8 May 2015
Blur - The Magic Whip
Some people thought this would not happen, some people think this is a nightmare, some people are very excited, some people thought they ordered a cheese burger - whatever your thoughts, one thing is for sure; today is the day that I review the latest album from Blur. Now as regular readers of the blog will know, I do not have the most amazing time with the Essex boys and consider the song "Country House" to be a crime against humanity; but I also love the album 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' (an album which is unfairly looked over) and I really enjoyed their last album 'Think Tank' (cleverly linked here). Hell, I even enjoyed 'Everyday Robots' (cleverly linked here) and that shocked everyone that knows me. To say I am a Blur fan then is not something that gets thrown my way, yet here we are and all of a sudden the rest of the team are not returning the calls - yep, I have been voted by proxy. So I am still approaching this with a degree of scepticism and curiosity; it reunites them with Stephen Street who produced their biggest albums, Graham Cox is back on board and to be honest it is not something that people were really expecting. Yes they released a song called "Fool's Day" a few years ago for Record Store Day (it sounded like Damon Albarn was going through his shopping list), yes they were doing live shows, but they all said that a new album was not on the radar. It might not be the album I am most excited about hearing, but it could be interesting - time to see if the break has done them good....
Starting off the album is the third song to be released as a single from this album - "Lonesome Street". Starting with the sound of the city, it bursts with a riff that is instantly familiar to anyone who has heard Blur before. It is a familiar sound, reminiscent of "For Tomorrow" in some ways; but it does not quite reach the same majestic peak of that song, but it is still much better than "Fool's Day". From the opening tone with a cynical view about the market of mass product goods and the modern syndrome of being alone, it is a measured opening which does not explode onto the scene; more like a slow burning, just as if the band are warming up after all that time off. I also have to say that it has stuck in my head a lot since I started to review this album, which is a little bit strange. After this is "New World Towers" which comes across as a song which could have easily been wrote for 'Everyday Robots', it is very stripped back and minimal with a tale about the modern living experience. It is a stunning song, it does not have that much in it and somehow this makes it more - this is only the second track and it is a monumentally huge number, will the rest of the album be able to improve on this number? Well, to try they start with some feedback that gives way to the minimal guitar of "Go Out"; it is another number where less is more and it sounds as if the boys have found the girls and have also grown up. It has a sharper, more focus tone to it and it does not try to match "New World Towers", this is a smart move as it shows the confidence that comes from their experience and new ideas that have been made since they last created an album; it is the perfect foil and keeps everything interesting. The fourth track is called "The Ice Cream Man" and it seems to be a song about an ice cream man; I am not sure if it a tongue in cheek number or a sinister condemnation with an obvious undertone that I am just not picking up on, either way I am still not 100% sure on it. It is a song that could easily be hated, but it has a subtle charm to the music that makes it really difficult to dislike; the lyrics are the sticking point and whilst it is the song from which the album title has been mined, it does not stop them being (to quote Jerm here) shite.
Afterwards we are introduced to the longest song on the album - "Though I Was a Spaceman"; it sounds like a dream/holiday song that goes on an acid trip, it is a slow and thoughtful tune that aims for a lofty, high vista so that it can see across the universe. For me and can see what they were aiming for, it is a take a while to get its feet but ultimately it falls short of those dizzy heights that it was aiming for. The halfway point is marked with "I Broadcast" which brings a little bit of energy to proceedings, as the album has been a little bit slow; it is like a dose of chilli in a curry, it was really needed. It is not as OTT as "Song 2" but it does at least give the listener a break to the bleak overtones of the album, it is fun and a little throw away - but it is out of the door before it outstays its welcome. "My Terracotta Heart" is a slow but fast percussion track (when you hear it, that will make sense - I promise); it feels like the guitars are playing something completely different to the drums, percussions and clapping and it is off-time pounding is slightly distracting. The lyrics are much better here, the song seems to be about the end of a kinship that is familiar to many and given that Mr Albarn and Mr Cox are back together on this record, it could almost be self-referencing. The more I have listened to it, this more I have enjoyed it; but I cannot get away from that percussion choice which jars the song for me. Afterwards we are introduced to "There Are Too Many of Us" which is probably the most politically sourced song of the album, a condemnation of the growing population, small housing, giant TV's, drinking culture and apathy of the world to its spacing problems. It is another slow building number that actually develops into a very engaging song that gives both entertainment and social thought to the listener.
As we head into the last third of the album, the next song is called "Ghost Ship"; it sounds like a lazy summer song which will be played around dinner parties and summer BBQ's around the world, lyrically this tale of isolation and yearning to return is decent (it is the second track to mention the title in its contents) - however, even with a decent solo I found myself drifting towards to skip button more than once, file under not for me (still better than "Country House though). The next song is "Pyongyang" which starts with keys, spares acoustics and a slow and sombre call to arms which the rest of the band come in with the rest of the song. It is another desolate and dark song, the lyrical description of the South Korean capital city is very captivating and it is one of the stand out numbers of the album; it is not a number for dancing or jumping around like a looney tunes character, it is one to contemplate and get lost in the sounds and textures of the number. It is a number which should not be appealing, but works so well for me. The penultimate track of the album is called "Ong Ong" which is almost happy in comparison to the rest of the album, even if the la,la,la,la's sound sarcastic, the lazy, drifting feeling of the album is represented in the vocal delivery and it is a mirrored contrast to the music which is akin to a slowed down "Coffee & TV". Like a parade of the disenchanted, it feels low in places, but the tune itself is really good; I have money on it that Mr Cox was behind this one. Ending the album though is "Mirrorball" which sounds like the end to a sorrow filled spaghetti western, to be honest if it had have been a happy go-luck number at this point I would have been crying foul. It guides the listener to the end of this surprising album.
Ok, here is the rub for the album: It is not a happy place to be in. It is a dark and sorrow filled album, some of the lyrics are (as I stated earlier) shite and the lack of energy has made it a hard album to comfortably listen to in a single sitting (even Morrissey would ask them what is wrong). But it does have some of the best music I have heard from Blur in a long time, it shows that their time apart has given them a lot more to bring to the table and they are not just after chasing former glories. It is also an album that has been really hard to pinpoint for me if I like it or find it just too annoying; musically it has a lot of plus points and this makes it hard to give it the kicking I always want to give Blur albums. As I said, I am not the biggest fan of Mr Albarn, but I really like Graham Cox, Alex James and Dave Rowntree; but I will concede that they have made a very interesting album which will probably be one of the albums of 2015. Right, now I am off to listen to Sleaford Mods to clean my soul.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart (DAMN YOU ALBARN)
Top track - New World Towers
You can purchase the album online at Amazon here
You can visit the Blur website here
You can also follow their activities on Facebook here
You can stream the album on Spotify here
For our Deezer users, here is a link for you
Finally for our Tidal users, you can stream the album here
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