The Magic Whip

Blur

Parlophone/Warner Brothers, 2015

http://www.blur.co.uk

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/21/2015

Blur seamlessly eases back into its own unique sound on the quartet's first album in 13 years, almost like Gorillaz never happened. The Magic Whip likely won't win a lot of new fans who are only vaguely aware of the band, but as a consolidation of strengths and/or a comeback album, it's perfectly fine.

The appeal of any Blur disc rests more with guitarist Graham Coxon and his interplay with Damon Albarn; the two are fine apart but better together, and for a while in the late ‘90s, they were the more cerebral, art-pop yin to Oasis' drug-fueled arena-ready hard rock yang. Because Oasis tried so hard to be the Best Band Ever, they inspired strong feelings for or against them, much like the Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, and Eagles. Blur, meanwhile, felt more like an exclusive club; you either didn't really know much about them, but when you actually got it, you felt like you earned something.

The Magic Whip continues the trend of latter-day Blur discs, possessing the same attitude and songwriting approach but lacking some the heart and joy that made my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Parklife so great. Which is inevitable; men in their 40s will not look at life the same way as boys in their 20s declaring that modern life is rubbish, and that pensive, searching spirit is all over this album, from the spaghetti-Western guitar work and low-register vocals of "Mirrorball" to the late-night smoke of "Ghost Ship"

A snazzy choice for leadoff single, and the closest thing to classic Blur, is "Lonesome Street," a bouncy slice of Britpop that trades its buoyant verses for a discordant, ethereal chorus and a spunky, playful bubblegum guitar solo. It's a song only this band could pull off, and even if Albarn is starting to sound like a dead ringer for Ian Hunter, he slides back into the role of Blur frontman with ease. The David Bowie-inspired "Go Out" is another highlight, a chunky funk riff and a rubbery bass serving as the foundation for Albarn's sardonic vocals and Coxon's guitar squall fills. Equally as good in a different way is the preachy prog-pop of "There Are Too Many Of Us."

Pity the rest of the disc veers away from the fun side to the serious and observational. Written in a burst of creativity while the reformed band was marooned in Hong Kong, the lyrics are peppered with references to locations and lifestyles of the region, which makes this somewhat aloof band even more difficult to embrace. Yet even a cursory listen to the downcast "Pyongyang," the handclaps that form the percussion of the otherwise-mopey "My Terracotta Heart," and the jittery New Wave of "I Broadcast" reveals not only layers of thought and smart songwriting but an obvious influence on modern indie rock, even if the songs themselves don't always rise above a shrug. So many current bands have taken from Blur that when the real thing comes along, they sound like imitators. Perhaps I was hasty when earlier I said this album wouldn't win many new fans; upon repeated listens, it fits in the current immolated indie rock landscape perfectly.

Like most Blur albums, it takes a few listens to really join the club, to discover the band's charms and restless musical spirit beneath a deceptively placid, offputting surface. There isn't much of The Magic Whip that will rank among Blur's all-time best, nor is it the ideal place to start when unearthing this band's impressive catalog, but it is a welcome return to form for a band that should take its place as both trendsetter and follower in the current musical climate.

Rating: B-

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