Blur’s first album in 12 years will probably underwhelm those hoping for a return to the end-of-pier high-jinks of the Britpop icons’ most beloved output.
But while The Magic Whip carefully steers clear of anything vaguely evocative of Parklife or The Great Escape (Britpop’s very own bonfire of vanities), it does offer glimpses of the great band that always threatened to break out from the death grip of singer Damon Albarn’s obsession with the Kinks.
Indeed, The Magic Whip is best approached as a continuation of Think Tank — Blur’s finest LP, recorded in troubled circumstances that eventually led to the demise of the group. The difference is that guitarist Graham Coxon is back (he quit at the very beginning Think Think, burned out and at odds with his frontman) and brings a welcome grittiness — a quality which Albarn, for all his talents as writer and arranger, has never quite been able to imbue in his music.
Much has been made of the atonal qualities of The Magic Whip — bashed out during a week of downtime in Hong Kong in 2013 — and of the aesthetic parallels with Bowie’s Low. That’s overstating matters a little — even at its most self consciously ‘avant garde’ the album is always catchy and ready to please (Albarn’s idea of experimental, you suspect, is a song that lacks chorus).
Still, highlights such as ‘Go Out’ and ‘Terracotta Heart’ are endlessly fascinating, shot through with risqué flourishes and quirky leaps in tempo. Blur have made a engagingly esoteric art-project — a comeback record that doesn’t seek to draw undue attention to itself and, thus, does not confront us with the tragic sight of four middle aged men seeking to channel their younger selves. The record’s most striking quality is how comfortable it feels in its skin.
Blur play Electric PIcnic 2015
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