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ALBUM REVIEW: Blur – The Magic Whip

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ALBUM REVIEW: Blur – The Magic Whip

I love Blur, I love Blur so much more than there are no words that could express the excitement I tried to contain when Alex James, Dave Rowntree, and the musical powerhouse couple that is Graham Coxon, and Damon Albarn announced that they would be making a return. This is after the band had decided to call it quits after the departure of guitarist Coxon. I say powerhouse couple because of the songs they’ve written took Britpop to a new level of cool with every note they played or sung together. Who doesn’t love “Song 2” even though I completely loathe that song. Nothing beats “Parklife”,”Coffee and TV”, “Girls and Boys”. All of these songs are complete gold. (Don’t you dare try to fight me on that.) 

So what were Blur up to for the almost ten years they were not writing and performing together (In case, unlike me, you haven’t been watching them like a hawk).

Coxon went solo and released his fifth solo album titled Happiness in Magazines which, funnily enough, was produced by one of Blur’s former producers, Stephen Street, probably most well known for producing 80s Brit gods The Smiths. Happiness in Magazines  is his best solo album. It was nominated for a NME award for best solo artist of 2005. He produced several other solo albums (The Sky is Too High, The Golden D, The Kiss of Morning,  Love Travels at Illegal Speeds, and so many more  ), but nothing was quite as amazing as the things he did with Blur.

Albarn focused on his brain child: The Gorillaz. This was a musical mind exploration. Each album produced is not different to the next. Loaded with collaborations, Albarn would release album after album, each one almost better than the next. (my personal favourite being Demon Days) With The Gorillaz, Albarn would team up with different musicians to create multiple styles of music to accompany the animated characters his partner, Jamie Hewlett, would come up with.

After many successful albums with The Gorillaz, Albarn launched his solo project, with the album Everyday Robots. It was a dip into the mind of Albarn, and was a total exploration of himself. The title track is one of the best things I have heard in my entire life, despite the overwhelming melancholy. The track speaks of how we’ve become so mundane because we are consumed by social media. We do the same thing over and over.  We’re on our own mission and forget to look around. The song’s minor key and string dragged melody lines really push you to stop wasting time and look around. They seem to say, “There’s so much more than your cell phone.”

I’m losing the plot here. This is an article about Blur, not the solo ventures of those in Blur, no matter how exciting they may be.

Back to the point – In 2009 Graham Coxon decided to reunite with Blur for a series of concert tours. Over the course of the tour the band recorded and released several singles. (Not before the band underwent numerous therapy sessions as an attempt to try and patch things up. After all, as Coxon said, “Although I shoved it all aside when we got back together, I realised that passions were still slightly high about it all.”

Blur won a Brit awards for their outstanding contribution to music, having been one of the most influential bands in the Britpop and Indie scene of the time.

But the award and the tracks which we released were not enough new material with which to satisfy true fan such as myself. So maybe I was forced to wait for something altogether new. Something for me to listen to non-stop.

AND THEN…

IT HAPPENED!

Blur announced a new album entitled The Magic Whip to be released towards the end of April. Over the last few months we have been given little tasters, videos and tracks. Here’s the thing though, The Magic Whip, is not that Blur-y.

I suppose as we grow older there comes a new kind of “I don’t care about your opinion” attitude with regard to making music, which is something I have grown to respect and understand as a musician myself. As we get older, things change. Music changes. Your interests change. The way you make music changes. Those around you change, especially those you make music with. God knows, musicians change their opinions like normal people would change their underwear.

Blur have changed, in a way that I’m kind of okay with. The guitar tone has changed, though only slightly, and so have their influences. Their approach to song writing has become something completely different too.

When I heard Blur were going into studio I tried to read almost ever article about it to try and get some kind of indication about what was to come. The band had gone into studio to write the new album as openly as possible, with the before-mentioned “I don’t care attitude about your opinion” attitude. They went to write a new album which felt good to them. They wanted to make an album for themselves.

Yes, this goes against the “please everybody” comeback album people seem to think should be in music these days, but isn’t that what we want? When you hear an artist, do you want them to stay exactly the same over the years? Do you want them to do the same thing, stick with the formula? Or do you want them to change? After all, people change, people grow. Do they not have the right to grow as musicians? Are musicians limited to do exactly what people want them to? Is that fair? Is that the way things should be? NO! It’s not fair. Let them grow. Let the music grow and if you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it. Don’t do what you don’t like. You have an opinion. You have a mind of your own after all, don’t you?

But then again you’re probably reading this sying “Well, that’s  just your opinion man.”

So Blur have changed, but how have they changed?

Well, after years of hiatus, you will change, and after years of doing your own thing, doing other projects, playing with other people and collaborating with artists you will change, and your music will change. This is something, I think, Damon Albarn was secretly telling me in all of the Gorillaz albums.

How are these new songs so different from the original Blur?

(Just so you know, I’ll be doing this little review of tracks in the order they have been released, so you can  try to understand the gradual change that you begin to accept.)

Well, let’s hope you’re reading the right article in this regard.

Let’s start off with “Go Out”. It is typical Blur video. It is almost completely unrelated to the music, yet even more so to the album cover: a neon sign of an ice cream cone. With the guitar tone they are so well known for, the first track is released with the simplicity that for which they are known. Less is more and with Blur, it is a straight forward four to the floor song, with fun effects and a very angsty guitar solo on Coxons part. It gives the simplicity in the song a new life while still being a very hard hitting song. This is something I think the members of Blur have come across in their time apart, especially Albarn. It is amazing how much can be accomplished with so little.

Yet, Go Out, follows the same simplicity of something like “Coffee and TV”. Repeated riffs and chord structure make for easy listening, and that four to the floor, is something that gets your head bobbing so easily.

 

“There Are Too Many Of Us”,  might just be the most uncharacteristic song out of the new songs released. A very plain music video was released for it. The band stand in a rehearsal space, and well… they just stand there and play the song. There’s nothing fancy to video, besides well, the border which is just a little plain and kind of lame.

The song s takes a rather sorrowful turn, and takes on the idea that there are just too many people in the world, who just don’t care. This song is a departure from the usual happy clappy music you expect from a Britpop and indie band. It makes us wonder, should we really be here? Should we be doing something more than we are to make this world better? Are we doing enough, or are we just making the same mistakes our parents made over and over?

The song is based in a rather steady string section, which is rather harsh. The beat comes in half way through the song to add urgency to what is being said. The beat is straight forward, nothing to it really besides the fact that it’s making you feel more guilty by second with each beat played.

The synth line floating in the background is somewhat haunting. (You know that X-Files theme sound that will always come and get you in the middle of the night., but that could just be me.)

The guitar solo is something very well known of Coxon. It is a typical noise pop solo with a few notes played, and a very nice drive over it to get the point across.

This song just isn’t something you expect from the band. I do have to say though, it does reek of Albarns solo album, that same intruding style of string section that I mentioned previously with his solo track “Everyday Robots”. You don’t know how, but the track just gets to you.

 

“Lonesome Street”: Blur have collided with The Gorillaz at this point. The track is so typical of Blur that it makes my head spin, but then it gets to this little break before the choruses which takes me to Gorillaz’s Feel Good Inc. You know, that sweet little acoustic break where you and Noodle float away together on a little island as she plays guitar to you? That’s what I’m talking about, Albarn and Coxon are drawing on influences from everywhere, from their own solo projects, and collaborations. It’s brilliant. I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical, but the more I listened to it, the more it consumed my every little bit.

This song would be the perfect combination of “Beetlebum”, and “Country House”. It’s this sort of nostalgic journey through the two songs which ends up at something sweet like Feel Good Inc.

I love this track, and it might be my favourite of the songs released thus far.

The last song released, “My Terracotta Heart”, was an instant favourite. Once again taking on something different to Blur, it was refreshing. I could feel a slight Radiohead influence (Another one of my favourite bands) when it comes to the drums and the guitar riffs. The song in my opinion is a slightly more Britpop and indie version of Radiohead’s “There, There” or “2+2=5 (Lukewarm)”.

The vocals are typical of Albarn’s solo album, but at the same time some of the Gorillaz’s darker and sadder songs. It’s very different from what Blur normally do, but as I said; People grow, and music grows. Let the change happen.

 

Now that I’ve given you the rundown of pretty much all things Blur over the last 12 years, it is probably time to give you my final opinion. The new Blur album is going to be different, but it’s going to be the same. It’s going to be the most honest and true form of Blur. With everyone’s influences coming through, I think it’s more than worth a download, it’s worth a purchase. Give Blur the chance to crawl back into your heart, and be grateful they haven’t written something like “Song “2 again. It’s different, it’s now, it’s not just a bunch of old indie dudes making music. It’s the comeback album of 2015. I’m sure I’ll write something similar about Radiohead sooner or later when their new album drops. For now though. I’m focusing on Blur, and their sheer brilliance.

They’re everything you love about feel good music rolled into one band. They’re simple, they’re heartfelt and sometimes rather deep too. They’re The Gorillaz, They’re Damon Albarn, They’re Graham Coxon, and they’re Alex James and Dave Rowntree. They’re reunited and doing what they love.

Let Blur be Blur, and do their own thing with this album, and so far, I think it’s sounding bloody great.

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