The Bubble Album Reviews, No. 35.

‘The Magic Whip’ – Blur

It’s been twelve long years since the release of Blur’s last studio album and almost sixteen years since a record with Coxon who was unceremoniously booted out of the recording session of Think Tank. But boy was it worth the wait! (though I still would have appreciated this half a decade ago…)

The Magic Whip, whilst veering away from their traditional sound, proves that Albarn & Co still have what it takes to mix with the very best. The influence on Blur’s music from their hiatal side-projects is noticeable, especially that of Albarn’s Gorillaz. Indeed, with the heavy use of synths, many of ‘The Magic Whip’’s tracks would not seem out of place on a Gorillaz LP. However, this record still reeks of Blur and their unique signature, combining elements of Blur’s past work. I struggle to name a comparable album with turns of such magnitude and such variety in the space of an hour.

With its brash neon cover, you could have been forgiven for expecting a return to the arena crowd-pleasing style which enabled their domination during the height of 90s Brit-pop wars and gained them such popularity. However, this LP has been very delicately crafted; it is precise and poppy throughout, with the softest of adjectives appropriately chosen to describe its content. Every song has been crafted with the greatest of care, with the exception of my personal favourite song on this LP ‘Go Out’ which adds a certain swagger.

‘Lonesome Street’, a throwback to the days of Parklife declaring ‘it’s got to be that time again’, triumphantly opens and immediately excites. Albarn’s voice has softened with age, but the melodic and haunting ‘My Terracotta Heart’ and ‘There are too many of us’ (which feature midway through the LP) are nonetheless outstanding. ‘Ice Cream Man’ sits and grooves for three and a half wonderful minutes, sucking you into Albarn’s universe, before the drop to the caressing lyrics of ‘Though I was a Spaceman’.

The one criticism I have of this LP is its decline in the crucial final minutes. Coxon declared before the LP was released that Blur had an additional 20 songs in the locker, so perhaps a few of the more uplifting of these would have been preferable? The final two tracks ‘Ong Ong’ and ‘Mirrorball’ lack the poppy synth and guitar laced hooks of their predecessors and, as a listener, I began to lose interest. It seems almost as if Blur themselves lose interest towards the end of their recording.

Another studio release has not yet been planned, but it seems that, amidst the omnipresent rumours of an Oasis reunion these past few months, we may just see a re-ignition of the competitive fire of the 90s (this time probably with less drugs and swearing). Maybe – definitely, maybe – we won’t have to wait the same amount of time for another record.

Blur is due to headline Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival this June, as well as appearing at the Isle of Wight Festival and also at Benicassim. Drummer Rowntree has so far ruled out the possibility of the foursome headlining Worthy Farm…but then again, Blur over the years have taught us to never say never. Ollie Jackson

Overall: B+

‘Foil Deer’- Speedy Ortiz

It’s always a shame when, on finally getting to hear an album you’ve been waiting ages for, the pre-release tracks are by far the best on it. This is the case with Speedy Ortiz’ ‘Foil Deer’ unfortunately. First single, ‘Raising the Skate’ proves a great dominating and triumphant would-be opener, being preceded only by the weird and unnecessary ‘Good Neck’, a short gabble of feedback turning into a soft semi-song. After ‘Raising the Skate’ comes album standout ‘The Graduates’, the hook of ‘I was the best at coming second place’ knowingly at odds with the preceding tracks chorus lyric of ‘I’m not bossy, I’m the boss, caller of the shot’ provides the kind of off-kilter archness that Speedy Ortiz do best. Whilst these two tracks provide a dazzling one-two at the start of the record, it’s from now that it gets a little incoherent and less listenable. Aside from the pleasantly unexpected R’n’B inflected ‘Puffer’, the sunny pop-punk of ‘Swell Content’ and Elliot Smith-esque ‘My Dead Girl’ there isn’t too much to get the juices flowing.

At the risk of falling into the well-trodden journalistic cliché of comparing them to Pavement, something the band themselves are probably sick of (to be fair, lead singer Sadie Dupuis did used to front an all-female tribute act: Babement), it seems as if Speedy might have released their Wowee Zowee too early. By this I mean that at times it seems as though the record, and tracks within it, eschew convention for the mere sake of it. Shifting time signatures, dissonant noises and perverse lyrics all make for a somewhat unsatisfactory full listen through. Overall though, I don’t want to belittle what there is to enjoy from the album through the fact that I had already heard what are three standout tracks of the year so far, which help to make up a half-dozen or so core that makes this album a worthwhile collection. Lewis Lloyd-Kinnings

Overall: B-

‘Fast Food’ – Nadine Shah

It is customary for a music ‘journalist’ in a review to name other acts that an artist in question sounds like. Nick Cave. Savages. PJ Harvey. Happy?

Actually the thing I love most about the record is Nadine’s voice, more specifically: her accent. Its wonderful to hear North East tones outside of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway: ” annd there wus nuffin else to doo-oo, but faw-awl in lu-uvv” she repeats over and over on ‘Nothing Else to Do’. Her voice is also deep, very deep, and she delivers vocals in a manner that make her lyrics seem utterly believable, and her character warm, unsure, tragic. Just listen to ‘Matador’ or ‘Divided’ if you want to realise the true power of her voice.

Also a darkly comic artist, Nadine’s lyrics on ‘Fool’ (also the most musically interesting track) show a dry and witty response to a come-on by an up-his-own-arsehole (one can only assume) bearded type of Gentleman:

“You fashion words that fools lap up / And call yourself a poet / Tattooed pretense upon your skin /So everyone will know it”

“And I guessed your favorites one by one / And all to your surprise / From damned Nick Cave to Kerouac / They stood there side by side”

before adding that the Hipster in question should “let the other girls Indulge the crap that [he] excretes”

I haven’t actually mentioned a track from the second half of the album yet and, alas, this is where struggles slightly to keep my interest: ‘Washed Up’, ‘The Gin One’, ‘Big Hands’ and ‘Living’ are, musically at least, relatively bland: much less dark in their sound, they also lack the bass that compliments her vocals so well on the first half of the LP. They lose what gives Nadine her edge, as a result they sound quite generic.

But lets stick to the positives: much of this album is fantastic and whilst it may not be ground breaking it certainly has a distinctive stamp on it: the accent, the deepness of the voice, the screechy guitars, the deep sarcasm, the trance-like bass; a perfect album for a late winter night, alone, with lit candles and a cigarette out of the window. ‘Stealing Cars’ is surely the her greatest example of these qualities, it has you gripping onto the edge of the table for reasons I can’t quite explain.

Fast Food is a welcome addition to the North East’s musical output and for much of its duration a genuinely compelling album. Oliver Stephenson

Overall: B

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