Blur dissolved slowly so it follows that their reunion was protracted -- a halting reconvening that produced understated singles and excellent concerts spread out over a period of six years. Finding a headlining appearance at Japan's Tokyo Rocks festival canceled in the summer of 2013, the band holed up in a Hong Kong studio for five days, producing several reels of jams they abandoned until guitarist Graham Coxon decided to shape them into songs with the assistance of producer Stephen Street, the collaborator behind their greatest albums of the '90s. It's an unwieldy history for The Magic Whip, a record that's casually confident and so assured in its attack it feels like a continuation, not a comeback. Certainly, its moody meditations are of piece with Damon Albarn's 2014 Everyday Robots and his noir 2007 project The Good, The Bad & The Queen, but those albums, along with 2005's Demon Days, put into sharp relief that The Magic Whip belongs not to Damon, but to Blur. Often, the rhythm section of bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree announces itself through a churning undertow -- James' loping interjections on "Go Out" call attention to themselves in a manner not dissimilar to "Girls & Boys" -- but Coxon claims this record, easing the band (and listeners) into familiar territory via the bright "Lonesome Street," an evocation of Brit-pop that soon curdles into the gnarly squall of 1997's Blur and then settles into a steady thrum that's reminiscent of 13 but stripped of despair. While it retains trace elements of melancholy, The Magic Whip jettisons the internal turmoil that fueled the turn-of-the-millennium Blur albums -- 13, the record Albarn wrote in the wake of his split with Justine Frischmann, and Think Tank, the album they recorded while the band broke up -- and it also sees the world outside south London, with Albarn skewing all his observations through the prism of Hong Kong, capturing the digital isolation through the pulsating neon rush of mainland Asia. There are hooks, there are songs -- songs that sink their hooks in slowly and fully, registering in the subconscious without notice -- but it's Blur claiming their status as an art-pop band, favoring texture and mood over wit and flash. Like Everyday Robots, there's an existential loneliness thrumming throughout The Magic Whip, but there's also camaraderie, a sense that companionship can pull you through, and that's especially true of Albarn and Coxon, who prove once again to be the other's ideal collaborator, refining, expanding, and sharpening their ideas, turning a potential throwaway to something quietly resonant.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: The Demon Strings
feat: The Demon Strings