Things went quiet with Blur after their hugely successful 2009 reunion tour and it seemed that band members were resigned to new material not being released. Then there was a shock announcement earlier this year that the band would be back with their first album in 12 years –- and first album with guitarist Graham Coxon since 1999 –- The Magic Whip. The big question, of course, was whether this would be new material that succeeds — like Sleater-Kinney — or fails – like The Pixies? The answer is…a bit of both.
The album begins with the joyous “Lonesome Street,” which is probably the most the album comes sounding to the band’s Britpop era. Featuring a spiraling Coxon riff and one of the melodic choruses the band have specialised in for years, it’s a very strong start. Indeed, the up-tempo tracks are amongst the best on the album. “I Broadcast” bringing a punk energy reminiscent of latter-day Blur songs such as “Crazy Beat” and “B.L.U.R.E.M.I.”
The mid-tempo tracks seem to show the band’s weariness with the world. They seem dragged down by the political situation, which is nothing new as singer Damon Albarn was heavily involved in anti-war protests in 2003. There is a sense of foreboding in the songs, particularly in the tense “There Are Too Many Of Us,” which combines military drumming with lyrics concerned about the ever-increasing population of the world. The closing track, “Mirrorball” is interesting, as it uses an almost mariachi-style guitar and strings to create a Western theme, as Albarn sings for the need to have someone to “hold close to me.”
The lead single from the record, “Go Out,” is strongly reminiscent of the band’s last album, Think Tank, with more ennui-riddled lyrics about being unable to get out of bed, The difference here is that it features Coxon freaking out on guitar, which was sadly missing on Think Tank.
Sadly some of the album’s other tracks seem to meander and not really go anywhere, such as the lengthy “I Thought I Was A Spaceman” and the acoustic-based “Ice Cream Man” and “My Terracotta Heart,” which seem more suited to Albarn’s recent solo work instead.
It is good to see Blur making new music after such a long break, particularly with the original line-up back together. However, despite having some good tracks the album won’t go down as one of the band’s best. Still, if this is the beginning of Blur 2.0 it’s off to an encouraging, if not exactly fantastic, start.