The Magic Whip (Warner Bros. / Parlophone)

Phases & Stages

Best to worst, Parklife and Think Tank, Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree did with Britpop what the Clash managed in punk: replaced its original blueprint with their own. Seventh album since shoe-glazed debut Leisure (1991) and first since kitchen sink Think Tank (2003), Hong Kong-hatched The Magic Whip opens where it all began: dance mulch. Opener "Lonesome Street" preens the avant-garde melodicism of the occasionally estranged London quartet's 13 – its Bowie in Berlin moment – but then "New World Towers" encases an old-school Albarn backpack vocal, fibrous as nylon and muffled in melancholic lo-fi mode. At the LP's best, "Go Out" pops "Song 2" distortion atop a Gorillaz-like industrial anime, and the Atari rock of "I Broadcast" updates the oneupmanship UK bash of the Nineties to Hong Kong 2115. As with 13 and Think Tank, noodling ensues ("Thought I Was a Spaceman") and melodies never dry fully ("My Terracotta Heart"), but that works both ways when "There Are Too Many of Us" marches into deep-cut territory through space and strings. And when pub drunk "Ong Ong" approximates a dashed-off co-write between John Lennon and Ray Davies, Magic Whip raises a pint to Blur.

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