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Inspiration can come from anywhere. Whether it be wet roads illuminated by street lamps after a storm, the sound of bird’s chirping on a hazy sunday afternoon, or the flickering of fluorescent bulbs in a silent classroom, the urge to create can strike suddenly and come from the most unexpected of places. The inspiration for Blur’s first album in over a decade came from the cancellation of a Japanese rock festival. While stranded in Hong Kong, Damon Albarn, industrious as he is, sat down with the rest of the band and wrote most of the songs on the album that would come to be known as The Magic Whip. And while it’s not any kind of magnum opus, it certainly doesn’t feel like something that was put together in five days.
A dozen tracks come in at just over fifty minutes and for the most part, The Magic Whip is another solid album from the UK britpop band that was so prolific in the 90’s. Their sound has changed since the days of “Song 2” and the group has taken a much more artful approach to songwriting. Tracks like “New World Towers,” “Though I Was A Spaceman,” and “Pyongyang” sound more like something that Damon Albarn’s other project, Gorillaz would release rather than Britain’s darling boyband. Since Think Tank, Albarn has kept himself busy by spearheading the alternative electronica and trip hop band Gorillaz, whose work has been met with commercial and critical acclaim. The group’s more atmospheric and world-influenced sound has made its way onto this new record and helps bolster what would otherwise be a mediocre comeback.
The album starts off with “Lonesome Street,” a catchy, upbeat introduction that serves as one of the lead singles. Things get moody with one of the record’s highlights, the spacious “New World Towers,” which is led by swirling synths and glistening guitars and backed by an oriental-inspired baseline. Then with “Go Out” (another single), a pattern seems to reveal itself. The songs mostly alternate between pop-rock ballads and soundscape style “epics” (the longest track is 6:16), which may seem like detriment given the odd interaction, but it actually improves the flow and feel of the album. This doesn’t always work though, as seen with the transition from “Thought I Was A Spacemen” into the punky “I Broadcast,” which has a much more “classic” Blur sound that doesn’t fit well with the songs bordering it. Most of the rest of the tracks are simply serviceable and would almost feel like filler if they weren’t so dissimilar, with the exception of “There are Too Many Of Us” and my personal favorite, “Pyongyang.” The mantra of the former addresses an often underused topic in modern music, human overpopulation. “There are too many of us, in tiny houses here and there. All looking through the windows, on everything we share…” The latter is an eerie six-minute lullaby with a fantastic chorus referencing the North Korean capital.
It would have been easy to just throw together some recordings, slap on a cover, and release a sub-par album as a cash grab, but instead Blur takes the higher road. The Magic Whip is a rare sort of comeback album that instead of being an sleazy attempt to hustle diehard fans, actually pulls through with some creative substance. And while not reinventing the wheel, it is an obvious progression in the group’s sound and is definitely worth a listen to any fan of the band or anyone that is looking to get into them.