There’s a stigma attached to the reunion album, and with good reason. How many bands have come back from the dead and lived up to your memories with a new album? For most artists the reunion album is a nostalgic cash grab–Psycho Circus by Kiss and That’s Why God Made the Radio by The Beach Boys come to mind. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we get a new “Remember the 90’s?” LP from Oasis too. Noel Gallagher himself has gone on record to say if Oasis ever reunited “It would only be for the money.” At least he’s honest about it.
Blur, on the other hand, seems to genuinely enjoy playing together. Let me remind you they’ve technically been reunited since 2008. They’ve been playing shows off and on in Downton Abbey land for seven years. Combine that with the amount of material Damon Albarn writes, whether it be for the Gorillaz, The Good, the Bad & the Queen, Rocket Juice & the Moon, as part of the Africa Express, or for his solo recordings. It was only a matter of time before some of those songs spilled over to a new Blur album. Spilled they have and now we have the wonderful mess that is The Magic Whip.
It has been 12 years since a new Blur album and 16 years since guitarist Graham Coxon–the Keith Richards to Damon Albarn’s Mick Jagger–has been in the group. After all that time you’d wonder if Blur could still remember how to be Blur. They have. Maybe it sounds a little more eclectic, more electronic, but The Magic Whip feels like the same Blur we all fell in love with in the 90s. It’s like they never broke up at all.
In the 90s, Blur was considered Brit-Pop. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it was mostly played by guys with Beatle haircuts who weren’t depressed enough to play grunge. Blur had their share of hits including; “Country House”, “There’s No Other Way”, “Beetlebum”, and “Girls & Boys”, but even early on showed hints of something bigger brewing. As the decade progressed, Blur’s albums became filled with more experimental songs and now, with a decade of Gorillaz behind them, Blur is almost exclusively experimental songs. I’m not sure there’s a single radio-friendly cut on The Magic Whip, which is as much a part of its greatness as its weakness.
The album kicks off with “Lonesome Street”, the most accessible and cut on the album. It has chunky guitars, a simple melody, and minimal bleeps and bloops.”Ong Ong” is in similar company and maybe “I Broadcast”, but even that wavers into full on bleeps and bloops territory. Everything else is undefinable. You listen to a track, like it, but can’t decipher it. Take the album’s lead off single, “Go Out”. Damon Albarn lazily sings to a slow burning rhythm, it’s not entirely clear what or when the chorus is, yet it’s my favorite song on the album. All these elements work together like a crazy soup. What’s a crazy soup? Jambalaya? “Go Out” is the Jambalaya of songs.
Blur likes their rock ’n roll as much as any other Oasis or Supergrass, but since day one they’ve had just as much fondness for ballads. Rarely ones to strip down to an acoustic guitar, Blur’s ballads are all about full orchestras. If that wasn’t enough, The Magic Whip takes that formula and sprinkles on synths and Blinded-Me-with-Science sound effects. “There Are Too Many of Us” is the most effective with this sound, though I’m also partial to the Radiohead-esque “My Terracotta Heart” especially if you like your sundaes darker. You know, with dark chocolate.
If you want to start listening to Blur but don’t know where to start, you might want to save The Magic Whip for further down the road. Try Parklife or Blur’s 1997 self-titled album instead. Because anyone who puts on The Magic Whip expecting to hear “Song 3” will be disappointed. The Magic Whip is for the hardcore fans. This is a slow, lengthy, non commercial record, but when it works it works overtime. Where does Blur go from here? Do they need to go anywhere else? Go out, maybe?
Favorite Tracks: “Go Out,” “Lonesome Street,” “My Terracotta Heart”