Four years after the release of their sixth album, 13, Blur is back with their seventh effort, Think Tank. In between albums, frontman Damon Albarn tooled around with the Gorillaz, Alex James wrote for Q Magazine, Graham Coxon released a solo album, and Blur released a greatest hits album with one new track, the entirely forgettable “Music Is My Radar.”
Q of course is a Brit mag; the Gorillaz were successful in the UK, and aside from loyal fans, most didn’t know Blur had enough hits to create an entire album. The last Blur song to garner attention was “Coffee & TV” with its video of an animated milk carton on a great adventure. Blur’s biggest hit in the US was “Song 2”, now played at sporting events and linked to commercials all across this great land of ours. All of these factors led to a lukewarm reception for Blur’s latest album.
The boys are back sans Coxon, who is still working on solo efforts. While the album as a whole is diverse in its sound and focus, Think Tank is still a worthy Blur effort. “Ambulance” picks up where 13‘s “Tender” & “No Distance Left to Run” left off. Moody and ethereal, it lulls the reader into a trance state. Albarn intones “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of” in trying to convince himself of his fear of commitment. “Out of Time” follows, and is eerily reminiscent of later Beatles’ tunes, circa The White Album, as if they were penned by a combination of Paul and George.
The album then explodes into the first single from the album, “Crazy Beat”. And thus we return to the glory that was “Song 2.” With the `woo-hoos’ replaced by ‘yeah yeah yeah y-yeahs’, “Crazy Beat” still shows that Albarn has the unbridled energy from years ago and is not afraid to use it. The song induces the head nodding and lip biting that goes along with such manic club hits, and features a hip electronica feel thanks to producer Fatboy Slim. More moody songs follow leaving “Crazy Beat” in a kind of self-imposed isolation. And although the songs are good in their own right, it seems almost as if “Crazy Beat” should have been the bridging single release between the two albums instead of “Music is My Radar.” As fantastic and energetic as the song is, it is sadly out of place in the album. One wonders whether EMI / Virgin / Parlophone pushed the band to consciously include a radio-friendly hit like “Song 2/”
Think Tank is packaged as an Enhanced CD with a measly badly produced, thrown together video for “Crazy Beat”. The television aired video directed by art collective Shynola (Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”, Kid A artwork, Queens of the Stone Age, Unkle, etc.) is much better and would have been a more fitting extra for the CD.
“Brothers and Sisters” is a mix between Spiritualized, Gus Gus’ “Ladyshave”, Alabama 3’s “Woke up this Morning”, and Happy Mondays’ “Step On”. The song’s lyrics are a wake-up to the fact that from caffeine to cocaine, nearly everyone takes drugs of some kind. This kind of political statement is prevalent in the record in everything from hinting at the President’s drug use to nuclear disarmament. It is fair to say that the album goes back and forth between love songs and cultural commentary. Two of the best of these tracks are the barely over one minute punk rant “We’ve Got a File on You” and the chant-y, pseudo-rap “Moroccan People’s Revolutionary Bowls Club”. In the former, the band simply tears through a guitar furious drive while screaming the song’s title over and over again. Its bareness and energy are relevant in its simple statement of paranoia.
“Gene by Gene” is another standout track and its lyrics can be interpreted in a few different ways. It seems with lines like “Got a radio hit in mind / Can’t see am I blind” and “Got to get into a better business / Deep down happiness” that Albarn is not at all happy with the record industry. I would hesitate to try to infer anything from the line “But I’m dead when I’m clean.” This track was one of two having been co-produced by Norman Cook, a.k.a. the aforementioned Fatboy Slim. Blur ends the album with “Battery in Your Leg”, a ballad that features some eighties British rock sounds, owing to Bowie, and at times Robert Smith.
With very few exceptions, Think Tank is a solid effort by Albarn & Co. Beware all you music listeners who do not yet own a Blur CD. Lots of people were lured by “Song 2” who would have rather have bought a Jock Jams or Now That’s What I Call Music compilation than Blur’s self-titled fifth album. With such a diverse array of sounds, from “Crazy Beat” to the William Orbit produced “Sweet Song” to “We’ve Got a File on You”, this album is for fans of all types of modern music. It might not go down into the history books as firmly as their previous albums, but it is worthy enough to stand on its own and be counted.
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