When Blur got back together for some live shows and festivals a few years ago, a lot of people my age (then early 30s) and above lost their shit. My reaction was a shrug of interest just on the side of positive, but pretty bloody close to complacency. When they released new studio album earlier this year, their first in a dozen years, a lot of people my age (now mid 30s) and above lost their shit.
As I type this, the band recently finished much hyped Australian tour. I guess I always knew Blur were pretty popular at the time, but I never realised they were so loved and revered that the love stayed with people during these long years of hiatus. So, is their comeback, The Magic Whip, anything to get excited about for a person who has been just on the side of positive about the band, but pretty bloody close to complacent?
Things start well with Lonesome Street. These dudes might be well into their 40s now, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to resort to middle aged introspection or pretension. It’s light, fun, upbeat and super catchy. New World Towers is a little more restrained and more interested in soundscape hypnosis than sing along melodies, but it’s still a nice little showcase for every member of Blur to show off in a really non-showy way.
Even with my limited experience with the band, I know Blur were never limited by any genre restraints or rules that come with being a rock band. They were never scared of the odd electronic experiment, or to embrace some weird and wonderful experiment. And I assume their years apart have only widened their influences and collective bag of tricks. But with that in mind, Ice Cream Man still stuck out immediately as something different. Even from a band where I expect difference. But once it built and revealed its melodic bones, I could definitely hear Blur at its core.
Turns out, Ice Cream Man is just an intro to a trio of surface weirdness used to hide bread and butter Blur. Thought of a Spaceman is all floaty trippiness on top, 90s introspection and melancholy underneath. While Broadcast quickly abandons a space alien bleeps and bloops intro, to become the most radio friendly kind of Blur guitar pop cheekiness that you’ll find anywhere on The Magic Whip. A title that’s challenged later with Ong Ong.
While Ghost Ship is a decent enough song, I didn’t really sign on to a Blur album to hear some faux-Beach Boys. And I don’t mean faux-good Beach Boys. I mean faux-80s Beach Boys. You know, the Kokomo years. But, it might be the only real speed bump on an album that is way more often than not, really cool. I have no real context to put it in with other Blur records. But as a comeback album from a band that split for a decade or so, it doesn’t sound like a tossed off cash grab or lazy throwback to their tried and true formulas. It sounds like a band trying to make the best, new music they can.