Blessed Be the Blur
Their New Album… 12 Years Later
Last week, tragedy hit NYC. No, I’m not talking about Friday’s subtle protest-arrest gyrations (what? had no idea they happened? Strange, I didn’t either), but rather of a singularly more sinister matter. Blur, britpop heroes and musical aesthetes of the first order (looking at you, Radiohead), played their first city show in fifteen years… and it was free, and it was great, and I couldn’t get a ticket. Granted, the first two clauses have so far given me little to complain about (believe me I’ve tried), but the last is simply unbearable. That this show was played mostly to industry tubeheads and hipster wankards (wanker+tankard) — either only really in it for Song 2 — is somewhat understandable, but that I, along with my acquaintances (and so at least four computers online simultaneously), couldn’t get a single ticket is intolerable. For shame! The lottery was rigged! I demand a recount!
I suppose the reader may at this point benefit from a little background information. So be it. This February 19, Blur announced they were releasing their first album since 2003 (and more seriously: since 1999 — with the present magical lineup). Its first single, Go Out, was revealed immediately after, promptly evoking various half-buried memories of late 90’s britpop… or so to this ambivalent reviewer. The languor, the overbearing distortion, the dominating drums (à la Death of a Party), and the clever backing vocals all made for a perfectly decent song. Yet I wasn’t entirely convinced… twelve years was probably too long. Even the album’s romantic backstory — Blur was stuck in Hong Kong for a few days and wrote songs to pass the time (!) — wasn’t enough to raise hopes too often crushed. Boohoo.
On March 20th, the second single, There Are Too Many of Us, was released. Dark, at times times lyrical, and ever so grandiose, it is the kind of music that only a top band could produce — a more complete Under the Westway, in short. By then, at least one devoted friend was already close to frothing at the mouth in excitement. But negative I, emboldened by their uninteresting third single (save for its opening line: “What do you got? / Mass produced in somewhere hot!”, and the video, I suppose), still refused to see the error of my ways.
Thankfully the Magic Whip finally appeared last week, eliciting in me a feeling of wonder analogous to my discovery of Push the Sky Away. Note that this is indeed a statement on the work’s quality, as besides the occasional minimalist inclination both albums are radically different. But what can I say about Blur’s magnificent effort? Its emotional center, Thought I Was a Spaceman (sorry Craig), showcases the band at its creative best, and offers a steady crescendo of rare beauty — climaxing, like us, in guitarist Graham Coxon’s stellar chromatic rise… yes… yes: this is as sexy as it gets.
Yet it is far from the only majesty involved. Consider, if you will, Ghost Ship; a song in color closer to britpop (and this beauty), yet by sensation the perfect ode to a traveller’s Hong Kong. Or what about reverb-swanky Mirrorball? elevated to splendor by producer Stephen Street’s judicious pathos-caressing strings, a study in contemplative harmonies. Or even sweet, melancholy Ice Cream Man; or Pyongyang; or, or… you get the point.
Truly, this album gets as close to being a masterpiece as it can, all the while leaving one unsure of whether or not it actually is. Time will tell, obviously: a week’s worth of listening being far too little for objective review. What the Magic Whip does prove, however, is that Blur — like Nick Cave, like David Bowie, like the Arctic Monkeys (amongst many others) — is a class apart; a band not afraid of reinvention, yet always mindful of keeping to what makes them unique. In essence: great artists, with a m y r i a d of songs to prove the point.
And I couldn’t get a fucking ticket. And I wear converse all the time. And this is just balls.
— Simon Mercer