Damon Albarn has become the type of musician to tackle many projects in his career. From the mix of hip-hop, electronic and alternative group Gorillaz to his solo album “Everyday Robots,” each project he works on is an experiment, a workspace to try new sounds and ideas. “The Magic Whip,” the first album to be released by Blur in over a decade, has a mix of Albarn’s experimental sounds as well as some of the elements that have made Blur iconic: British pop-rock with Albarn’s slightly nasally vocals on top. The majority of this album is said to be created over the course of five days in Hong Kong and has large inspiration drawn from the city itself. All of these elements added together create a mishmash of songs that are very good on their own, but are so drastically different from each other that it becomes a hodgepodge of sound when placed on the same album.
If you’re looking for that “original” Blur sound, there are a couple of tracks that can fill that need. The first track is “Lonesome Street,” which kicks off the album with an upbeat, rock song that is pure fun. “Go Out” is also a blast to listen to, even though it’s considerably slower. But these fun, electric guitar-driven, fast-tempo pieces are rare in this album. The rest of the tracks do not carry this same instrumentation and tempo, the majority of them being slow. These Radiohead-esque songs can be downright beautiful, like “Thought I Was A Spaceman,” which starts off with only Albarn’s voice and an acoustic guitar and ends with an array of instruments, ranging from electronic to string. It’s obvious that much of this album is inspired by Albarn’s solo work and even some from the work he has done with Gorillaz, but at the same time the album has its own identity.
The issue with this album is that it’s constantly trying to remind the listener that this is Blur, the same band that wrote hits such as “Song 2” and “She’s So High” that millions fell in love with, but at the same time is trying to experiment with new sounds. ”The Magic Whip” has a unique sound, but it needs to decide between the “old” Blur sound and this new experimental one. But choosing isn’t necessary — it can be both without sounding like a mess.
For the most part the mix works, but with some tracks, it feels too cluttered, too unnecessary. One of the tracks is “I Broadcast,” where there is off-key electronic beeping, which distracts from the main track. Other times, Blur’s tracks become downright odd. At one point there is a track “Ice Cream Man,” which is jarring because it tries to meld an upbeat, bubbly beat with a melancholic Albarn and slow guitar. Even in an experimental album such as this, it doesn’t belong anywhere. It’s as if Blur tried to experiment with as many forms as possible, but sometimes it just doesn’t pan out.
Despite the fact that many of these songs carry gloomy messages and have slow tempos, the album never fails to lose its fun. If Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” Gorillaz and Albarn’s solo work is something you enjoy, this album is highly recommended. The album has electronic, funk, alternative, rock and mixes all these well. For an album created in five days, “The Magic Whip” exceeds expectations and is a beautiful product.
Rating: 4 stars