Blur: The Magic Whip Reviewed

Blur The Magic Whip Review

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. Read more…

Blur: 12 of the best post-Britpop

Blur Post-Britpop - Coffee and TV

A year ago Jokerside celebrated the 20th anniversary of Parklife with a terrible commemorative re-writing of THAT song. Now, nearly 20 years after Blur made their Britpop swansong, 12 years after their last album, they return with their fourth ‘-post’ effort. So, now they’re undeniably less of a Britpop band then they were, what have they really done in the intervening two decades?

IT’S ALMOST 20 YEARS SINCE THEIR LAST BRITPOP RELEASE, ABOUT 16 SINCE THEIR LAST ALBUM AS A FOURPIECE, BUT BLUR HAVE STILL MANAGED TO PACK A BIT IN. THREE SEMINAL ALBUMS IN FACT. The game changing eponymous album released less than two years after The Great Escape, the mystical and Gorillaz unleashing 13 and then, with a four year gap and one of the four departed, the soft oddity Think Tank. Post-Britpop Blur may not have been quite as consistent as during the first four albums, but with the eighth out today it’s clear that the turbulence saw them produce some of their greatest tracks.

If there’s an adage that’s come out of The Magic Whip coverage it’s that the older the Blur album, the more you can write about it. Or perhaps, the more you need to write about it. That’s partly down to the fact that every paragraph has to begin with variations of “Jettisoning” ‘Abandoning” and “Dispensing” alongside “Britpop persona”. But now, 15 years into the 21st century, Blur have definitely tipped the balance. And fundamentally Think Tank is far more interesting than Parklife. Blur’s canvas has massively enhanced with each difficult and different album. And it’s not as simple as third person stereotypes making way for first person observation or losing their guitarist. Much of the time Blur’s music remains remarkably consistent, just interpreted and broadened by high production at different times and different places, and crucially by increasingly more accomplished and motivated musicians (People. Of. The. World). As a result Lonesome Road, the third single from The Magic Whip, can merrily sit side to side with 1993’s For Tomorrow as not only an unmistakable Blur song but a fine companion piece.

But before the new album, here’s a look at 12 Blur tracks that came after they “Removed themselves from Britpop”. Not the 12 best, but 12 of the best from the last 19 years that tell a story of one of Britain’s finest bands. Read more…

Britpop: One year in – Blur’s Great Britpop Escape

Britpop and Blur's The Great Escape

This month marks 19 years since Blur’s The Great Escape was released. While it would continue for several years, the four-piece’s fourth album would prove their personal swansong to the Britpop movement they had unwittingly ushered in with Parklife a year previously. It’s no secret that this isn’t their best regarded album, but could it be their most prescient?

AND AS SOON AS IT ARRIVED IT WAS TRYING TO SELF-DESTRUCT. BRITPOP WASN’T BRITISH AS MUCH AS ENGLISH. IT WASN’T THE EPITOME OF THE 1990S EITHER, BUT IT NEVER CONSCIOUSLY INTENDED TO BE. Its roots were either far too contemporary or too based in the 1960s, dependent on your view point, to do that. But in the summer of 1995, while Britpop crammed Chris Evan’s Radio 1 Breakfast Show it also captured a space in the six o’clock news as Oasis and Blur went head to head. That was the first skirmish in a long fight, as the two biggest bands of the era released much anticipated follow-ups, with all record labels, regions and single-buyers pitting the two against each other at any opportunity. There was never any doubt who’d win that opening parry, no matter the host of conspiracy theories. But then it was a poor race; Country House was simply the least worse of the two songs. Oasis justly won the subsequent album war of ’95 with their second album, the seminal What’s the Story (Morning Glory), while Blur’s fourth, The Great Escape, was picked apart and within just a few years had became synonymous with a sea-change for the band. That same strain was natural, and would start to affect Oasis as they record the bloated Be Here Now the following year.

Read more…

Britpop: 20 Years since Parklife Escaped the Traps (With Lyrics!)

Parklife and lone greyhound of Britpop

It was 20 years ago today… That Blur taught Food they could pick their own songs.  Not that the label thought so at the time.

PARKLIFE.  WHILE IT MAY NOT BE DEFINITIVE, OR BY ANY MEANS THE BEST OF BLUR, IT WAS THE ALBUM THAT KICKED EVERYTHING OFF 20 YEARS AGO TODAY.  Sure, the four month head-start on Oasis maybe definitely helped, but even then, the modern classic wouldn’t have been easily hidden.

Not as melancholy as Modern Life is Rubbish or gratuitous and premonitory as The Great Escape it was the album that made Blur the band to beat, linking their brand of what would soon be Britpop inextricably to the capital city while other big hitters kept it vague. Pulp was a different class, Oasis an unstoppable cannonball heading down the M6. While every other facet of the movement from Menswear to Mansun, Suede to Supergrass, Elastica to Embrace managed to start as many incestuous fights as class, societal and musical crusades as they could, none went the dangerously specific route of Blur.

It would be the end of the art-school charge for some time, with little tangible substance. Typically it caught up some others, from Bowie to Bassey and politics knocked out some contenders (Kula Shaker).  The collateral damage of sign-ups, try-hards and casualties from the era is remarkable.  Now 20 years on, as band members sit in their middle-ages, often far removed from the industry, it’s an anniversary that will be more reflective and melancholy than celebratory.  Just as music journalists like it.  It seems strange given the perceived nature of Britpop, through the throwback tinted glasses – but there was always an inherent amount of dark in the era.  That wasn’t all about the faddishness either, or the odd catch-all nature of something that unified every region of Britain (however Anglo-centric the majority of it was).  There was real talent and real substance int here, although not every album of the era stands up like Parklife. Fresh, sharp and ambitious it’s saved by its links to the past if not relevance to today.

At the time, the airwaves were awash with ‘British pop’.  But before R n’B, hip hop and post-post-post-MOR ruled the airwaves, it was the phenomenon (copyright, NME) that could only burn bright and brief before it collapsed into a rather disliked red dwarf.  Few bands managed more than two albums in the era and it was rare that the follow-up built consistently on the first – no matter if you’re Dodgy, Oasis or Pulp. Ambition was built into Britpop, aspiration definitely, but even if it rose above the zeitgeist, there weren’t many bands that could escape the cynicism that came hand in hand with label exploitation.

By 1998 Britain was almost unrecognisable.  And for all the cyclical Sixties pomp that fuelled Britpop (as much as the entropy that came with the Conservative party‘s final throes or Euro ‘96), no band could ape the career longevity of many of their inspirations.

Even Walthamstow Stadium could only struggled on another 13 years after making an appearance on Parklife’s album cover.

As I hope whoever nicked my Parklife T-Shirt in ‘97 knows only too well…

And Blur.  Well, from a career that always kept Trellis Towers and the Westway in sight, that album cover said it all.  It was wise to not call the album London, as much as Martin Amis’ London Fields fuelled it and Noel Gallagher saw it as “Southern England personified”.  With traces of prog, electronic, synth, waltz, vaudeville, punk, New Wave it was an album that looked to the past far more than its rather magnificent but underperforming predecessor. With the next two albums, Britpop peak The Great Escape would look to a bleak future and 1997’s post-Britpop Blur would look across the Atlantic.  But for that short time, Britpop, ushered in by Parklife as Heimdall will one day signal Ragnarok, was something special.

All together now: Cool Britannia…

Doggy

BRITPOP

(to the tune of Parklife)

A short career is a preference for the habitual nostalgia of what was known as (BRITPOP)

As boy and girl groups could be avoided if you took a route straight through what was known as (BRITPOP)

Indie got brewers droop, they got intimidated by the dirty labels

They loved a bit of it (BRITPOP)

Who’s that Mad lord marching… you should cut down on your maracas mate… get down to

Camden

[Chorus]

ALL THE LYRICS

JUST NONSENSE LYRICS

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

HAND IN HAND WITH EYE-LINER

Know what I mean?

I listened to what I wanted even on school days when I got rudely awakened by Chris Evans (STEVE WRIGHT)

I put the radio on, heard Boys & Girls and I didn’t need to think about leaving out House (BRITPOP)

I heard the southerners I sometimes heard the northerners too it gave me a sense of enormous well being (BRITPOP)

And then I was happy for the rest of the scene safe in the knowledge there would always be a bit

Of my heart devoted to it (BRITPOP)

[Chorus]

ALL THE TRY-HARDS

BEFORE THEY WERE WANNABES

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

BAND BY BAND THROUGH THEIR RECORD DEALS

It’s had nothing to do with their “progress through technology” you know?

It was all about cycles that went round and round and round

Britpop

[Chorus]

ALL THE CLASSES

IN THATCHER’S POST-SOCIETY

ALL CHANNELLING THE SIXTIES UNTIL

‘97 CHANGED EVERYTHING.

[REPEAT

… Please]

 

This September: That bizarre notion that The Great Escape was premonitory gets sent to the Dogs…   

 

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