Blur is a band that has truly evolved in many unique ways. First, they were a somewhat groovy but loud pop band with extremely simple and repetitive hooks. The Leisure LP gave us the utterly simplistic pop songs There’s No Other Way, Bang, and She’s So High. The sophomore LP (Modern Life Is Rubbish) was not as successful but it did show Damon Albarn growing as a writer, with maturing songs about interesting characters. The third LP Parklife spawned the 80’s throwback track Boys And Girls which was a huge hit for the band. The Great Escape LP was a modern pop masterpiece filled with various musical styles, both emotional and clever lyrics, and fascinating themes. Once again, the band changed completely when they released their self-titled LP, which contained Song 2, another huge hit for them on both sides of the Atlantic. Their last album, 13 had the poignant tracks Tender and No Distance Left To Run but was also filled with annoying, hard-to-listen-to, pretentious tracks.
Damon Albarn moved on with Dan The Automator (and Del The Funky Homosapian) to form the extremely successful cartoon band, Gorillaz. Since then, Blur’s lead guitarist, Graham Coxon, has left the band and Blur have evolved once again.
While their last 2 LPs (Blur and 13) were generally guitar-driven pieces, Think Tank shows a strong influence on beats and keyboards. While Damon’s lyrics have ranged widely, Think Tank has the humour (and experimentation) that he used on the Gorillaz album, but also some of the sadness from No Distance Left To Run and the raw emotion from the self-titled LP.
Blur makes excellent pop songs. They do not always have to make perfect sense nor do they have to be radio friendly. Still, they have mastered the art of writing a song in the typical song structure while still making it sound exciting.
Out Of Time is a beautiful and poignant track with a mellow, driving rhythm. On his verses, Damon’s voice sounds so sad and very real. The crescendo rises for the chorus as Damon’s voice does too. Damon sings: “…And you’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t found the time / To open up your mind / And watch the world spinning / Gently out of time…” It is classic Blur. The humorous and groovy Brothers And Sisters has Damon approaching the topic of drugs. For the verses, he raps and lists various drugs and tells us what they are for, while a cool, psychedelic dance beat chugs along. Like Gorillaz, it’s a little hip-hop and it’s a little indie-rock. Overall, it is a lot of fun.
Good Song is a perfect title and description for the track. Short and sweet, it has light drum-brushes and cymbal riding beats along with subtle keyboard melodies and acoustic guitar. Damon’s vocals are soft and gentle as he sings: “You seem very beautiful to me.” Later in the album, Sweet Song (co-produced by William Orbit, Ben Hiller, and Blur) has a similar effect. Mellow and ambient, the piano gently drives the track with some subtle acoustic guitar work.
Lyrically and vocally, Damon does an excellent job with his somewhat high-pitched voice that manages to be both emotional and vulnerable. Gene By Gene (co-produced by Blur and Norman Cook of Fatboy Slim) has some very weird sounds and equally bizarre lyrics. The rhythm is actually driven by the sound of a noisy bed that someone is making love on. The odd keyboard melodies and off-key guitar work sounds very amateur at first, but it does work. The song borders on nonsense: “…Got to get to know you gene by gene / You’re my jellybean / I’m in the shower / And I’m force 15 / But I’m dead when I’m clean…” In the hook, Damon claims that he “deletes” himself. Overall, it’s a fun and tight pop song.
On The Way To The Club has an old-school hip-hop beat but eerie keyboard sounds and light guitar work. Damon tells us a simple yet odd little tale, while the music does flow and builds up to a beautiful chorus. The final track Battery In Your Leg is another unusual track where Damon’s emotions prevail. The loud guitar comes in perfectly as he ends the LP with the statement “You can be with me.” The song is truly tender.
Some tracks are good enough not to be considered filler but do not have the same power as the others. The lead single Crazy Beat (co-produced by Norman Cook, Ben Hiller, and Blur) attempts to have the same energy and rock anthem quality as Song 2, but the track does not represent the LP well. The odd, electric voice box chorus “…Crazy beat, crazy beat, yeah, yeah, yeah…” is incredibly simple but also unique due to the sound effects. Like Pop Scene, Crazy Beat is a party track. Caravan is a slow, depressing and psychedelic track, but overall, it borders on being filler.
The LP opener, Ambulance, clocks in at over 5 minutes and has Damon repeating “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of.” It is a little too long and noisy but the emotion saves it. These tracks all have something in them that should be appreciated but they do not have that instant beauty like the others.
There are a couple of songs on Think Tank that cause problems. First, We’ve Got A File On You is an extremely short, minute long track that is tremendously loud and fast. Like the hardcore songs on the Beastie Boys albums, they break up the album’s flow. The track is completely useless. Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club is a very annoying and upbeat environmental track where Damon chants his lyrics in bratty kind of way. Finally, the 6-minute long Jets is a cacophonic track that starts out as a lo-fi jam but attempts to become epic. With one line to the song (“Jets are like comets at sunset”), the song is too long and too annoying. While Mike Smith’s saxophone is an interesting addition, the overall song is worthless. Still, the build-up is something to be appreciated.
Think Tank is an entertaining, weird, and groovy album with just a pinch of loud guitar work. The influence of Gorillaz is obvious. The experimentation, which gives Think Tank a unique sound and brings the groove back to Blur, is there but most of the songs are tight.
Damon Albarn is doing interesting things with his lyrics and his voice in Blur these days. He can pull off styles ranging from falsetto to spoken-word to a singing with a thick, cockney accent. He remains abstract and personal like he was on his last couple of albums. The descriptive styles and wild characters on Modern Life Is Rubbish and The Great Escape are nowhere to be found here.
While some may miss the heavy guitar of ex-member Graham Coxon, Blur demonstrate that they can be successful without him and have made an LP that is very interesting and entertaining. Think Tank is one of their most complete LPs since The Great Escape. While it does not have the same classic quality that The Great Escape had, it still has a very high replay value. Blur has come a long way since the extremely simple pop of There’s No Other Way. While the pop ethic remains, they let themselves float into very bizarre and unknown territory. It is wonderful that a Brit-pop band still takes chances.
Think Tank (2003)
Genre: Pop, Rock
Record Label: Food