Blur had one of the most anti-climatic breakups in recent history. I’m not even sure it really was a break-up… more a trial separation between the lead guitarist (Graham Coxon) and vocalist (Damon Albarn). Coxon may not have been on the last Blur record, but neither was my attention. Think Tank to me is kind of what the Hindu Love Gods were to REM – a side project with three quarters of a band. I mean it was interesting as an exploration of a different style, but it wasn’t really Blur.
So the real gift to gift to music fans wasn’t the reunion of Blur but rather the fact that they started to record again as a “full band.” Spurred on by years of gigs here and there, we get The Magic Whip, which is more than a return to form, but not quite the monumental achievement die-hard fans were looking for. Let’s face facts, the bar is set very high and fans want something they can point to and say “see – they’re still the greatest!”
That doesn’t mean this isn’t a “really damn fine” record, because it is. All the elements that put them on top of the Brit-pop Mountain are still there, but perhaps their new relaxed attitude has taken them to those ‘shoegaze’ roots where a good riff is meant to be taken for a rather long joyride. At very least that is how the record opens up as “Lonesome Street” slips into the subconscious as a wry testament of urban existence. It’s all sarcastic and poppy with a sense of foreboding that plays out as the needle continues to spin. That of course is Blur’s general modus operandi, pop-rock/brit-pop sounds set to observational lyrics and discourse about dreary times and places. All the neon coloured streets of their Asian inspired surroundings can’t hide the descending British fog. Even a song titled “Ice Cream Man” comes off with malaise and desolation. It isn’t until late in the album that some feelings of hope brighten the skies with Coxon’s best jangly guitar work on “Ong Ong.” Still, that is more a respite in an otherwise dark venture.
The Magic Whip is not an easy listen filled with hum along songs and a sing along chorus; instead it is an exploration in the contradictions of a seedy city living with no hope emanating from the bright coloured neon. If you were looking for the Blur of the 1990’s, The Magic Whip isn’t it; they’ve grown older, wiser and far more jaded to be that band ever again. What you have now is a Blur that can explore the depths of humanity and create an incredibly brilliant story. It might not “RAWK”, but it certainly entertains on a far more daring level than anything they’ve done before. Hence, I’m paying attention now.
You can find The Magic Whip at all your better record retailers and it has a double 180 gram vinyl release for all you people who like your music to spin.