I’ll qualify that. Don’t ever believe an artist when they rule out the idea of their defunct band ever getting back together unless their surname happens to be either Morrissey or Weller. Reunion tours can be a lucrative business these days and as pension plans go they must be among the best.
After ruling it out, Blur have been on the occasional reunion tour bandwagon for around six years now but many critics still expressed surprise at the idea of them recording another album. As you must surely already know though, they’ve just released The Magic Whip, their first in a dozen years.
The band laid down some new tracks in Hong Kong in 2013 with no firm idea whether they would ever see the light of day and these were mothballed until last September when Graham Coxon volunteered to attempt to ‘whip’ the demos into the kind of shape that might just become the basis for a new album, aided and abetted in this task by longtime Blur producer Stephen Street.
Alex James and Dave Rowntree dropped by to redo some of their Hong Kong efforts and once Coxon and Street were satisfied, the results were presented to Albarn, who was impressed enough to return to Hong Kong to soak up some some lyrical inspiration for the tracks, which he would write in Iceland and record back in London.
You’ve probably also already heard the single Go Out and perhaps seen the Britpop meets MasterChef video. The first taster of The Magic Whip possessed an infectious groove with Graham Coxon performing ever more weird and wonderful things with his guitar as the song progressed, eventually coming over as the Carlos Alomar of Colchester.
Comeback albums are seldom true successes but hopes began growing that The Magic Whip might be more of an Aerial or The Next Day than an Endless Wire or The Weirdness.
These hopes were well founded. Albarn is in good voice, Coxon is inventive as ever, proving that Blur without him was a bit like The Clash without Mick Jones (and I wonder if Damon made this analogy himself when he worked alongside Jones in his The Good, the Bad & the Queen project). The rhythm section is in great form too. No matter what you think of irritating fop cheese maker Alex James, he does provide great loping basslines at the drop of a hat and Dave Rowntree, as usual, never goes for the spectacular but always stays one hundred percent solid.
There’s nothing here as exhilarating as Song 2, nothing as insanely catchy as Girls and Boys or Parklife (not even Ong Ong), or as beautifully melancholic as This is a Low or For Tomorrow (although I Thought I was a Spaceman and Pyongyang come close) but The Magic Whip is one of their most consistent collections of songs and a very worthwhile addition to the Blur discography.
The next time that a Best of Blur compilation comes out, at least three of the tracks would be able to easily justify a place on it.
Another guess: you’ve also very likely seen the promo for one of those three, the album opener Lonesome Street – although then again, you maybe don’t give a fuck about Blur and are happily ignoring the current music world furore, which is pretty much how I’ll feel when their old rivals Oasis inevitably announce they’re back.
With a typically choppy Graham Coxon signature riff, Damon doing his introspective chorus thing, some squelchy sounding synths, woo-ooh-oohs and even some whistling, Lonesome Street is alternately melancholic and jaunty and it keeps sounding better and better every time I hear it.
The song also demonstrates once again the influence on Blur of classic English songwriters like Ray Davies, Syd Barrett and Andy Partridge and though I wouldn’t like to give the impression that this is an act trying to recreate past glories, it wouldn’t sound out of place on my own favourite Blur album, Modern Life is Rubbish.
And speaking of that album, is it just me that looks back on life in 1993 and thinks that on the whole modern life felt a lot less rubbish than it does today?
Okay, the charts were clogged up with garbage like Sonia and Pat and Mick but on the plus side the public had never heard of Simon Cowell, Katy Hopkins, Jeremy Kyle or UKIP and would have had to ask what a zero hours contract or food bank was.
Strangely enough, I’ve only just heard the three demos that were Blurs’ first shot at recording Modern Life. Andy Partridge, who was in charge of the sessions, has just revealed in the May issue of Mojo that he preferred these to the album versions later produced by Stephen Street but I’m not so sure, albeit I am very fond of his take on Coping which certainly gives Street’s take on the track a run for its money and I’m gonna take this as a good excuse to include some XTC although frankly no excuse should ever be needed to include Swindon’s finest.
From the album styled as Nonsvch, this is The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, which was released as a single in May 1992, a matter of months before the Partridge/Blur sessions.
And now I come to think of it, there’s another act that will never perform live again, so add Andy Partridge and XTC to my list, although maybe they will at some point in the future bring out some new material.
I hope so anyway.
For more on XTC, this is where you’ll find a link for their resource page.