Blur dodges Oasis comparisons, escapes Britpop

The second wave of Britpop was a product of its time. Bands like Pulp and The Verve may have dominated the '90s with catchy singles, but they faded away. The genre’s inability to strike itself as one that produced great albums has kept it from reaching new generations effectively.

Say what you will, but Britpop was mostly singles bands. No one still listens to Pulp’s “Different Class” or Suede’s self-titled album. And outside of a song two, these groups largely remain irrelevant to anyone who didn’t spend their teens in the '90s — except for Oasis.  

Knowing this, I find it hard to take anyone who says “Britpop is back!” seriously. The Arctic Monkeys are barely British anymore, Noel Gallagher’s “Chasing Yesterday” failed to make waves and Blur’s first record in 12 years sounds like something entirely different.

That’s not to say Blur’s “The Magic Whip” is a poor comeback though — actually, it’s kind of a tasteful anomaly — but it certainly isn’t the Britpop resurrection that nostalgic fans want it to be.

Bands rarely manage to reform with its original personnel, but Blur made it happen. Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree are back in form.  

“The Magic Whip’s” opener “Lonesome Street” revisits the band’s previous sound with choppy guitar riffs and funky rhythms. It’s a tight song, complete with whistling and slightly shouted hooks that hardly fits tonally with the rest of the album.  

Follow-up track “New World Towers” is a complete left-turn from the opener and for Blur. Playing like a trip-hop song doused in morphine, Albarn clearly has no qualms dabbling with the sounds from his solo efforts on a Blur record. Thankfully for him, the experiment works, making “New World Towers” a standout track.

“Thought I Was A Spaceman” is a sprawling and mostly electronic track that further pushes Blur into new territory. Coxon’s gorgeously finger-picked guitar and Rowntree’s fiercely in-the-pocket drumming juxtapose the various synths and sampled sound effects that fade in and out. It’s a six-minute emotional centerpiece for “The Magic Whip” that feels like a band using their age and maturity to escape the confines of their younger years.

Blur seems to have caught the Radiohead bug — albeit later in its career. Much like how the transformation from “Pablo Honey” to “OK Computer” to “Kid A” was almost impossible to track, Blur's movement from “Parklife” to “The Magic Whip” is almost equally unprecedented.

There are a few tracks that reminisce with the '90s though. “Go Out” is brash and bold with its discomforting guitar feedback and piercing noises, harkening back to “Bugman” and “B.L.U.R.E.M.I” from the group's “13” record. Nothing about “I Broadcast” sounds particularly new for the band either, but is also a low point for the album.

“There Are Too Many Of Us” begins promising with marching snares and a bouncy synth. Unfortunately it never develops into much more and fails to justify its egregious repetition. “Pyongyang” is equally boring and genuinely serves no purpose as a standalone track or within the confines of “The Magic Whip.”

Despite these lousy moments, there’s enough good-to-excellent tracks on “The Magic Whip” to justify Blur’s comeback. “Ghost Ship,” although a bit too similar to David Bowie’s “Soul Love” at moments, is just too carefree and groovy to not love. “Ong Ong” shares this feeling too, reminding us not to take the middle-aged Blur too seriously.

“The Magic Whip” has no discernible hits, which alone kills any Britpop labeling some are casting upon it. There’s no “Song 2” or “Girls and Boys.” You won’t dance along or bang your head or chant to the choruses. But, do we really need another genre resurgence?

No. What we need is innovation and future thought. And that’s just what “The Magic Whip” is — a band of long-gone icons rekindling the chemistry they once had without emulating sounds of old. 

It’s certainly not a perfect album, but Blur deserves credit for avoiding the easy route and giving us something fresh. 


Reach the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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