Blur’s latest album is an oasis of classic English alt-rock in a barren desert of “indie” music that has come out this week. “The Magic Whip” is the band’s first album in 12 years. Their last album, “Think Tank,” was released back in 2003 and to avid fans — a.k.a. 40 year-olds — that time must have been torture.
When the band finally put out a new album, even after comments from frontman Damon Albarn that he “just can’t do it anymore,” it must have sent fans into a blur. Of course, that confused state must have endedly quickly, as “The Magic Whip” is an surprisingly self-assured, confident album.
The album harmoniously blends songs that sound at home on the band’s earlier albums with the new techniques and styles they worked on during their hiatus.
In particular, the album manages to infuse some moody strangeness of Albarn’s previous projects (“Everyday Robots” and “Demon Days”), while maintaining the album’s integrity as the brainchild of the band as a whole, not just Albarn.
The album kicks off with the nostalgic sounding “Lonesome Street” — a song that could have fit onto past Blur albums as easily as it does on this one. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why this song is the first on the album; it’s meant to assuage fears that the bandmates have changed too heavily for a reunion to be viable.
“Lonesome Street” is heavily reminiscent of the Britpop style that propelled the band into fame in the early 90s, as well as the rugged alt-rock sound that kept them famous into the new millennium.
That’s not to say, of course, that Albarn was prevented from letting his creative juices flow. Songs like “New World Towers” and “My Terracotta Heart” feature Albarn’s trademark melancholic style. His ethereal, yet warm voice is a delightful presence on the album.
Song two of the album — “New World Towers” — acts as a sadder continuation of the romantic verses of “Lonesome Street.” In the song, love seems as foreign to the singer as the Hong Kong studio where the band wrote and recorded much of the album.
The same feeling of sadness would become present in the middle of the album with “My Terracotta Heart,” albeit tempered by a sense of regret.
Rife with bass and with a sound as thick and as rich as honey, the song “Pyongyang” is surprisingly smooth despite being about the beauty of North Korea.
This song delightfully contrasts the previous song on the album — “Ghost Ships.” Both songs rely on smooth bass sound, but “Ghost Ships” has a stronger, more repetitive beat.
“Thought I Was A Spaceman” and “There Are Too Many Of Us” both elicit a pleasing tone with the use of synthetic sounds. Despite the apparent synthetic instrumentation and alien feeling it evokes, the songs simultaneously manage to feel natural and without pretension.
The two themes of the album, love and alienation, are ever-present throughout. The juxtaposed ideas find themselves at a harmonious peace in the excellently composed “The Magic Whip.”
The album itself is a testament to the maturity of the band both personally and professionally.