There’s Chinese writing on the cover of the new Blur album, and when you open the liner notes to uncover any further mummified Blur truths, it looks for a second like everything’s going to be Chinese. This is trivial, and also noteworthy, depending on how you look at it.
First of all, allow me to probably dash the hopes of the My Morning Jacket pennant-wavers and other general Paul Reveres out there with any embryonic faith that they’ll make the best album of this year: I’ll tell you right now, it’s probably not better than The Magic Whip. In other words, TMW is going to spur nationality jealousy on a seismic scale, probably to a violent extent in some eclectic neighborhoods in New York and Philadelphia, so it’s understandable that Blur would want to go incognito here — not really, but at least displace some of the inevitable American idea that, yeah, this is just what the British do, dark pop, with a textural production playing like a seven-course meal cooked by your bloody very own mum, and we’ve gotten used to the fact that they just do it way better than we Americans.
But really, I never got the whole jealousy thing. I take what Camera Obscura said: “I need all the friends I can get”, and alter it slightly: “I need all the chord progressions I can get.” Like, just last night I was lamenting the dearth of recent Radiohead-like brilliance in new change advancements (recent Radiohead material equally culpable in this). And I got to wondering if we’d ever hear another band traipse out such spooky magic as “In Limbo” from Kid A or “Sail to the Moon” from Hail to the Thief.
See, it always comes from a source unexpected. Compounded by the fact that Damon Albarn had just put out an ultimately forgettable solo album just last year, and with the fact that this album got like zero hype in the States (though I’m no expert, but I doubt the British press is quite as incompetent in trumpeting landmark pop bastions, especially given that the band is British), a new installment from these lads was the last thing for which I was preparing. Get this: I found this album at the library, thought it looked cool, but I actually thought the band name was “Blurt.” Apparently a case of brain degradation in an adult alcoholic, I didn’t take into account that the “T” would have to go to the word “The” of the album title, but there was actually no space between the band field and the title field… anyway, result: I listened to this album with entire impartiality, and ended up nodding my head saying, “Damn, this is pretty good.”
Blur just GET how to make an album. But don’t let it deceive you, it’s not that simple: it’s full band inspiration, everyone getting on board. If this album would have come out in like ’07, up through about ’10, there would have been exorbitant pressure on them to measure up to the frat-boy visceral thrill of Think Tank, and they would have just ended up banging an extra line of coke, trying to outdo themselves. This TIME is exactly what they needed, to take stock, reinvent what they are as a band in this increasingly technological time, figure how bassist Alex James shall fit into the eventually, uniquely funky “Ghost Ship,” how they’re going to pull off actually sounding like a BAND under the, forgive me, studly songwriting of Albarn (“Ice Cream Man”, Radiohead-harking “Thought I Was a Spaceman”). Finally, Blur sound like men at work who just don’t care that much about anything, except making great music. They sound like individuals ACTED UPON by increasing technology, rather men truly living in it. Their hearts are still radiating firmly from the glory days: the days of Wire, Love, the New York Dolls, even Supergrass, all the bands that made rock and roll when it was truly the day of rock and roll. The result is a slippery, porcelain-like soundscape. These songs sound like they’ll crumble apart if you pick them up, but ironically they’re made timeless through this, with one irreplaceable ingredient: happiness. Oh, and Chinese incognito.