Wednesday 17 January 2018

Britpop's barrow boys whip it good

Reasons to be cheerful on this delightful Saturday: Blur return to the fray today with their first studio album in - yikes - 12 years.

For a band who were brisk at churning out the albums in the early 90s, this amounts to several lifetimes.

Magic Whip, with its jaunty neon cover, is the band's first offering since 2003's Think Tank.

Depending on who you ask, that last opus was either proof positive of a bunch of chameleon-like geniuses, or the sound of a band in crisis.

Sure enough, Graham Coxon left the outfit during the recording of the album, which ended up bearing the hallmarks of Albarn's, um, experimental streak. Then, Alex James took off to the sticks to make cheese. Dave Rowntree set his sights on politics.

It all pointed to one inescapable truth... Blur were a band headed for the house, the very big house, in the sky.

Throughout the noughties, when bands of every stripe were doffing their cap at the Essex four-piece, Blur themselves didn't have much of a dog in the race.

But rumours of their demise appeared greatly exaggerated in the end.

Their reunion tour in 2009, which included a festival stop-off at Oxegen, saw them perform at arguably their finest, their most muscular and their most finely attuned.

Carousing on a great fluffy wave of nostalgia is one thing, however… coming good on a textbook comeback is quite another.

So, half a decade later, here we are.

Coxon is back in the fold. So, too, is producer Stephen Street, who presided over the studio desk for Blur's self-titled 1997 release.

Albarn admits that the album was conceived in a fever dream over five days, when the band were at a loose end in Japan after a handful of cancelled tour dates.

It doesn't sound like anyone's idea of a rush job. On Go Out and Lonesome Street, Coxon's trademark choppy guitars are there; so too are Albarn's louche barrow-boy vocals.

It's all very cheery and playful, and is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone who recalls the salad days of Adidas tracksuit tops, snakebites and snogs on the bus to Feile.

Blur were the standout stars of the Britpop era. But this album proves that they're more then just a shimmering relic from days of yore.

As comebacks go, this truly is masterclass stuff.


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