Another look at Blur’s excellent new album, The Magic Whip. This was written by famed critic, David Fricke, and taken from the May 7th issue of Rolling Stone…
How Blur Won the Brit-Pop War
The band’s first album in more than a decade is a dark, seductive set that cements a legacy.
In the Nineties, Oasis won the major Brit-pop battles: worldwide album sales, U.K. Number One singles and gossip-column yardage. But their archrivals, Blur, soundly beat them in exploration and legacy. Oasis wanted to be as big as the Beatles and the Who combined; Blur embodied those bands’ impatient forward march. At their studio peak—the five albums from 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish to 1999’s 13—they dissected the generational malaise behind Brit-pop’s lad-ish swagger in a hook-smart rush of mod crunch, shoegazer psychedelia, dance-floor invention, sumptuous balladry and angular alternative rock.
Blur now take the endurance trophy, too. Oasis broke up in 2009, while Blur’s classic lineup—singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree—has made its first new album in 16 years, one as quixotic and seductive in its modern searching and subversive pop highs as those Nineties winners. The Magic Whip is named after a Chinese brand of firecracker, and Blur recorded the guts of its 12 songs with explosive impulse in Hong Kong after a big Far East gig was canceled. Albarn—Blur’s lyricist, whose solo work and collaborations draw liberally from Asia and Africa—drops local references in the gauzy drift of “Ghost Ship” (“Swinging on a cable/Up to Po Lin,” a Buddhist monastery) and the tiki-bar kitsch of “Ong Ong” (“I want to be with you/On a slow boat to Lantao”).
But there is darker exotica in the album’s spare electronics and hard turns, like the swerve from the Kinks-like “Lonesome Street” to the spongy trip-hop of “New World Towers.” The endless neon and digital addiction in the latter song (“Log in your name and pray 24 hours”); the contradictory funk and willful isolation in “Go Out”: This is travel without resolution, an open ticket through a world made smaller by smartphones at the expense of sincere connection. In “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” Albarn sounds like David Bowie’s Major Tom falling through clouds of church organ and Coxon’s sighing guitar. “People like me fight to keep the demons in/But we never succeeded,” Albarn admits. It’s a gorgeous trip with a cold landing.
Albarn has become a multidiscipline star with bands like the hip-hop conceit Gorillaz and as a theatrical composer, while Coxon has a fine line of wayward solo LPs. They were already too restless, in love with overreach, at Blur’s original height to make truly perfect albums. That hasn’t changed. The Magic Whip could have used more taut “Song 2″-style yippee like “I Broadcast”; “There Are Too Many of Us” is too slender to sustain its repetition.
But you get, at the end of the ennui, a great new ballad in “Mirrorball,” with Albarn singing like Scott Walker holding up the bar in a Sergio Leone Western against Coxon’s wiry shivers of guitar. Blur excelled at this sublime romanticism—”This Is a Low,” on 1994’s Parklife; “The Universal,” on 1995’s The Great Escape—while Oasis flexed their wild-boy brawn. The latter didn’t have enough to last. Blur have returned with inspiration to spare. (RS 1234)
Foo Fighters performed this song last night for the montage of clips from throughout Dave’s 33 years on late night television. This is the final moments of the show and they were his final guest. Goodbye Dave…
Sadly, blues legend B.B. King has passed away at the age of 89. This news story comes from Rolling Stone, dated today…
Brilliant bluesman who inspired a generation of guitarists and singers dies after decades-long battle with diabetes.
B.B. King, the larger-than-life guitarist and singer who helped popularize electric blues and brought it to audiences for more than six decades, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 89. King, who was diagnosed with diabetes nearly 30 years ago, was hospitalized last month due to dehydration. Last October, he was forced to cancel eight tour dates for dehydration and exhaustion. His attorney, Brent Bryson, confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
Into his late eighties, King toured the world year-round as the unrivaled ambassador of the blues. His indelible style – a throaty, throttling vocal howl paired with a ringing single-note vibrato sound played on his electric guitar named Lucille – defined the genre. He won 15 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
“He is without a doubt the most important artist the blues has ever produced,” Eric Clapton wrote in his 2008 biography, “and the most humble and genuine man you would ever wish to meet. In terms of scale or stature, I believe that if Robert Johnson was reincarnated, he is probably B.B. King.”
King didn’t do anything small; his excesses included food, women, (he claimed to have fathered 15 children by 15 different partners) and gambling (he moved to Las Vegas in 1975). His sound was also big: Speaking about “When Love Comes to Town,” U2’s 1988 duet with King, Bono recalled, “I gave it my absolute everything I had in that howl at the start of the song. And then B.B. King opened up his mouth and I felt like a girl. We had learned and absorbed, but the more we tried to be like B.B., the less convincing we were.”
He was born Riley B. King in Itta Bena, Mississippi, on September 16th, 1925. His young parents divorced when he was five and his mother died when he was nine, leaving him to be raised by his maternal grandmother. King dropped out of school in tenth grade (though he vigorously studied math and languages until late in his life) and earned a living picking cotton for a penny a pound and singing gospel songs on a local street corner. He married at 17. “I guess I was looking for love, because I never had anybody I believed truly loved me,” he told Rolling Stone in 1998. It was the first of two failed marriages. “Since my early childhood, I had a problem trying to open up. Please open me up. Look inside! ‘Cause I can’t. I don’t know how to.”
In 1948, King was living in Memphis working as a tractor driver when he landed a gig on Sonny Boy Williamson’s local radio show. That led to a job at a popular West Memphis juke joint playing six nights a week, earning $12 a night, In Memphis, he met artists like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker, where he heard electric guitar for the first time. “T-Bone was, to me, that sound of being in heaven,” he said.
King scored his first Number One hit in 1951 with “3 O’ Clock Blues.” Dozens more followed in the coming decades, including 1954’s “You Upset Me Baby,” 1959’s “Sweet Sixteen.” One night in 1949, King was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, when two men started fighting over a woman named Lucille and set the club on fire by knocking over the kerosene stove. The place was evacuated, but King rushed back inside to retrieve his guitar, which he dubbed Lucille. Despite being married twice, King has said that Lucille was his true love, and he called every guitar he owned after that Lucille as well. “‘Lucille’ is real,” King once wrote. “When I play her, it’s almost like hearing words, and of course, naturally I hear cries. I’d be playing sometimes as I’d play, it seems like it almost has a conversation with me. It tells you something. It communicates with me.”
In the Sixties, the success of blues-influenced British bands helped broaden King’s appeal. He began to perform for white rock audiences with acts like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Around this time, his sound started to change. When Rolling Stone included King among the 100 Greatest Guitarists, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top said, “There was a turning point, around the time of [1965’s] Live at the Regal, when his sound took on a personality that is untampered with today – this roundish tone, where the front pickup is out of phase with the rear pickup. And B.B. still plays a Gibson amplifier that is long out of production. His sound comes from that combination. It’s just B.B.” Some of King’s greatest recordings are live albums, including Live in Japan and Live at Cook County Jail, which showcase his masterful delivery and playful, old school showmanship.
In the late Sixties, King moved to New York and started working with manager Sid Seidenberg, who helped curb his gambling habit and got him in the studio with bigger producers. The hits that followed included 1968’s “Paid the Cost to Be the Boss,” 1969’s cutting social commentary “Why I Sing the Blues” and “The Thrill Is Gone” (originally recorded in 1951 by Roy Hawkins), a spooky minor-key stomp with string overdubs that earned King a Grammy in 1970 and was named Number 183 on Rolling Stone‘s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” King’s songs mixed wry humor and deep-rooted soul.
In the Seventies, King also recorded albums with longtime friend and onetime chauffeur Bobby Bland, 1974’s Together for the First Time… Live and 1976’s Together Again… Live, and Stevie Wonder produced his 1973 song “To Know You Is to Love You.” In 1988, he recorded “When Love Comes to Town” for U2’s album Rattle and Hum. Bono later recalled an anecdote from the session: “When we were working, we were showing him the chords and he said,’ gentlemen. I don’t do chords. I do this [referencing King’s soloing style]. There’s a lesson in that. He is, as Keith Richards describes, a specialist.”
Said King, “Blues purists never cared for me. I don’t worry about it. I think if it this way: When I made ‘Three O’ Clock Blues’, they were not there. The people out there made the tune. And blues purists just wrote about it. The people is who I’m trying to satisfy.”
King’ style – marked by his signature ringing, vibrato notes – became a hallmark of blues playing, imitated by everyone from Clapton to Buddy Guy. “I always liked the steel guitar. I also love the guys that play the bottleneck,” King said. “But I could never do it; I never made it do what I want. So every time I would pick up the guitar, I ‘d shake my hand and trill it a bit. For some strange reason my ears would say to me that sounds similar to what those guys were doing. I can’t pick up the guitar now without doing it. So that’s how I got into making my sound. It was nothing pretty. Just trying to please myself. I heard that sound.”
“Very seldom does he talks about the way he play, man,” Buddy Guy told Rolling Stone last year. “He always wanna talk about young women. And I fuss at him sometimes, I say, ‘Man I wanna know what did you do here!'”
In 1991, B.B. King’s Blues Club opened in Memphis. Soon, he’d have clubs throughout the country. He continued to enjoy commercial success late into his career. In 2000, Riding with the King, an album recorded with Eric Clapton, topped the Blues Albums chart and went double-platinum. A 1998 Rolling Stone feature by Gerri Hirshey estimated that King had played more than 15,000 concerts. He spent more than 65 years on the road, playing more than 300 shows a year until cutting back to around a 100 during the last decade. “We worked our asses off from ’63 to ’66, right through those three years, non-stop,” Keith Richards once said. “I believe we had two weeks off. That’s nothing, I mean I tell that to B.B. King and he’ll say, ‘I been doing it for years.'”
King was also an entertainer off stage, regularly holding meet and greets, where he chatted with fans and “guitar kids,” as he called them, long after the house lights turned on. “At the Crossroads concerts, the first one I did, I was a nervous wreck,” Gary Clark Jr. told Rolling Stone last year. “It was a big day for me. I walked across the stage and B.B. kind of grabbed my hand, looked up at me, and just kind of nodded. That was one of those moments where I was like, ‘B.B. King is smiling at me. Everything is going to be all right. Yeah, I can go on with my life.”
King was also an avid reader and Internet enthusiast who once schooled a young reporter on how to transfer vinyl to MP3. “Gosh, I don’t know how I lived without it!” he once said of the computer.
“I’m slower,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “As you get older, your fingers sometimes swell. But I’ve missed 18 days in 65 years. Sometimes guys will just take off; I’ve never done that. If I’m booked to play, I go and play.”
He added, “The crowds treat me like my last name. When I go onstage people usually stand up, I never ask them to, but they do. They stand up and they don’t know how much I appreciate it.”
A Pitchfork review of the great new comeback album by 90s pop heroes Blur. Written by Craig Jenkins, April 28, 2015…
Early in the jarring opening pages of science fiction novelist Ray Bradbury’s 1953 masterpiece Fahrenheit 451, the author appears to catch a glimmer of the actual future. Protagonist Guy Montag comes home from work to find his wife limp and dying of an overdose on sleeping pills. Montag calls for assistance and hangs back helplessly as paramedics revive her, thinking to himself, “There are too many of us. There are billions of us and that’s too many. Nobody knows anyone.” Could Bradbury have foreseen the quiet anomie of faces bathed in smartphone light, shuttling through overcrowded cities, alone together in only tangential acknowledgement of one other’s humanity? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Singer-songwriter Damon Albarn invokes Bradbury’s sentiment on “There Are Too Many of Us,” the emotional centerpiece of The Magic Whip, the reunion album from his reconstituted flagship Blur, as he muses about an Australian hostage crisis he once spectated on television from a hotel room above it. “For a moment I was dislocated by terror on the loop elsewhere,” he admits in verse two—not horrified, just momentarily “dislocated”—as if to call into question our dwindling concern for people in places outside our cubicles of convenience. Technology has made our world smaller, but it hasn’t made us less isolated. Ease of access doesn’t equal closeness.
The Magic Whip is the first Blur album since 2003’s Think Tank, the first with guitarist Graham Coxon onboard since 1999’s 13 (Coxon was booted from the Think Tank sessions a week in and summarily quit), and the first with producer Stephen Street since 1997’s Blur. In 2013, a lucky twist of fate netted the group some downtime between festival dates in South China and Indonesia, and Blur holed up in a Hong Kong studio to workshop new material. Anyone who’s waited a decade and a half for Albarn and his songwriting foil to resume tussling over bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree’s lithe low end will find a lot to enjoy; something special happens when these four get in a room, and you can still hear some of it happening here.
The distant traveler’s conflicting sense of wonder and alienation is the running theme here. “New World Towers” gazes at the web of neon signs overhead in awe of their glow, “Go Out” details nights alone at the bar and defeated late-night self-love. On “Thought I Was a Spaceman” Albarn recasts a longing for the comforting familiarity of London as a space-wrecked astronaut’s homesickness. The Magic Whip was conceived as Albarn wrapped work on his 2014 solo album Everyday Robots, and it’s tempting to see its disaffected tourism as a sister to Robots’ shattered workaday ennui back home.
Sensibilities from Albarn’s extracurricular projects frequently bleed into the frame, especially the Gorillaz, which shows both in dubby, beat-oriented cuts like “New World Towers” and in the lyrics’ pervasive sense of Englishness-in-exile. “Thought I Was a Spaceman” could easily serve as a prequel to Demon Days‘ post-apocalyptic opener “Last Living Souls” in sound and story, and “Ghost Ship” wouldn’t look out of place anchored off the shores of Plastic Beach. At times the sonic tug-of-war feels like Albarn clawing at the restrictions of a framework his ideas have outgrown.
In the moments when The Magic Whip is most interested in sounding like a Blur album, it is perhaps too interested. There’s a nod to nearly every epoch, from the synth-accented Parklife alt-rockisms of “I Broadcast” to the busy Great Escape pop of “Lonesome Street,” the Blur-ish guitar squall of “Go Out” and the winding 13-influenced electro-psych of “Spaceman.” Whip functions as a career travelogue in that sense; one wonders whether the decision to have Street, the band’s Britpop-era producer, helm the sessions hasn’t aroused a certain sense of nostalgia. Restless innovators deserve a cycle back through the worlds they’ve crafted here and there (see: the last decade worth of Prince and Beck) but it’s disorienting for a band as keenly interested in artistic recombination as Blur.
Sometimes the album veers into sleepy territory: The ambient washes and close mic’d, reverb-drenched strumming of “Spaceman” are welcome flourishes, as is the cluttered keyboard-and-acoustic bounce of “Ice Cream Man,” but both are better showcases for production than song structure. There’s also sluggish, saccharine adult contemporary on “My Terracotta Heart” and closer “Mirrorball,” though, momentum-killers in a back end that sometimes lags where it should lift. The tempo only picks up on “Lonesome Street,” “Go Out” and “I Broadcast”; the rest of the album bobs calmly adrift. It suits the album’s geographical fixation on Hong Kong, Indonesia, and especially the beaches and waters in between, but not the band’s own sweet spot.
All these frustrations fall away when the quartet locks into its signature jangly strut, as it does on the late album highlight “Ong Ong,” a chugging rocker outfitted with a chorus of lilting la-la’s. Its sunny soul is infectious, as Albarn, who once lamented he had “no distance left to run,” professes a love no measure of forbidding space could quell. Coxon’s in the wings playing hokey luau guitar, zeroing in on Damon’s seafaring yearning and playing it up for yaks until he storms center stage as the song draws to a noisy close. Blur’s always been puckish in spirit, its greatest gift the identification and gleeful subversion of listener expectations, and in moments like these it re-emerges, untarnished by the passage of time.
This article/review comes from The New Yorker, dated June 4, 2013 and written by Ben Greenman. He talks about the former Terence Trent D’Arby’s career and reviews his then-current album Return to Zooathalon…
Whatever Happened to Terence Trent D’Arby?
The day Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby came out, in the fall of 1987, I bought it, on cassette, in a state of fevered anticipation. I had been reading about D’Arby all summer: the record, released in England that July, had become an instant sensation, topping the charts and earning comparisons to everyone from Prince to Michael Jackson to Sam Cooke. It remains an audacious début that brought soul music into the eighties, with hits like “If You Let Me Stay,” “Wishing Well,” “Sign Your Name,” and the Smokey-through-Michael-Jackson cover “Who’s Loving You.” The importance of the music was matched by the self-importance of its creator: D’Arby claimed that his album was the most monumental piece of pop music since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and used nearly every interview to anoint himself a peerless genius. Because of D’Arby’s evident talent, these assertions were both irritating and exciting.
Two years later, there was another record, Neither Fish Nor Flesh, a compelling sidestep that frontloaded three long ballads, and, as a result, blunted the force of the balance of the album, which consisted of powerful, soulful, and funky compositions that were every bit the equal of the début (“This Side of Love” remains one of his finest moments). The mixed reception to the record also effectively killed D’Arby’s commercial momentum. Then there were two more records, Symphony or Damn, in 1993, and TTD’s Vibrator, in 1995, uneven releases that seemed, at the time, like object lessons in diminishing returns. D’Arby didn’t want to play the superstar game, at least the way it was supposed to be played; he could be silly one moment and solemn the next, and he had a penchant for releasing singles with B-sides that were little more than wordless piano improvisations. And then he vanished, or so it seemed.
When D’Arby returned, in 2001, he had a new album, an independently released opus called Wildcard that included a soaring opener, “O Divina,” and songs co-written with hit-makers like Glen Ballard and Dallas Austin. But he wasn’t Terence Trent D’Arby anymore. Or, rather, he was and he wasn’t. The album was released under both that name and the name Sananda Maitreya (which he had adopted during his years away from recording, and which he legally took in 2001). Wildcard was re-released in 2002, and this time there was no trace of Terence Trent D’Arby: it was a Sananda Maitreya album in full. He was typically maximalist in his explanation of the change: “Terence Trent D’Arby was dead,” he said. “He watched his suffering as he died a noble death. After intense pain I meditated for a new spirit, a new will, a new identity.”
There were other changes, too. After the slow demise of his major-label career, Maitreya moved to Munich and then Milan, where he settled in 2002. The following year, he married the Italian architect and television host Francesca Francone. Many artists of his (former) stature would have stopped making music, or contented themselves with nostalgia tours, belting out lazily played arrangements of “Wishing Well” for decades. But Maitreya was as stubborn and ambitious as D’Arby had been. In Milan, he started to make music again, creating it mostly on his own (he borrowed the “Written, Arranged, Produced, and Performed” credit from Prince). He distributed his songs primarily through his Web site, occasionally packaging them into multi-phase albums and selling CDs. It took him a while to develop a working pace and a release schedule, but once he did, he created as much as he ever had: Angels and Vampires – Volume 1 came out in 2005; Angels and Vampires – Volume 2, the next year; Nigor Mortis, in 2009; and The Sphinx, in 2011.
All of the albums were proudly unclassifiable, veering between straightforward soul ballads, idiosyncratic experiments, personal confessions, and instrumental fragments. Nigor Mortis, for example, had a wordy bit of neo-soul (“This Town”), a jazzy dissection of intimacy in relationships (“A Wife Knows”), and a bit of raga-flavored hard rock (“Mrs. Gupta”). Along the way, Maitreya also created a mini genre of similarly titled odes to various women, possibly mythological (not just “O Divina” but, also, “O Lovely Gwenita,” “Ooh Carolina,” and “O Jacaranda,” which he rhymes with “I wanna be your panda,” a reasonable request). They weren’t records that major labels would have released, or could have.
This spring, right on schedule, Maitreya released Return to Zooathalon, a sprawling album that’s just as baffling, uneven, and wonderful as his best work. Listing its influences is exhausting: there’s Beatles and Stones and Motown and Sam Cooke and Prince, of course, but there’s also plenty of jazz and prog, not to mention yacht rock and arena rock.
At twenty-two songs, in fact, there’s a little bit of everything. There’s a two-part “Stagger Lee,” which has little to do with the classic Lloyd Price song and everything to do with gritty soul, something he still excels at more than a quarter-century after his début. There’s a cracked self-portrait (“Mr. Gruberschnickel”), a broken love song based on a preposterous pun (“Tequila Mockinbird”), a scene piece worthy of Jimmy Webb (“Albuquerque”), and a pair of instrumental compositions to wrap the whole thing up, one for kazoo (“D.H.S.”) and the other for piano (“The Last Train to Houston”). What there is, mostly, is a conspicuous commitment to artwork and the messy, miraculous process of creation, which is a strange thing to say about a pop album at this point in time. How does the earnest, open-hearted “Free to Be” sit comfortably next to the surging, bitter “Kangaroo” (“Will I ever learn to jump like you?”)? It doesn’t, and that’s one of the album’s greatest assets. Throughout, pop melodies are wrapped around lyrics so specific and idiosyncratic that they demand (and reward) repeated listenings.
And there’s a song to a woman, of course: “Ornella or Nothing,” which sings the praises of a girl who “punches poets just to keep it real” and features one of the loveliest choruses of his career. More than a decade after leaving American and British soul stardom behind, Maitreya still has it all, at least artistically. That’s the hardline.