In the world of journalism, things easily go awry as much as they go according to plan. While it seems that most artists do hundreds of interviews on a regular promotional cycle, that doesn’t mean they speak to everyone. Sometimes you arrange to interview an artist and it goes smoothly. Sometimes you never even get a response to your request. And sometimes the only opportunity arrives when it’s not actually opportune for you. In these circumstances, if you really love an album, you improvise.
Upon the announcement of the new Blur album, their first in 12 years, I had hoped to interview frontman Damon Albarn or guitarist Graham Coxon. Blur have long been a favourite of mine, ever since a friend tipped me off in the ninth grade and I took a cassette copy of their debut album, Leisure, out from the Binbrook Public Library. I consider their eight-album catalogue one of the finest by any artist in the last 25 years, and I usually see red when anyone limits their achievements to simply the second-best Britpop act or that band who wrote that one jock jam. Blur’s music is astute and sophisticated, but also classical and accessible. It is exactly what pop music should be. And I needed some kind of outlet to write about it.
In case you need one, here is a quick recap of what Blur has been up to since they went on hiatus after 2003’s Think Tank. Damon Albarn has led a successful solo career, found mainstream success with Gorillaz and gallivanted across genres with many diverse projects. Graham Coxon has also upheld a solo career that seems to satisfy his needs. And the other two, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree, fruitfully pursued interests in cheese and aviation, respectively. Over the years as Blur went on hiatus and then reformed for some gigs they coyly teased that a new album was coming. There was the perfectly named Record Store Day single “Fool’s Day” in 2010, and even more assuring, a double A-side single “Under the Westway” and “The Puritan” released to coincide with the London Olympics in 2012, the same year that saw them reissue all of their albums. In interviews, the members were constantly dropping word that it was coming, but it seemed to always be followed with a question mark.
But here we are with The Magic Whip, their first full-length in a dozen years. Without digressing into a formal album review, I will say that the eighth Blur album completely reinforces my argument. While they no longer write songs as immediate and commercial as “Girls & Boys” and “Country House,” they have made an album that is progressive and exciting – not the sort of thing you’d normally hear from a band that formed 27 years ago. Blur could never have ended things on such a faltering conclusion as Think Tank, not without bringing Albarn and Coxon back together. (Read the Wikipedia page if you want to know more about how the two of them stitched this album together.) Some of the best songs they’ve ever written are on here, like the graceful string-led “There Are Too Many Of Us,” the mournfully futuristic “Thought I Was A Spaceman,” and even the jaunty “Lonesome Street,” for the fans starved of the Britpop days.
When I first pitched the idea of this post, I had yet to hear The Magic Whip. There is only so little you can write about an album when you haven’t heard it, so in this moment of desperation I turned to my five-year-old daughter to bail me out. Above are five illustrations of Blur album covers she did using her array of Crayolas. Why only five? Well, I did try to get her to draw all eight of the album covers, but what can I say? She didn’t really like the covers for Blur, 13 and The Great Escape, so didn’t feel bothered to draw them. Though she is more Taylor Swift than Blur at this point in her life, her familiarity with “Song 2” and its “woo hoo” chorus (I put it on a mix CD for her last birthday) helped convince her to take on such a task. That, and the promise of an ice cream cone that looks as tasty as the one on the cover of The Magic Whip. I am proud to say, however, that she thoroughly enjoyed Modern Life Is Rubbish, from beginning to end when I played it for her. So I feel some hope that she will grow up to be a big enough fan to maybe, just maybe ask me to compile a “deep cuts” Blur mix. Because I’m dying for her to appreciate a song like “Eine Kleine Lift Musik” the way I do.