Blur – ‘The Magic Whip’

A return after 16 years, solo projects and apparent depth sees the ‘Parklife’ lads in a new, dark and exotic soundscape.

Do you remember the 90s? It seems all to recent to have a kind of revival, but when you consider that the likes of Pulp FictionFriends and Hootie and the Blowfish (guilty pleasure) are all hitting two decades, it makes sense that there might be a measure of 90s revivalism happening. And if Blur, who hit big in the early part of that decade with what started out as (or, what seemed at the time) an annoying novelty pop anthem (‘Boys and Girls’) into more substantial fare, from ‘Parklife’, to the jingle-ready ‘Song 2’ and the more sonorous and spiritual ‘Tender’, Blur turned out to be the more substantial, less swaggering counter-punch to what was in most respects an actual punch in Oasis. Purists will doubtlessly cringe at these two being placed side-by-side, so let’s just throw Pulp in there for good measure (which we’ll do out of laziness; the connective tissue being the thematically similar kind of shoegazing British alt rock, accompanied by comparable haircuts).

Since their last album, frontman-songwriter Damon Albarn has expanded his repertoire with the experimental pop concept group Gorillaz, as well as ‘supergroup’ (for the lack of a better term) The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Both acts were high conceptual, and the moments of infused electronica, as well as sporadic halted, measured pace of the occasional track on The Magic Whip shows Albarn has picked up a whole measure of inspiration from his journeys into narrative and concept pop pastures.

Those familiar with the particular locale will find themselves smiling knowingly at the handful of Hong Kong references (where much of the album was recorded), accompanied by the striking cover art (The Magic Whip is a specific brand name of a Chinese firecracker; now you know). References to cable cars, the last ferry of the night, Lantau, Ocean Park. All very reminiscent of Your Correspondent’s ill-gotten early 30s.

The instant the album starts, it forms a mental picture of what yardage Albarn as a musician and composer has made in the last couple of decades. You can hear the foundations of Blur, their growth, to the places he went with Gorillaz (‘I Broadcast’); with a hint of the steadying hand The Clash’s Paul Simonon quite conceivably infused TGTB&TQ (‘Ghost Ship’, ‘Mirrorball’). Then you stumble along to the singalong ‘la-la-las’ of ‘Ong Ong’ and you’re in old fashioned Blur-as-pop-folk act from the good ol’ days.

It sounds, and is, the perfect hybrid of the three noises, and shows a band making a welcome return in an album of stunning maturity and compositional growth.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

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