Britpop may have died but The Magic Whip proves Blur are alive, kicking and truly international.
“I’m not really sure about this.” You thought it. I thought it. When Blur released their first single from new release The Magic Whip we all thought it. Whilst ‘Go Out’ was unmistakeably a product of the iconic Brit-pop foursome, something about the track made it feel rather different to its predecessors in a way that was, and remains, hard to describe. And so it is with much of The Magic Whip, an album Graham Coxon has described as being full of “sounds that were not particularly Blur”, recorded in a “very un-Blur studio” in a very “un-Blur city”.
Coxon’s description is no exaggeration. The band’s first full release in 12 years was first conceived during an impromptu five-day stint in a Hong Kong recording studio in 2013. The quartet had been set to play Japan’s Tokyo Rocks music festival when the show was suddenly cancelled without warning. This sudden setback left the boys stranded in Hong Kong, where they decided to fill their free time doing what they do best. The band had no intention of using the material for a new album at the time, but after Damon Albarn finished his solo tour in 2014 they decided to pick up where they left off and The Magic Whip was born.
Hong Kong runs through the heart of this album with a claustrophobic and often overwhelming sound, like the city that inspired it. The album’s sense of claustrophobia is particularly prevalent in the sombre track ‘There Are Too Many Of Us’. The song is supposedly a reflection of Albarn’s own experiences of the population explosion that struck him during his time in China. The track seems to be intended to serve a warning, with lyrics describe a future Hyde Park engulfed in desert. This sombre tone is also present on the track ‘Thought I Was a Spaceman’ and this new tone seems to reflect Blur’s growth since their last outing. Britpop has truly gone international with The Magic Whip, which sets its sights beyond realities of Parklife to the more pressing realities of climate change on an ever populating and increasingly resource scarce planet.
It isn’t all doom and gloom of course; the more sombre sections of the album are generously intersected with more upbeat tracks a little more reminiscent of some of the band’s earlier material. Catchy opener ‘Lonesome Street’ will take Blur aficionados back to Parklife and the golden days of Britpop. The album also takes the band’s sound in some new directions, especially the track ‘Ghost Ship’, a gentle reggae infused jam with an experimental tone that is occasionally reminiscent of Albarn’s other project Gorillaz. Catchy tracks like these will be just as well received as ‘Song 2’ or ‘Beetlebum’ at Hyde Park come summer.
The whole disjointed, chaotic, claustrophobic and occasionally dystopian package comes together nicely to form mature, thoughtful release for a now mature quartet. Britpop may be dead but Blur has made it out alive, all grown up but still ready to rock.
The Magic Whip is out now via Parlophone