Brian Feeney

The Magic Whip

Blur announced this morning that they're releasing a new album on April 27th, The Magic Whip. It's the record they recorded in China a few years ago which was supposedly left unfinished. Clearly it's been wrapped up. It's a wonderful little surprise for me and Blur fans everywhere.

My fascination with Blur goes deep. I know very well every second of every song, all the history, all the side-projects, and all the artwork. I've picked apart their songwriting process so intensely that I could probably list them in the order in which they were written. It's even clear to me when a track from Gorillaz fits chronologically between two songs from 13. I could tell you from intuition that Graham Coxon wrote and recorded You're So Great at the same time as his first solo record The Sky is Too High.

I believe it's important for designers to have at least one artist they know so well, whatever the medium. The creative process is demystified through understanding the relationship between the artist, their process, and history. You can see how good work gets made. Mostly a little all at a time. Sometimes all at once. But always as a result of effort.

Albarn keeps a fairly strict 9 to 5 schedule. He has a studio in London which he goes to everyday and he writes and records and works. It's why he's able to release something every year, and sometimes more often than that. When I first learned of his work ethic, mine was transformed. If I wanted to produce work as good as his, I knew I needed to work every day, like him. There's no waiting for inspiration, no lounging around being some kind of bohemian "creative." Design is a job. Music is a job. Art is a job. This year, Albarn will be releasing a new Blur album, a new Gorillaz record, and a new opera record. I aspire to ship so much great stuff with such regularity.

I also have a ton to say about the visual design for their records and how it relates to their music. Nearly all of their earlier album and single sleeves were brilliantly designed by the design studio Stylorouge. They're bright, bold, and colorful, often using pedestrian images to convey a homeyness, a comfortability, and echoes the variety of tone and breadth of style of Blur's music. They also speak directly to the Britishness of the band and their cultural roots, neatly placing them in a particular time and place. When you look at the spread of those covers, the impression given is that this is a band which knows precisely how to divvy up work and play, when to be serious, and when to take themselves lightly. It's a balance I've always tried to find for myself.

There's no doubt in my mind my love of Blur's music influences my design work. I'm attracted to graphic design with heavy flavor, bold choices, colorful execution, and attention to the tiniest details. This, to me, perfectly describes their music, as well. Endless variety. Endless fun. Serious work ethic. Always a wink and a nod towards "cool," but mostly following their instincts.

It really pays off to intensely study someone's work. It helps to see where inspiration comes from, how it transforms into new things. If you pick apart Blur's work, and you see all their influences (David Bowie, the Kinks, Scott Walker, the Who, Julian Cope, etc.), you can see where elements were lifted, combined, reused, transformed, reinterpreted. Art as a job starts to make more sense. We don't exist in a vacuum, and we don't create anything out of thin air.

When I heard that a new Blur record is coming out, my excitement isn't only over getting to hear new music from some of my favorite musicians. It's also for the opportunity to pull it apart and see how it relates to their previous work, to see how it compares to other music released lately, to sniff out new influences in the music I hadn't heard before. I'm excited to get to work.

February 19, 2015