This is something that I had almost given up on a few months ago. All signs pointed to the end of Blur, one of the greatest British bands of all time, but out of nowhere a new album (The Magic Whip) was announced alongside a Hyde Park show this summer, and then a few weeks later a secret show as well where the band would play through the new album from start to finish for the first time ever. The show, played at MODE in London, was for competition winners only and resulted in only a few hundred people at the venue on the night. Very intimate, the perfect way to listen to a band in my opinion. Tickets were available for collection at 5:30pm sharp and even though it was stated that people would be let in to the venue an hour later, we were swept in as soon as we were given our tickets.
The opening track, Lonesome Street, was probably the one song I was eager to hear the most because Blur have a history of incredible album openers. She’s So High, For Tomorrow, Girls & Boys, Stereotypes, Beetlebum, Tender and Ambulance are the previous album openers and each one is fantastic. “Are you ready?”, asked Damon, before Graham played the opening notes to this song. On first listen, the song very much reminded me of different periods of Blur’s illustrious career. You can immediately hear tinges of the Modern Life Is Rubbish album yet the song has a very Blur/13 period feel to it in terms of sound and feel. Just exquisite, what a perfect start to the night and the album! New World Towers was the second song and it took a more laid back approach but featured some wonderful vocals from Damon and the backup singers, who were located on the balcony to the left hand side of the band as they played. It’s a gorgeous song and already showed the different kinds of tones The Magic Whip will contain.
Third track Go Out was the first song released from The Magic Whip on the same day as the album was announced, but the live version adds some extra thump. And because it had been released already, the majority of the audience were already familiar with the lyrics and joined in with the singing. I can see this number being a crowd favourite for years to come. Ice Cream Man came next which featured a very different Blur sound, showcasing their evolution as a band. The song starts with limited instrumentation and Damon on vocals, before Graham and Alex join in, stamping their mark on the song during a beautiful solo like section. The guitar and bass weave together and even though they are playing two different parts, it’s almost like they were playing as one. Simply wonderful to listen to, a real highlight from the song and the entire show.
Thought I Was A Spaceman is a very “futuristic” sounding song that really evolves as it goes on. Different parts are added and the song builds and builds right up to the end. Plus Graham adds some vocals which is always a great thing. But the first impression I got from this (at least the live version) is that it could well be the most “epic” song Blur have done. It really hit me hard at the gig and the whole audience seemed to go quiet as if they were going through the exact same sensations that I was. The song ended just like it started, with each layer being pulled away until only the automated drums remained before coming to a halt. Sping tingling stuff! I Broadcast is the sixth song and really adds a different dimension to the allbum. It’s short, it’s fast, it’s a modern day Song 2 in some ways. A very hard sounding song with each member going off before it all comes to a sudden halt.
- Lonesome Street
- New World Towers
- Go Out
- Ice Cream Man
- Thought I Was A Spaceman
- I Broadcast
- My Terracotta Heart
- There Are Too Many Of Us
- Ghost Ship
- Ong Ong
- Trouble In The Message Centre
My Terracotta Heart is very different to any song that came before it although it can be compared to New World Towers due to it’s laid back and quiet feel. Dare I say it, but it has hints of The Good, The Bad & The Queen in it but that could be due to Damon’s acoustic guitar playing style. Next up,There Are Too Many Of Us, is a song that leaked the night before the show so a lot of fans were able to hear it beforehand. In fact an hour or so after the leak, the song was officially released worldwide on iTunes, Spotify and various other platforms. Not sure what happened there but it’s certainly a wonderful song, with the live version (just like with Go Out) adding some extra thump especially when Dave really takes off on the drums. Dave and Alex kicked off the next song, Ghost Ship, with Alex in particular laying down a very cool bassline. Graham’s guitar in this song is quite simple compared to the feedback controlled sections in previous songs but, as always, there is a beauty to his playing. The percussionist joining Blur at this show really stands out and adds a different flavour as well. This is yet another song which show how much variety there is on this album.
Pyongyang arguably features the best guitar playing from Graham so far, at least in my opinion. It’s a very dark sounding song and reminds me a lot of the Blur self-titled period, for example songs like Death Of A Party and Essex Dogs. There is a driving kind of feel to this song as it goes along with the audience being exposed to the genius of all four members. There really is something about this song that I can’t quite put my finger on. Another “epic” song for sure. Ong Ong in comparison is the complete opposite (not in a bad way), as I got the impression it was designed to be a sing-a-long song for the entire audience. If it was then mission accomplished because it was seriously infectious and after the song finished, Damon played a bit of it back to the audience and everyone sang the lyrics back to him. In terms of style, it’s a bit like Lonesome Road. It could have been writen in the Modern Life Is Rubbish/Parklife period but has a very Blur/13 feel to it, mainly thanks to Graham’s guitar. Mirrorball is the final song from The Magic Whip and began with some very thick sounding chords from Graham which are soaked in tremolo. You really get a sense that Graham is everywhere on this album and the leader in terms of the music being played. Afterall, he did put the album together with producer Stephen Street from recordings the band made in Hong Kong back in 2013. It’s a wonderful conclusion to the show (and the album), and I’ll say it yet again, reminds me a lot of the Blur/13 period but with some modern touches to it. After the song finished Damon told the audience, “Thank you, that was The Magic Whip. I hope you got something out of it.” The whole place erupted in applause and rightly so!
As an encore, Blur played Trouble In The Message Centre from their Parklife album, a song they hadn’t played in 20 years. It was a great surprise for everyone in the audience and a wonderful way to end a very memorable evening. There are a lot of Blur fans (myself included) that would love the band to play songs they didn’t play in 2009 and 2012-14 and I imagine the inclusion of Trouble In The Message Centre will make them very very happy indeed. It certainly made me very happy! But the overall feeling from this show is that the new songs definitely wouldn’t be out of place alongside the Blur classics when the band (inevitably) tour the album this summer. The Magic Whip seems to be a natural successor to 13, without taking anything away from Think Tank of course. But this is the first Blur album in 16 years to feature all four members on each song.
Yes, even though Blur came back as a four piece in 2009 you really get the sense that this new album is the REAL return of Blur. They are a band that pride themselves on their past material and Damon Albarn himself has said he wouldn’t want to taint the legacy of the band with an average album just to please the fans. But with The Magic Whip, at least based on the performance from this night, the band’s legacy has only grown in size. I really get the sense that this is a new chapter for Blur, a start of something new where they no longer need to “live off” past glories (if that’s the right term). This show confirmed to me that The Magic Whip is an incredible album, certainly up there with the best Blur have done. Simply amazing. One of the best shows I’ve been to, very very special indeed.
P.S: Thank you Dave.