For some reason, I have never invested the proper amount of time and energy into learning the ins and outs of Blur‘s catalogue. I suppose they never have had nearly the same presence in America as they do in their native UK — beyond the borderline novelty song “Song 2” and its memorable “woohoo” refrain, the intricacies of everything Blur had to offer as the band that most fully embodied Britpop in the ’90s generally has been lost on American audiences. (As a matter of fact, the only Blur album that has received any certification at all from the RIAA is their 1997 self-titled album, which contains “Song 2”; Blur only went gold.) Blur vocalist Damon Albarn‘s subsequent band Gorillaz achieved far more commercial success than Blur did, especially in the United States — it’s fair to say that Albarn is known as the “Gorillaz guy” more so than he is known as the “Blur guy” here in America. Truth be told, though, I have never really listened to Gorillaz much, either, so I guess I have work to do there, as well.
In 2014, Albarn finally released a solo debut called Everday Robots, which I reviewed and mostly liked, despite thinking some of it was a little boring. That record had a real sense of forlornness to it, and in many ways that same mood carries over to The Magic Whip, Blur’s first studio record in a dozen years. Many albums experience a difficult birth, but the story of how The Magic Whip came to be is particularly unusual: Essentially, the tracks that comprise The Magic Whip began as jams the band recorded over a five-day period when they were stuck in Hong Kong. Then the songs were promptly abandoned, only to be resuscitated 18 months later by Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and producer Stephen Street, who produced the band’s first five records from 1991 to 1997. Magically, the tracks were revived and the album was finished, and now it exists forever for our listening pleasure.
It’s a bit surprising, then, that the end result contains no hint of the album’s turbulent path to completion; it was with genuine surprise that I learned the backstory after having already heard the album a few times. The number of really good songs are numerous — frankly, fully half the album is top-drawer, with the songs “Lonesome Street,” “Go Out,” “I Broadcast,” “My Terracotta Heart,” “Ghost Ship,” and “Ong Ong” all vying for spots on my Top Tracks of 2015 list that will come at the end of the year. As for the other half of The Magic Whip, the downer tracks (e.g., “New World Towers”) don’t wear as well as the ones with more energy (e.g., “Lonesome Street”), but still have plenty to like about them and benefit from good craftsmanship. Overall, for a band that hasn’t released a studio album since 2003, The Magic Whip is very good, and is highly recommended for those who have been missing out on what this seminal British band has had to offer all these years.