Should you give an album a mandatory four stars (at least) for mentioning your hometown? For, in the second verse of Lonesome Street, the opening track to Blur’s eighth studio album The Magic Whip, Damon Albarn mentions the, “The 5:14 to East Grinstead.” Brilliant.
Hang on. I can’t help feeling however, that Albarn is being pseudo-critical. After all, preceding lyrical turns, such as, “What’ve you got / mass produced in somewhere hot,” hardly frames my West Sussex birthplace in a good light. Let me rephrase therefore, should you give an album a mandatory “0 mark” for attacking your hometown?
I’ve digressed. Lonesome Street is quintessentially Blur, to the extent the vocals sometimes sound more like a tribute band than the real thing. Nevertheless, it judders along with some well-placed deployments of synths and similarly accordant backing-vocal swoons. However, whilst say, Country House or Song 2 have that panache that has transfigured them into cross-decade hits, Lonesome Street doesn’t share the same verve, or élan. Lonesome Street, thus, is endemic of the encompassing problem with The Magic Whip - that it is awfully average.
This is the sort of album that one is attracted towards giving a “4⁄5” aside from the aforementioned Southeast England associated poetry. I could say, regarding The Magic Whip, “A solid return! Can’t wait to see them on tour…”, and leave it at that. Yet, whilst this is by no means a bad piece of work, as a Blur fan, there is little chance I will ever return to it since the average nature of The Magic Whip means it has very little replay value. Don’t get me wrong, Go Out has a decent refrain with a well-executed progressive dynamic, but I will hardly be clamoring for it to appear on my shuffle in lieu of Parklife.
Having said that, the center of the album is rather good. Ice Cream Man has a very Gorillaz-esque synth ostinato to it. Similarly, My Terracotta Heart is a diverting listen and is probably my pick from the album, seeing as it falls in a happy milieu between The Universal and Girls and Boys. The tail end, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly stack up to the rest of the work, but that’s hardly an unusual phenomenon. Ghost Ship, however, with its ska-tinged bass line, will surely slot right into the summer playlists at gastro-pubs nationwide.
Blur are a really good band and this is a decent album. Ultimately, The Magic Whip is irrelevant in that their legend status has been secured for as long as I can remember and I’m sure most of us will be far more excited about the potential for more live events in the next year or so than the prospect of listening to the pretty, but slightly turgid Pyongyang on repeat. Blur are playing a series of dates at Hyde Park in June and I’m extremely pumped but, having digested The Magic Whip, I think I’ll still be bawling requests for Beetlebum or Coffee and TV instead of New World Towers.