seemed to be ‘one last hurrah’ for the band before they called it quits. But then in 2012 they were announced as the headliners of an Olympic Closing Ceremony show, again in Hyde Park, as well as numerous festival appearances, such as Coachella. Earlier this year, the Blur announced they would play Hyde Park again, as well as release a new album.
Lo and behold, The Magic Whip became known to the public. The result of being stranded in Hong Kong for five days, recording of the album took place with Stephen Street, producer of seminal albums Parklife and Modern Life is Rubbish, as well as others. As a result, there is an air of familiarity to the album, which fans of the band’s material from the mid-nineties will enjoy. But unlike those Britpop gems, there aren’t really any ‘hits’ on this album, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; but a ‘Parklife’, ‘Country House’ or ‘Song 2’ wouldn’t go amiss here.
Indeed, Damon Albarn’s influence on this album is evident; his Gorillaz and Everyday Robots projects shine through in tracks such as ‘My Terracotta Heart’ and ‘New World Towers’, but not always in a good way. Otherwise there are tracks that drift more towards classic Blur; ‘Ong Ong’ ‘Go Out’ and ‘I Broadcast’ being the more obvious examples. The result of these tracks leaves me feeling… mixed to say the least.
I’ll start with the more positive side of things first. There are some absolute corkers on this album that made me feel like I was back in my room listening to Modern Life is Rubbish for the first time. ‘Go Out’ contains some great Graham Coxon dirty guitar riffs, shredding his way through four and a half minutes of Alex James and Dave Rowntree calculated beats. ‘I Broadcast’ is a throwback to 1997-era Blur, with a real American Punk feel to it, but with good old British sensibility, while ‘Ong Ong’ has some classic-Blur backing vocals. ‘Thought I Was A Spaceman’ is a pleasant interlude that exhibits some great work between the synthesizers and acoustic guitar, climaxing in a suitably extra-terrestrial finale.
But on the flip-side there are tracks which feel, frankly, quite boring. ‘Pyongyang’, while no doubt having a political message somewhere in those lyrics, felt quite dull. ‘Lonesome Street’ is a decent song, but falls short of being the bombastic opener Blur intend for it to be. I feel like there are song s on here that feel a little too close to Damon Albarn solo material; ‘Ghost Ship’ sounds like it would fit onto Plastic Beach and ‘New World Towers’ onto Everyday Robots; I thought this was a group effort? Then there are the lyrics on ‘Ice Cream Man’, perhaps giving a little too much realism, bordering on absurd.
The Magic Whip is certainly a rollercoaster of emotions. One second I was really feeling this release, the next I was slightly bored. But you can’t deny the fact that Blur have really poured their emotions into this album, perhaps one of the strongest points of The Magic Whip. Indeed, this album isn’t bad at all; there are far, far worse comeback albums out there. But I’m struggling to completely feel The Magic Whip right now. Perhaps I’m stuck in past, failing to embrace their new direction, but I just don’t think it works as well as I hoped it would. Come back in a couple of months and my mind may have changed, but at the moment, I have to sit on the fence.
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