Music Reviews
Think Tank

Blur Think Tank

(Parlophone) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Ok, so this may be a little belated, (the album has been out just over a month) but after assessing its relative merits, and in view of the surprising amount of positive praise it picked up in various publications, a review of Blur's seventh album still seems relevant. In the light of Graham Coxon's departure, and following the NME's decision that it was going to be a scrappy mess of perplexing beats with Norman Cook (who actually only co-produces (with Ben Hillier, ever present throughout 'Think Tank') on two tracks, with William Orbit co-producing another) in creative control, a major music press U-turn occurred after the promos actually saw daylight.

Anyway, previously my attitude to Blur had been that they were a band about individual songs, no more no less. Making early musical discoveries during brit-pop, I had a couple of their albums on tape (1995's The Great Escape (hardly great but nowhere near as abysmal as it gets tagged nowadays) and Parklife (1994) for instance). I bought 1997's self-titled venture into Pavement-esque alterna-rock, which seemed like a far more cohesive venture, more in line with my predilection with David Holmes and Gomez aged Fourteen. Anyway, attempting to avoid drowning in self-indulgence, my general attitude was that, while capable of excellent individual songs a la Tracey Jacks, The Universal or Look Inside America, Blur's albums were generally a bit patchy, paling against my copies of Definitely Maybe or Different Class in the early 1990's. But when I heard Out Of Time on German music television around March I was surprisingly excited, "another good single" I thought, and one in a different vein to both their prior material and its pre-destined media tags (apologies if this reads like a episode of 'My So Called Life' tailored for boring Socio-paths).

After reading the media reviews I picked a copy up the week it was released, and it's been played far more than any previous Blur album I own. Damon Albarn, Alex James and Dave Rowntree have made a cohesive album with a strong set of tunes. Ambulance opens with a lunar Kid A-Mezzanine bass sound, Albarn proclaiming "I ain't got nothing to be scared of" on its mantra-like chorus. Out Of Time is one of the finest Blur songs I've heard of, an erudite distillation of Low era Bowie with the band's post trip-hop and African influences. Albarn's lyrics are sublime, wistfully scarred, and responding in the most dignified way possible way.

In fact, he manages to lead Blur in surprising new lyrical/sonic directions throughout. On the mellow Good Song, he sings "I could be lying on an atom bomb, I'll take care" before proclaiming "Picture in my pocket looks like you" with a lilt recalling Robert Smith, while On The Way To The Club, recalls Richard Hawley at his most windswept. Brothers and Sisters is a less irritating Gorillaz, complete with a telling line about "Monkeys turning into you". We've Got A File On You is a one-minute discharge of Chaz'n'Dave/Sham 69-esque nonsense (well it left me grinning). Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club recalls The Clash circa Sandanista in sentiment and spirit, the opening mumblings could be Strummer too. Sweet Song is an exquisite love song, recalling Brian Wilson and Lennon, it's a little "nice", but the melody sweeps you away.

Battery In Your Leg closes things, Coxon supplying a plaintive, discordant riff to lyrics paying tribute to "all the dignity we had". It's not entirely flawless, the hidden track with Phil Daniels is a touch messy, salvaged purely by featuring Phil Daniels. Overall though, this is the most coherent Blur album I've heard, and one of the better ones I've heard all year. Sometimes the most unexpected triumphs are the most welcomed.