Blur‘s musical career can be divided into two distinct time periods each with a brilliant trilogy of albums to accompany them. The first is the much talked about britpop era. During this time Blur was in a media created battle of the bands with Oasis for the hearts and minds of the UK. They also released some of the best albums of ’90s with Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape. The second period found Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon reinventing the band and favoring more American indie musical influences and focusing on lo-fi, art rock and electronica . The band released another brilliant series of albums with self-titled Blur, 13, and Think Tank, although the latter saw the departure of Coxon. It is also worth mentioning that Albarn spent time between Blur as the mastermind of the “virtual” band Gorillaz and released another equally impressive trilogy of albums influenced by hip hop and dance music
Now 12 years after their last official release and 16 years sense Coxon and Albarn produced material together, we have The Magic Whip. Long time fans surely thought this day would never come and the question will be “what kind of Blur album is it?”. The answer is it is another excellent album that leverages both time periods and even infuses some sounds from side projects while creating something that is distinctly original.
The album opens with the very britpop era sound of “Lonesome Street”. It is great song to kick of the album with, combining just the right amount of pop hooks, “whoo hoos’ and even some well place whistling. This song has a tremendous sense of comfort. It is like opening with a promise to the listener. We still get what you want and we have still got it in us to give it to you.
“Go Out” has the fuzzy guitar feel of their self-titled release. Coxon’s signature guitar sound is very welcomed throughout the album. Think Tank was great but lacked the cohesiveness of the other albums. Even with their alternating themes and sounds Coxon and his guitar have help add some continuity for the band. His return adds needed edge. Something that was also missing from Albarn’s 2014 solo album, Everyday Robots.
Blur has had some fantastic ballads over the course of their career. Magic Whip includes one of their best in “My Terracotta Heart”. Albarn has a talent for infusing energy, humor, and emotion when needed. On “My Teracotta Heart” he sounds urgent and impassioned while singing “I’m running out of heart today / I’m running out of open road to you”. Sometimes we need an emotional heart break song and this one does the trick. With lines like “Is my terracotta heart breaking? / I don’t know If I’m losing you /If I’m losing you again”. This is a future classic perfect for post heartbreak recovery.
Midway through the album we get “Thought I was a Spaceman”, a trippy track with a dubstep like beat that carries it for the first half and then flourishes with brilliant synth work and bass line. This is another track that highlights how the complete band adds depth and structure. Although Albarn’s creativity is clear here his band mates give it depth and avoids it feeling anything like another solo outing. The theme of dark future could be bleak and but there is enough texture and shifts to keep it completely engaging.
So with the passing of time, the multiple sounds of the band, and the evolution of the creative forces what exactly does this album sound like and represent? Putting all the intricacies aside, this is a quite simply a Blur album and a damn fine one at that.
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