Blur, Josh Groban, Zac Brown Band, Raekwon and More Music Reviews

Get this week's record release rundown.

ByAllan Raible
May 03, 2015, 3:18 AM
PHOTO: Josh Groban performs songs from his album "Stages" at The Shops at Columbus Circle on April 28, 2015 in New York.
Josh Groban performs songs from his album "Stages" at The Shops at Columbus Circle on April 28, 2015 in New York.
Getty Images

— -- intro: This week ‘90s Britpop legends Blur makes a triumphant return, Josh Groban sings some classic show tunes, the members of the Zac Brown Band continue to smudge the edges between country and rock, Wu-Tang member Raekwon brings along an all-star cast on his latest effort, Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore drops a stunning instrumental electronic record as “MG,” Everclear members re-establish their rock roots (even though they have always been a rock band) and Canadian chill outfit Braids releases another enveloping, sonically stunning collection. Spring is firmly in gear, as is the release calendar.

quicklist: 1title: Blur’s "The Magic Whip” ****text: It’s been 12 years since Blur dropped their last full-length, “Think Tank.” It has been 16 years since they released an album with their full lineup, since guitarist Graham Coxon left the band in the middle of recording “Think Tank.” A lot has changed since that last record. Damon Albarn’s budding Gorillaz side-project continued to be an enduring hit. He also formed two other side bands (The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Rocket Juice & The Moon) and released a pair of solo records. Graham Coxon went on to release a number of solo records (The most notable probably being 2004’s remarkable “Happiness In Magazines” ) Bassist Alex James became a food columnist and he wrote a book, while drummer Dave Rowntree became a political activist.

With all this change, you’d expect “The Magic Whip” to sound far removed from the band’s other work. But like the three stray, stand-alone singles the band has released in recent years -- “Fool’s Day,” “The Puritan” and “Under The Westway” -- this album builds really nicely on their legacy. “Lonesome Street,” for instance, sounds like it has a “Parklife”-esque jauntiness with a fuzziness more akin to their self-titled album and “13.”

Maybe this album doesn’t stand apart because this band have always been the biggest shape-shifters of the ‘90s “Britpop” era, comfortable with every genre from punk to new-wave to more traditional Kinks-style classic sounds. So, in some ways, this album just feels like they picked up where they left off. That being said, while it does stand well with every one of their other records, the majority of this album has a cold, alienating electronic tinge. The tone is “Ice Cream Man” goes well with the neon-lit, Chinese-charactered cone that is on the cover. This is a starkly modern-sounding record, building off of some of the darker aspects of “Think Tank” while still maintaining a bit of a playful edge. While their tremendously underrated last album was a very political, dire response to a post-9/11 world, this album has some lighter moments, although you can’t help but associate the sadly desolate “New World Towers” with ghosts of that tragedy. In general, this album is a potent mix of fuzzy guitars and bizarre synths.

There’s also a bit of an impending, apocalyptic sense of melancholy in both “There Are Too Many of Us” and the strikingly Bowie-esque “Thought I Was A Spaceman.” Even “Go Out,” which on the surface is a rocker, has a bit of a disturbed undercurrent.

The members of Blur still know who they are and what works. “The Magic Whip” is often oddly captivating. Let’s hope this is the start of a new beginning for this band and that we don’t have to wait another 12 years for a follow-up.

Focus Tracks:

“Lonesome Street” They chose wisely to begin the album with probably the most “Blur-sounding” song on the set, finding a middle-ground somewhere between the playful “Country House” and the immediate fuzziness of “Song 2” and “Bugman.” Yep, that is the stuff, alright!

“I Broadcast” This song pairs an ‘80s-style flinching quality with some grungy almost surf-like guitars. That keyboard line sure is bizarrely interesting.

“Ice Cream Man” There is something about this song that makes me tremendously uneasy. Perhaps it is the tension between the subject matter (which should be happy) and the song’s menacingly hypnotic tone. You get the feeling this ice cream man is up to something sinister and the song’s cryptic lyrics add to that notion. This song is actually more reminiscent of Albarn’s work with Gorillaz more than previous Blur work.

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