Reunion albums are a tricky proposition, particularly after long absences. These albums often sound like faint, half-hearted retreads, with one or two tracks that’ll fill in setlists nicely while the band tours as a nostalgia act. For Blur, it’s been 12 years since their last proper record, 2003’s Think Tank, and 16 years since their last as a four piece, 1999’s 13 (guitarist Graham Coxon acrimoniously left before Think Tank was completed). Released late last month, The Magic Whip doesn’t sound half-hearted or watered down; rather, Blur’s return finds the band genuinely interested in pushing their sound further.
The Magic Whip, recorded primarily in May 2013, picks up various threads from Blur’s previous albums. But this is Blur older and wiser—there’s a real sense of world-travelled weariness (but not resignation) or on tracks like “New World Towers” and “There’s Too Many of Us.” Not as ragged as 13 or as constructed as Think Tank, The Magic Whip is more closely hewed with their 1997 self-titled release; lead single “Go Out” would sound at home next to “Death of a Party” or “M.O.R.” But The Magic Whip doesn’t merely sound like an extension of Blur. Tracks like “Lonesome Street” and “I Broadcast” relish in the same textures as the band’s trio of Britpop-defining albums Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, and The Great Escape, with modern sensibilities.
The album, though, has difficulty reconciling it’s sound, especially considering how varied Blur has been over the years, moving between shoegaze, classic pop, low-fi indie, and whatever you want to describe Think Tank as. The Magic Whip is a little too varied in its sonic make-up. It may all sound distinctly like Blur, but it doesn’t really feel like it has a musically coherent through-line, which is something that’s defined all of their albums, good or bad. The Magic Whip combines elements of Britpop and and the lo-fi American indie sound that informed Blur and 13, while adding newer-sounding texture like the dusty noir twang of “Mirrorball” or the breezy swagger of “Ghost Ship.”
The album does manage to be one of the best-sounding Blur albums: singer Damon Albarn is in fine form and a commanding and playful presence as ever. The rest of band is in tight form too, all clicking so well—Dave Rountree and Alex James don’t get enough credit bringing in Blur’s backbeat—but it’s Coxon who’s the star of The Magic Whip; his work here is simultaneously creative and comforting.
The album’s only other real fault is in its sequencing; the way the album is put together prevents it from gaining full momentum. There’s so many great songs here—the Bowie-like album centrepiece “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” the summer singalong jam “Ong Ong”—they just don’t quite add up to a great album. Though, this is just a minor quibble because it’s just so good to have Blur back creating new, exciting music.
Watch the video for “Lonesome Street” below.