By Christopher Hollow.
Blur – The Magic Whip
Every band breaks up, it’s part of the archetypal band story arc. And, these days, it seems, the archetype compels that every band also reunites. Unless you’re The Smiths, Talking Heads or Galaxie 500.
Blur is a surprise reunion.
It did appear, from 16,000 kilometres away, the bitter split between singer Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon was of Talking Heads/Smiths/G500 proportions. Also, both had achieved outside of Blur, and certainly Albarn realised both critical and commercial success with Gorillaz.
[Personally, I was excited by the idea of Blur bassist Alex James hooking up with bestie Betty Boo in Wigwam but it didn’t get past one wilfully kooky 2006 single called “WigWam”. Apparently, James didn’t mention the collaboration in his memoir].
So, somehow Albarn and Coxon have engineered a way to work that allowed them to not just tour the old hits, but craft new music. Albarn had played down any rumours of new music, declaring any sessions that had occurred ‘a failure’.
Just playing down expectations?
Whatever the case, The Magic Whip arrives at a good time for Blur. In recent years, the old records have basked in the afterglow of a love for all things ’90s and people are definitely intrigued by what a reformed Blur has to offer. Interested listeners can also enjoy a new album without worrying about the infamous “Brit-Pop Wars”.
Back in the ’90s, the influential UK music mags compelled you to choose – Oasis or Blur? Being a contrarian, I followed neither and was more interested in The Divine Comedy. In my heart of hearts though, when it came to Oasis v. Blur, I always had a softer spot for Blur. Well, Noel Gallagher’s sharp interviews and Blur’s music. My high points were the Françoise Hardy duet, “To The End”, whilst Coxon’s “Coffee and TV” was a fab counter-punch to the ubiquitous “Song 2”.
This time ’round, “Lonesome Street”, with its bouncy rhythm and East End dropped h’s, is an easy in for fans picking up from the ’90s. “New World Towers” is a seductive hazy melancholic folk ballad that serves as a pointer for the rest of the record while “Go Out”, with its sly but still stadium chorus, makes it three intriguers in a row.
The second side of the album is more reflective – “Ong Ong”, all handclaps and tasty backing vocals, is the most up number while “Pyongyang” and “Thought I Was A Spaceman”, with its desolate drone, qualify as the Berlin Bowie moments.
The Magic Whip sees Blur in a very good place. The triumphant comeback can serve as either a cursor to a greater future or a more gratifying, satisfying full stop.