A Perfect Combination: Blur cements its legacy with The Magic Whip
Album: The Magic Whip
Release Date: April 27
Label: Warner Bros.
Blur’s first album in 12 years, The Magic Whip, shows the band taking a more sparse and minimalist direction than its late ’90s work. The group broke up after its last project, Think Tank, but reformed in 2008 for a concert in London’s Hyde Park.
The group's style of music, Britpop, is a subgenre of Rock ‘n Roll that combines the guitar pop of bands like the Beatles with the experimentation of indie rock bands like the Smiths. Blur is known for its role in the Britpop scene in the early ’90s alongside bands like Oasis, Placebo and The Spice Girls.
The band’s lead singer, Damon Albarn, also formed the virtual band known as Gorillaz with comic illustrator Jamie Hewlett. Along with the albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach, Albarn released a melancholy solo project entitled Everyday Robots. Topics from both of Albarn’s side projects are heard on The Magic Whip, but the album still sounds different due to the addition of the other band members from Blur.
Guitarist Graham Coxon, hasn’t played with the band since its 1999 album 13, and producer Stephen Street hasn’t worked with the band since its 1997 album, Blur. On The Magic Whip, Coxon is heard with his angular but funky style of guitar playing, while Street provides a clear mix for each track.
Bass guitarist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree also help give the album a unique backdrop for Albarn’s vocals with danceable bass lines and hard-hitting percussion.
The album opens up with the track “Lonesome Street,” which has Blur returning to its Britpop roots, but blending them with newer sounds that the band explored before its break up.
“What do you got? / Mass produced in somewhere hot / You'll have to go on the Underground / To get things done here,” sings Albarn on the album’s introduction.
Albarn’s lyrics about the increasing alienation of society and the advancement of technology were prevalent on his solo album, Everyday Robots. On The Magic Whip, Albarn gives a worldly view on these issues by including the cities the band toured through. According the magazine Consequence of Sound, Blur recorded the album during a tour break in Hong Kong when a festival the band was supposed to perform at was canceled.
“Here comes the ice cream man, parked at the end of the road,” sings Albarn on the track “Ice Cream Man.” “With a swish of his magic whip all the people in the party froze.”
Blur’s talent lies in its ability to make music that is vague and intelligent, but also very danceable. On The Magic Whip, Blur’s psychedelic experimentation of their 1999 album, 13, is combined with the electronic sounds that Albarn utilizes in his side project, Gorillaz. Songs like “Ice Cream Man” and “I Broadcast” feature the signature electronic drums that characterize Gorillaz’s albums like Plastic Beach and Demon Days.
Other songs like “Thought I Was a Spaceman” and “Ghost Ship” feature down-tempo rhythms and instrumentation, which depict the central theme of the album better than the more electronic-based material. “Thought I Was a Spaceman” is a somber song about the advancement of technology leading to the false belief that one is superior. In this song, Albarn also alludes to the reunion of Blur with strange and abstract references to the group's 2008 show.
“Cut the cast without me / Always and always the same/ But the ghost in writing/ And let it be you again,” says Albarn on the ghostly “Thought I Was a Spaceman.” “Thought I was a spaceman/ Digging out my heart / In some distant sand dune / In Hyde Park.”
Even though The Magic Whip doesn’t hold up to the standards of the band’s previous work, the album cements its legacy by taking elements from its previous artistic endeavors and blending them into a melting pot of different sounds. The album shows that regardless of how long it’s been, magic still occurs when the four members of Blur work together.
Alex Pennington is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org