After years of teasing us, Blur have finally announced that they are releasing a brand new album, their first in over a decade. ‘The Magic Whip’ is out on April 27, and the first single from it is the raucous ‘Go Out’.
I was only 14 years old when 1999’s ’13’ was released. It turned out to be the last proper Blur album, since guitarist Graham Coxon had left before the band released 2003’s disappointing ‘Think Tank’. Despite never officially announcing a split, the three remaining members of Blur gradually drifted off their separate ways. In 2009 they announced that they would be reuniting with Graham, and played an astonishing Glastonbury headline set as well as a few other shows. In 2010 they released a new song ‘Fool’s Day’ as a limited edition 7″ single, and 2012 saw them return with the single ‘Under The Westway and its b side ‘The Puritan’, which coincided with a triumphant series of UK shows.
Since reforming, the band have constantly been questioned about the possibility of a new album. It became quite a saga in fact. “Every now and then we like to meet up and record a few things,” Coxon told NME back in 2011. “Maybe turning the tape recorder on and jamming around a few ideas … I suppose it might turn into an LP in six years or something … We just do stuff when we feel like it.” In 2012, ’13’ producer William Orbit claimed that Damon Albarn halted some “amazing” recording sessions to the dismay of the rest of the band. During a 2013 gig in Hong Kong, Damon told the crowd: “We were supposed to be playing in Japan next week,” said Albarn on stage during a live show in Hong Kong. “Due to unforeseen circumstances we were unable to go there, although we will go there at some point. So we have a week in Hong Kong, and we thought it would be a good time to try to record another record, so we’re going to make one here in Hong Kong.” However, fans were left disappointed when Damon sad in a 2014 interview that “I just haven’t got the time,” to make a new Blur album, and that the other members were “just all doing other stuff”, adding that “There is material, but I can’t foresee us in the near future being in a position to finish it.” In July 2014 he claimed that the album “may just be one of those records that never comes out”, blaming the Hong Kong heat for the band returning home before work could be finished on the record. “If I’d been able to write the lyrics there and then about being there, we’d have finished the record,” he said. “I like making records in short periods of time… Sometimes, if you can’t do it all at once, it dissipates…”
I had given up hope on Blur ever releasing another record. Some fans were getting sick of the constant “will they, won’t they” and worried that these British legends were becoming a nostalgia act. ‘Black Book’ author Drew was one of them: “if you’re not going to make a legitimate attempt at making new music, please call it a day. I couldn’t bear to see your legacy get chipped away bit by bit any more.” That full article can be seen HERE. With Damon announcing his involvement in a new stage musical, and the news that he has reactivated Gorillaz, everyone assumed that any more Blur activity would be a while away. So today’s news has thrilled me like no other news ever has before.
Earlier today The Sun carried a mysterious advert, showing an ice-cream cone and Chinese symbols lit up in neon. After the NME translated the text, they reported that it read “Blur: The Magic Whip”, prompting rumours of an album announcement. Surely enough, a press conference took place at a restaurant in London’s Chinatown, where the band confirmed the release of the new record, along with a massive Hyde Park show that will take place in June. While the rest of the world thought that we’d never hear a new Blur album, it turns out that Coxon revisited the Hong Kong sessions and presented them to long-time producer Stephen Street, who went on to develop them with the guitarist. Albarn explained that while he was touring and promoting his solo album ‘Everyday Robots’ last year, he was approached by Graham to see if anything could be salvaged from the recordings. “It was something we did off our own backs,” Coxon explained. “It was quite an overwhelming project. There was jamming and sonic landscaping. I said, ‘Damon, can I have a little chat? I said, ‘Do you mind if I have a look at this music and see if there’s anything worth pursuing. Id compare it to someone’s notes, scrawling all over the page. We slung it over to Stephen [Street] and he looked through bits of it.” Damon and Graham returned to the studio in December to write lyrics and complete the record.
“They did some editing and some production work and sent around the initial tracks and we all realised we’d done something quite special there,” said drummer Dave Rowntree. “There was 18 months [in-between recording the songs] which allowed us to have a bit of perspective on it. When they played it back, that was the time everyone got very excited.” Since the album’s completion last year, the band have kept information about the new record under wraps. “We had a blood pact between us about who we were allowed to tell and who we weren’t so I’ve had to do a lot of catch up phone calling today!” said Rowntree. “A fair few angry people going ‘Why wasn’t I in the circle of trust!” The songs featured on “The Magic Whip’ were influenced by their surroundings in Hong Kong. “There’s nothing pastoral about it – it’s very urban,” said Albarn. “It wasn’t a flash studio, it was pretty claustrophobic and hot. We went in and knocked about loads of ideas.” One track, Ong Ong, was described by bassist Alex James as a “banger”, while ‘Pyongyang’ is said to describe Albarn’s thoughts on North Korea. “It’s my impression of the place, in an abstract, veiled way,” he said. You can watch a video of the press conference HERE.
I’m both excited and very nervous about what ‘The Magic Whip’ is going to sound like. This is the band that soundtracked my youth, and because of that it’s inevitable that nothing is ever going to live up to the songs they released during those years. Although I have longed for a new Blur record for years, the last thing I’d want would be for them to record songs because they felt forced. To make a great record, you often need to be inspired. I just hope that this album is more than a load of recordings made under pressure. It’s also a bit odd that this seminal band are releasing a comeback album comprised of songs that have been put together in such an unorthodox and non-organic way. But it’s a relief to report that the abrasive ‘Go Out’ is a very promising taste of what’s to come, and comes complete with some superb guitar noise from Graham, something that ‘Think Tank’ was missing.
Welcome back boys, we’ve missed you.
‘The Magic Whip’ tracklisting
New World Towers
Ice Cream Man
Thought I Was A Spaceman
My Terracotta Heart
There Are Too Many Of Us