A Britpop Comeback
For the first time since 1999, Blur’s full original lineup appears together on The Magic Whip. Although the band released the very well received Think Tank in 2003, it saw the band creating music for the first time without principal guitarist and founding member Graham Coxon. Re-absorbing Coxon has proved to be an easy transition for the band, and from these 14 tracks of solid power pop, it sounds like Blur has not missed a beat.
The band took a brief break from touring in mid-2013 and holed up in Kowloon, Hong Kong to record the tracks, eventually setting them aside for later use. Technically all four members wrote and recorded The Magic Whip, however it’s not quite as if Coxon and Damon Albarn holed up alone in a room after hashing out their differences and creating an album in perfect harmony; Coxon recorded the tracks with drummer Dave Rowntree and bassist Alex James, with Albarn later adding the lyrics and vocals.
Despite the piecemeal recording structure of The Magic Whip, it does feel like a cohesive unit. The album artwork is heavily inspired by the Chinese megacity in which it was recorded, and while the music never overtly reflects Cantonese culture, the song titles and lyrical themes at times seem at least partially inspired by Southeast Asia.
Singles “I Broadcast” and “Lonesome Street” are punchy tracks that have Blur’s trademark sound all over them, revisiting the catchy songs which helped define the Britpop era in the 90’s. Meanwhile, scattered throughout the album are several moodier cuts such as “New World Towers,” “I Thought I Was a Spaceman,” and “Pyongyang.” These slow, atmospheric cuts give The Magic Whip an evocative feeling that in some ways relates back to their exotic recording location.
Outside of the singles, much of The Magic Whip sees Blur hitting a laid back stride – “Go Out” is a funky, reverb-drenched stomper that carries hints of The Clash’s more experimental work, while “My Terracotta Heart” features a measured clap-driven electronic backing behind delicate keyboard and guitar lines. In fact, those that are drawn to the album by the alt-rock inspired singles may be a bit disappointed to find an album that largely drifts by without many upbeat tempos.