Cut to 2009, when, like quarreling lovers who just can’t help but get back together, the group reunited to play a handful of British shows with no plans of recording—at least at the time. Years later, in 2013, the band found itself stuck in Hong Kong after a canceled festival gig and decided to kill some time by booking a studio. While Albarn was busy promoting his debut solo album, Everyday Robots, Coxon, James and Rowntree continued to work on the material from the studio jam session that eventually became The Magic Whip before showing it to Albarn, who then added his own parts. As dysfunctional as the nearly two-year process might seem on the surface, this idiosyncratic approach not only worked, but it may have been the only way the record could have come about. “It was made by accident,” says Albarn. “It wouldn’t have been as good otherwise. I would’ve been too self-conscious about making another Blur record.” Coxon agrees: “I don’t think we’ve got the patience. If we put aside three months in the studio, after a week we’d be bored.”
This fractured, occasionally sneaky creative process has the kind of easygoing energy and sense of low-stakes experimentation of a bunch of older musicians jamming, but apart from the eased-back tempos, The Magic Whip is, in many ways, the closest the band’s come to dancy LP The Great Escape, released 20 years ago. Musically, says Albarn, “you should get to know what you’re doing by the time you’re approaching 50, and that can really get in the way when it comes to making a good alt-rock record. In a way, we retain that original sort of genius—if we don’t think about it too much.”
The unconventional arrangement, though, works. “It’s a bit like a couple saying, ‘We should go out to dinner this week,’” says Coxon. “‘You go out for a meal Wednesday, and I’ll go out for a meal Thursday.’” Coxon is quick to point out that there’s not still bad blood—at least not like there was in the old days. “When we do come together, it’s always kind of a celebration,” he adds. This rejuvenated, celebratory energy that the band has found seems to be contagious, since it’s playing a venue nearly seven times the size as the one it headlined during its peak years.
This time around, a happy, wiser Blur seems to be upending rock’s rules for how bands are supposed to act when they age. It may be better to burn out than to fade away, but perhaps it’s best if somehow you can avoid doing either. Cheers, lads.
Blur headlines Madison Square Garden Fri 23.