Thursday 21 May 2015

Review of 'The Magic Whip' by Blur

Next time you’re stranded in Hong Kong for five days, record an album.

That’s what Britpop veterans Blur allegedly did. With the exception of the lyrics, most of this material was thought up in five days.

To some degree it shows. The Magic Whip isn’t a bad album - it doesn’t feel rushed or unfinished - but it does feel awfully meagre for a comeback album (it’s been over a decade since these guys gave us a full length LP). The standout tracks are easy to pinpoint – namely the glittery opener ‘Lonesome Street’ with its punchy guitar riff and cool drowsy interlude, the funk-tinged ‘Ghost Ship’ and the broodingly epic ode to overpopulation ‘There Are Too Many of Us’. The remainder meanwhile is very subdued, not very catchy and all very down-tempo.

Damon Albarn’s vocal performances are partly to blame. There are no big, anthemic choruses on this record. Most of the vocal hooks are groaned out lazily, most notably the la-la-las at the beginning of ‘Ong Ong’ in which Damon sounds like he can't be bothered. Indeed, the man has never been the liveliest singer in the world, but when you compare these performances to that of hits such as ‘Parklife’, ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘Country House’ (not to mention his work with Gorillaz) it’s clear there’s a spark missing.

That said, Damon Albarn does still seem to have the edge when it comes to writing colourful lyricism. Alongside the already mentioned topic of ‘Overpopulation’, The Magic Whip sees songs dedicated to subject matter as diverse as North Korea and the ice cream man. Linking it all is the theme of loneliness. As the strangely-titled song ‘Thought I Was A Spaceman’ suggests, Damon Albarn sees himself as an astronaut surrounded by emptiness. Perhaps this explains the withdrawn nature of his vocal performances. In any case, I still want some hooks!