Monday, July 13, 2015
Blur flip-flopped on whether or not it would continue to exist and in what capacity enough times over the 12 years since Think Tank that The Magic Whip was anything but inevitable. However, there's reason to believe it isn't intended as a one off. The album was produced by Stephen Street, the band's longest serving producer who worked with them from their stately Britpop era through to 1997's transitional self-titled album, suggesting another ongoing partnership might be in the works. More significantly, though, The Magic Whip has neither a sense of urgency nor finality to it. It neither bolsters nor tarnishes their legacy, but opens the door for the band to do either or both in the future.
No Blur album ever sounded like another, but Damon Albarn has been exploring new sounds with Gorillaz and as a solo artist, so carving out a distinct identity for The Magic Whip was never going to be easy. It's happy enough to revisit the past, but it's frustrating when some of its attempts to move forward have antecedents in the Gorillaz canon. But of course Albarn's world-weary sensibility ensures that the throwbacks are not mere exercises in nostalgia, and the more forward-looking material really resonates when it does work. The MVP "There Are Too Many of Us" starts with minor synth chords over a marching beat and some subtle, ominous bass work from Alex James and was inspired by the Lindt hostage crisis in Sydney. It's about the muted, impersonal reaction often inspired by watching a tragedy on TV; Albarn wrote the lyrics while switching between watching it that way and directly from a hotel room.
Sitting somewhere above Faith No More's new album and far below Swans' recent output, The Magic Whip has plenty to like about it. Whether there's Blur in our future is impossible to know, but the evidence presented suggests it's not a foolish thing to want.