Band reunions are a thing these days, and if they don’t actually happen, every week some rumor pops up about the potentiality of a reunion happening. What you do not often see though, is new material. Usually, it’s just artists living off past glories and churning out greatest hits sets left, right and center. Why? Well, usually any new material is never as good, while also when artists try and pimp their new material in concert, people inevitably cue for more beer or relieve themselves in the washer rooms. Somehow, I do not think this will be the case with Blur though as they prepare to tour their first album of new material featuring all members in sixteen years.
Yes, Blur have a new album out and it is called The Magic Whip and yes, it is very, very good, so good in fact I would say it ranks up there with their best work from the 90s. The story behind this album is also quite interesting, as it started life as a series of jam sessions in between concerts on a tour to South East Asia after an initial gig was canceled. The band ended up in Hong Kong in a small back ally studio and played around with their instruments for a few days, not knowing the results would yield an album a couple of years later. The influence of the big city is seen lyrically and sound-wise throughout the album, with themes of over-population, urban life, crowded streets and being lost in the city coming through strongly in the songs. While musically, the band takes the opportunity to experiment with some different sounds not seen in their previous work. Despite new sounds such as reggae, experimental, soul and folk influences coming through in many of the tracks, this album does, however, have a sense of familiarity about it and one can certainly here Blur, Gorillaz, and even Damon Albarn influences in its overall sound and feel. So I guess, it’s not entirely a complete departure, but more a varied and eclectic mix of the old and the new.
So as for the songs themselves. Well, the album kicks off strongly with the very “Great Escape” sounding “Lonesome Street”. This is classic Blur and bounces along with driving guitar and bass while featuring a nice homage to Syd Barrett with Graham Coxon’s mid-song vocal. This track is followed by the Damon Albarnesque “New World Towers” which takes in the urban feel of Hong Kong in what is quite a melancholy explorative track. “Go Out” harks back to the “Blur” album with its distorted guitar driven lo-fi vibe, while “Ice-Cream Man” lyrically is quite Gorillaz-like with lines such as “here comes the ice-cream man” and “with a swish of his magic whip”. “Thought I Was a Spaceman” is one of the best songs on the album and one of the band’s best tracks overall I feel. In this spacey Bowie-sounding song, it starts off with just Damon singing, classical guitar, and a drum machine loop before the band kicks and it turns in to this atmospheric driving pop track. Again, like on “Lonesome Street” Coxon wrote himself a little bit in the middle in what is a very effective and quite innocent vocal line “thought I was a spaceman digging out my heart”. This track is followed by another driving guitar track “I Broadcast”, while “My Terracotta Heart is Albarn’s melancholic take on his and Coxon’s friendship. From here, things diversify even more with the 80s new wave of “There Are Too Many of Us” which is full of synths and a marching drum beat, and the fantastic “Ghost Ship”, a reggae-sounding funk track which is another album highlight and probably the most out of the ordinary Blur song ever. The album then winds down with the gorgeous “Pyongyang” about Albarn’s trip to North Korea, the happy go lucky anthem “Ong Ong” and the country twang of “Mirrorball” which closes out the album.
So in conclusion, The Magic Whip is a great return for Blur. It is their most diverse sounding album yet and musically is very interesting as they explore new things, while at the same time retain some of the classic Blur sounds. All band members are in fine form and you can really tell the guys are enjoying being back playing new music together. The band has already previewed the album live with some promotional gigs, including a great performance in New York, and as they kick off their official tour in the next few weeks watch for these songs to be well-received live. So all up, a great addition to the Blur cannon, and if this does end up being their last album, then The Magic Whip will be a fantastic way for them to go out on.