Usually, if a band hasn't released an album in over ten years, its likelihood for continuation is fairly slim. Especially when the two lead members of said band share a contentious rapport. Nonetheless, Britpop darlings Blur have set a new precedent with their eighth studio album, The Magic Whip.
Recorded in May of 2013 after the band was marooned in Hong Kong for five days after a festival they were supposed to play got cancelled, the songs recorded on The Magic Whip were intended as a creative distraction, though it's clear the band was looking for a reason to collaborate again.
The upbeat melancholy of "Lonesome Street" has tinges of a "For Tomorrow" backbeat as Albarn assures, "If you have nobody left to rely on/I'll hold you in my arms." Its video features a Napoleon Dynamite-esque tableau as an Asian man dances alone in front of a stereo and is later joined by a woman, and, later still, more women--all living on a metaphorical Lonesome Street.
"New World Towers" is decidedly focused on the aural style of solo Damon Albarn, with very little Coxon influence other than his subtle backing vocals. Ambient and strummy, it's even more laidback than "Lonesome Street." The distinct 90s alt-rock feel of "Go Out," with its confection-loving video, is the closest to "having fun" Blur gets on the album.
The video game/anime vibes of "Ice Cream Man" create one of the most interesting sounds on the record, accented by Albarn's repetition of "something new," as though to drive home the point that that's what this song is. Continuing the Asian-inspired flair is "Thought I Was A Spaceman," with its ethereal, dance-laden beats and Albarn's otherworldly voice mumbling, and the pace picking up with some xylophone action in the middle.
Video game-friendly sounds continue on "I Broadcast," an uptempo track with jubilant lyrical poetry like "the apparitions of another night." The echoing tone of Albarn's voice lends a futuristic feel to a song with presumable reference to the current human need to showcase everything he does.
Things slow down again on the romantic "My Terracotta Heart." The romantic element, however, seems to be in regard to the nostalgia of Blur itself with allusions like "when we were more like brothers, that was years ago." Perhaps The Magic Whip is the first step toward the closeness they once shared in their preliminary heyday. Following is "There Are Too Many of Us," which offers a none too subtle message about overpopulation and continues the trifecta of Asian-motifed videos, with Blur actually being featured in it, as an homage to their time spent recording.
The chill, relaxed "Ghost Ship," again, seems to address Blur's past inadvertently with the lyric, "I got away for a little awhile, but then it came back much harder." Albarn, who has had numerous successful projects in the wake of Blur's demise, including Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad and The Queen and his own solo work, has never seemed to fully get over the magic of Blur. Thus, trying to put the band's music aside for so long appears to have only made it more challenging for Albarn to ignore that it's his true passion.
Sounding like something out of a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, "Pyongyang" is calm, cool and eerily collected in its execution. Persisting in self-reference, Albarn sings, "I look out the window to the island where I'm held," making an undeniable subliminal insinuation about being trapped in Hong Kong with his bandmates.
In spite of having yet another Asian-sounding title, "Ong Ong" possesses one of the most classicist Blur sounds. A little piano thrown in mixes up the guitar-heavy instrumentals as Albarn drones, "I wanna be with you" (still not over Frischmann, eh?). Its earnestness is beautifully contrasted against the erotic, sweltering musical backing of "Mirrorball." Coming across as far less interested vocally, Albarn lulls us into submission for the final blow to our auditory senses--unless, of course, you got the Japanese bonus track version and you still have "Y'all Doomed" to listen to.