Sound — 7
It has been an interesting time to be a Blur advocate in recent years. After embarking on a lengthy five year hiatus back in 2003, the alternative rock group reunited to serious commercial acclaim in what soon progressed into a documentary, recognition at the 2012 Brit Awards, and even a headlining performance at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. This is quite the resume for a band who first found prominence back in the late 1980s to achieve upon putting aside their differences, and yet it didn't seem as though the members of Blur would be able to tolerate one another long enough to deliver a follow-up to their previous studio album, 2003's "Think Tank," especially considering reports that mainman Damon Albarn had seemingly placed an embargo on new studio recordings.
Longtime Blur advocates finally have the eighth studio album they have been waiting more than a decade for, and it all came out of a tough situation for the band. Upon making their way to Japan to make a festival appearance for an event that was ultimately cancelled, the members of Blur allegedly managed to take five vacant days and turn that into a new record. As such, the culture of Hong Kong is anything but subliminal when it comes to "The Magic Whip," beginning with the album's traditional neon-lit cover artwork. The city also provided strong inspiration for Albarn, and when the entire performance is tied together by a rawer sound that's provided by the small studio that was employed during the recording sessions, we wind up with one of the more interesting installments from Blur to date.
The album starts off on an energetic note with the moderately indie rock-accented "Lonesome Street," which is centered around a strong rhythmic groove highlighted by punk chord progressions and moderately relaxed vocals with a distinctive snarl. "New World Towers" is more of an unusual transition with complimentary instrumentation serving as the foundation for some rather eerie vocals, however the album finds it's way back onto the track with the melancholic overtones of "Go Out." Moderately demented vocal harmonies lead the way on this nightmarish composition that ultimately plays to the record's advantage. We find a similar breed of alt rock on "Ice Cream Man," which takes the familiar childhood chant of "Here comes the Ice Cream Man" and manages to make it sound like the theme song for some B-grade dairy-inspired horror film.
"Thought I Was a Spaceman" reinforces this style of melancholic isolation that only Blur can pull off with admirable precision, as atmospheric synthesizer arrangements and articulate guitar work completes the sonic compilation. Taking a step away from the theatrics and introducing a moderate political edge, "I Broadcast" also marks the return of Blur's rock-oriented side; particularly, guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James find their way to the table by reinforcing a momentum that only occasionally is encouraged. It seems as though they're the ones in the lineup who have their foot on the gas pedal throughout "The Magic Whip," and when the throttle is engaged the end result is consistently memorable.
Lyrics — 8
Lead vocalist Damon Albarn keeps everything sounding remarkably Blur-like when it comes down to the assortment of styles found throughout "The Magic Whip." While the sheer notion of incorporating both upbeat punk rock anthems and reflective songs with a Pink Floyd-esque sense of spectral humor would be enough to discourage a band from entering the studio when such thoughts are being presented for a single studio album, and yet it's something that has become sort of a trademark for this English rock unit. As such, Albarn remains dedicated to the effort by appropriately tackling the proper amount of attitude or emotion, which is something that's even more surprising considering it was all seemingly accomplished in less than a week's time.
Overall Impression — 7
It's been twelve years since dedicated Blur fans were presented with a new studio album, and the following question has since been posed repeatedly: "Does it live up to all the hype?" Remarkably, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. "The Magic Whip" may be one of the more unique installments of the band's catalog, but perhaps that's also what helps keep it's alluring appeal.