As the UK goes to the vote, Blur’s The Magic Whip sits atop the album chart just as it should. Repeated listens reveal that Graham Coxon may just be right in calling it the group’s finest album.
THERE’S LITTLE JOKERSIDE ENJOYS MORE THAN A COMPARISSON, BUT THIS ONE IS POETICALLY GIFTWRAPPED FOR TWO OF THE GREATEST BRITISH FOUR-PIECE BANDS IN BRITISH HISTORY. You can probably guess both by now. In the winter of 1969 the Beatles, already strained from their recent White Album sessions, were quickly encouraged into a new recording marathon by Paul McCartney. The idea behind what was intended to produce the Get Back sessions, was live jamming, returning to the band’s live and productive roots, free from the artifice of their last few album. Oh, and under the constant surveillance of documentary cameras. It seems inevitable now that, despite the new talent that came in behind the organ and recording desk to bolster the Fab Four and loyal producer George Martin, those sessions resulted in the band’s darkest days. Members lost then retrieved, the album shelved. And it still wasn’t over. We’re fortunate that all Beatles soon regrouped to record the disparate but altogether more friendly Abbey Road Sessions. But their split was all the more painful when John Lennon stole off to producer Phil Spector with the tapes that would be reassembled for the Let It Be album, eventually emerging a month after the pre-eminent force in pop music ended in 1970.
Jump forward four decades and history repeated. But this time it wasn’t the rhythm guitarist but the lead guitarist of a British four-piece who snuck off to a producer with the band’s jamming sessions. This time it was a member who had seemingly, impossibly, emerged from a prolonged departure from his band, not one heading into definite hiatus. And he even had the blessings of his band-mates. And this time, those tapes (if only they still were) weren’t gifted to a left-field originator of anything like the wall of sound; they found their way back to Stephen Street, the producer as indelibly linked to Blur as George Martin was to the Beatles.
So, it’s a safe bet Damon Albarn won’t be releasing The Magic Whip Naked in three decades time – although that certainly may play well in some markets.
What’ve You Got?
The Magic Whip is an album that rewards over time. It’s a difficult, awkward child in many ways – and one that could be forgiven for feeling unwanted. The reports following Blur’s ad hoc recording session in Hong Kong in May 2013 weren’t optimistic, with fans consoling themselves that at least the band had stepped into a studio for longer than one song. But that time, it turned out, was just too short. Albarn lamented that lyrics hadn’t been laid down at the time and so those jamming sessions – the band’s primary style of recording since 1997’s Blur – seemed destined to drift away. Until Stephen Street and Coxon did their magic. Some London additions from the four-piece later, some lyrics topped up by Albarn taking another stop-over in Hong Kong later… And earlier this year the band, and particularly Albarn, found themselves rather surprisingly announcing a new LP. And the result, although it shouldn’t be surprising, is that The Magic Whip is a unifying triumph that rubs in how difficult that star shaped hole has been to fill in the 16 years since the four-piece last recorded an album together. Continue reading “Blur: The Magic Whip Reviewed”