Nostalgic Britpop fans have long been tormented by rumors of an unlikely Oasis reunion. It seems as though every few months either Liam or Noel tweets something that gets picked up by someone like Mirror as a sign of a pending revival for the band that cocained and temper-tantrumed their way out of existence in 2009. The other half of the so called “Battle of Britpop,” Blur, however, has given these nostalgic fans a big reason to rejoice with the April 27th release of The Magic Whip.
The band had previously put on reunion tours in 2009, and then again in 2012 and 2013 which included headlining appearances at Coachella and the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics. Despite this run of prominent shows, a new Blur album still seemed unlikely. Last July, front man Damon Albarn remarked in reference to a recording session that took place in Hong Kong earlier that month, “There’s some great tunes on there, but it may just be one of those records that never comes out.” Then, an announcement earlier this year that Albarn was working on new material for a 2016 Gorillaz album all but dashed any hope of what would be an even bigger reunion than the recent likes of Outkast, Sleater-Kinney, Neutral Milk Hotel and No Doubt. Luckily for us, a record did come out, and the band did not disappoint.
The Magic Whip opens with “Lonesome Street,” a wry commentary on modern consumer culture that is just as willing to drift off into dreamy, mellow refrains as it is to jam along with classic Graham Coxon guitar rhythms in the background. The song, along with others such as “Go Out,” sound like they could fit into any of the classic Blur albums from the 90s and early 2000s. This is not the case for much of the album, however. Albarn has said the album was greatly influenced by the worldly sounds the band were engrossed in while stuck in Hong-Kong, and this certainly shows. From the neon album art, to songs about overpopulation, to the chimes in “Pyongyang,” to the almost reggae style, laid back horn sections featured on “Ghost Ship,” The Magic Whip offers a modern, nuanced look at the experiences that all members of the band have gone through over the past decade. Yet, even through this new perspective, Blur maintains their classic “British Image,” referencing Hyde Park, London public transport, and never losing that characteristic English humor and melancholy that dominated their prior releases.
Immediately after “Lonesome Street,” the listener gets a taste for the change of pace that this album will bring as track two, “New World Towers,” plays more like more like a modernist poem with acoustic guitar in the background than it does a Britpop anthem. “Ice Cream Man” is perhaps the most eccentric song with its verses backed by synth fabricated “tweedle boops” and a simple chorus that tellingly repeats the phrase “something new.” Other notable tracks include “There Are Too Many Of Us,” a rigid 4/4 march into the gloomy state of urbanized areas across the world, and “Ong Ong,” a contrastingly happy song with a jumping piano beat and a sing-a-long chorus of “I wanna be with you!”
Albarn’s voice has mellowed and warmed over the years, and through his solo work and other side projects, he has exposed himself to musical genres from across the globe. In The Magic Whip, Blur utilizes this to produce beautiful songs like “My Terracotta Heart” which tells the apparent tale of the brotherly love shared by the band members and the fear of losing it. They also find a way keep their “edge,” singing about sad, lonely trips to the bar with the sarcastic enthusiasm so present in their prior work. The Magic Whip isn’t your typical reunion album. It’s not simply a grand celebration of all the Blur that came before it. Rather, it is an experiment for the band. Could they still make worthwhile music after more than a decade apart? And could they do something new and different at the same time? Well, to quote “The Universal,” yes, it really really really could (and did) happen.
P.S. Blur has said that they will only tour the U.S. in the wake of The Magic Whip if the album is a big commercial success. So for my sake and for Blur fans across the states, listen to it!