Colchester’s finest return with first album in over a decade
2003 was an interesting year. Homeland Security was officially formed. Manchester United won the Premier League and Arsenal won the FA Cup. The Human Genome Project was completed. Maurice Gibb, Curt “Mr. Perfect” Henning, Edwin Starr, Nina Simone, Noel Redding, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Herbie Mann and Elliott Smith all died. Dizzee Rascal won the Mercury Music Prize with this debut album. Girls Aloud had their first number 1 single with Sounds of the Underground. The Libertines were riding high as the ‘best’ band around causing a storm up and down the country, and Blur released their last album Think Tank. To call its gestation difficult would be an understatement. Multiple producers and studios made for such a fractious atmosphere that guitarist Graham Coxon left the group. While Think Tank wasn’t as bad as the reviews said, his presence was defiantly missed.
In the 12 years since Damon Albarn has gone on to be revered as one of the most forward thinking musicians thanks to his Gorillaz, Journey to the West and Dr. Dee projects. Graham Coxon released four more critically acclaimed solo albums. Alex James published a tell-all autobiography, bought a farm and made some cheese and Dave Rowntree directed the animated series Empire Square, became solicitor and a Labour Party candidate. But most importantly Coxon has re-joined Blur and their eighth album The Magic Whip is now released.
Lonesome Street kicks off the proceedings. Sounding like an outtake from Modern Life is Rubbish or Parklife, it’s says “We’re back, but don’t worry, we haven’t gone all electronica. We’re the same band you liked when you were a kid, we’re just a bit older but we still like bouncy indie pop”. New World Towers is a slower, more melancholy song. It has more in common with 13 and Think Tank than their boisterous material. Go Out is a slow burner, but there is an undercurrent of malice and danger to it. At any moment it feels like it could explode in cacophony and distortion. Luckily when this does happen all their teasing is worth it, as the outro is exquisite. I Thought I Was a Spaceman is a more meditative song. It sounds like it was produced by classical electronica act Digitonal. The beats are glitchy and Coxon’s guitar sounds other worldly. I Broadcast is another shouty bouncy slice of indie pop. On on There Are Too Many of Us , through a marching beat, and guitar strums, Albarn channels Scott Walker, musically and lyrically. Ong Ong is the most straightforward track on the album. Its position in the running order couldn’t be better. It’s like a pallet cleanser after a meal before you get the final course. The album closes with Mirrorball. This is another slow burning melancholy number. Musically it sounds like it could be played at the Road House in Twin Peaks, and if finishes off the album perfectly.
So what have we learnt from this new Blur album? Firstly they are still capable of releasing amazing music. There are no bad songs on the Magic Whip and the sequencing is spot on. Secondly they aren’t afraid to embrace their past, as well as continually pushing things forward. Thirdly Coxon’s guitar playing really compliments Albarn’s older, huskier vocals. Their interplay at times is breath taking. There is a downside though, and this is purely an aesthetic one. The title, Magic Whip, and artwork aren’t great and at first it really put me off the album. But luckily the songs outshine the dodgy title and cover.
Albarn has said that this isn’t the end of Blur, given the quality of this album let’s hope he’s right, but don’t leave it another 12 years lads…