I have to admit I love the new Blur album, The Magic Whip, which just dropped yesterday. It’s the first new album since 2003’s Think Tank (and the first with all four members since 1999’s 13!)…and I agree with most of the reviews, it sounds as if they hadn’t missed a beat since those last releases.
I’ve been a Blur fan for years, really. In the early 90’s I’d pretty much ignored most of the angry grunge that WFNX and WBCN were playing, as I was already enamored of the poppy quirkiness of Madchester and Britpop. The UK always had a leg up on music for me…they always seemed to write better, catchier, more inventive songs than their American counterparts, always seemed to be a few months ahead of the game musically. I thought “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an interesting reinterpretation of American punk, but I’d already been sold on the herky-jerky bliss of “There’s No Other Way”.
Blur was definitely there for me in the 90s, during all the ups and downs of that period. When I found myself broke and directionless post-college, “Chemical World” and “For Tomorrow” and the rest of Modern Life is Rubbish fueled my frustration. When things got a little better and I was out in Allston writing again, the lively Parklife and “Girls & Boys” popped up. [There’s also the fact that, whenever I heard “Parklife” in Boston, I immediately started singing “Alewife” instead. Because I’m a dork.] And in the early days of my job at HMV Records, I was greeted by the newly rocking version of the band with their self-titled 1997 album — I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “Song 2” blaring and some stranger “woohoo!”-ing along to it.
They disappeared in 2003 after Think Tank, with most of the members working on their various solo projects (and Damon having a brilliant run with Gorillaz), but I’d still pop one of their albums every now and again. And yes, I did in fact buy the big box set when it came out in 2012. And that reunion song, “Under the Westway”? Damn, that’s a fine single. Only Blur could capture the sound of post-Britpop malaise as beautifully as they could.
Sure, Blur could be written off as upper-class yobs who couldn’t lift a finger to Oasis (don’t get me started on that manufactured ridiculousness). They shed their ‘Britpop’ label while all the other bands were still basking in it when the scene began its decline. But they’ve always written and played incredibly catchy tunes that were always just that slight bit off-kilter. The Magic Whip is definitely a welcome return, and worth the wait.