ALBUM REVIEW: Think Tank, Blur
This ingenious album shares a strange amount of characteristics with that of an onion; it has a plethora of layers, can reduce even the bravest to tears, and is even more enjoyable when baked. In Blur's earlier records Damon Albarn conjured characters as a device to make quick fun and easy music but with the unintended collateral of preventing listeners from gaining a real insight into the band. This renders the earlier albums, though brilliant, somehow lacking in a personal touch. Think Tank however is a different story altogether. The departure of Blur’s guitarist Graham Coxon - who only features on one track - marks a move away from the guitar led rock which had given the band their rise to fame. It was this fame which caused the band to fall apart in the years running up to Think Tank and this album is clearly a deliberate effort to remove Blur from the limelight and fame that they had dreamed of as youngsters.
The lack of Coxon’s iconic guitar marks a huge transition in the sound of the album, notably magnifying the crucial basslines of eastbourne posh boy, Alex James, which had been neglected in Blurs repertoire for years behind the screaming riffs and corrosive solo’s of Coxon. James’ swinging bass lines are really what give the album it’s shape and style as the newfound stoner Albarn creates an often incohesive chaos of sound inspired almost entirely by his hash-fuelled adventures around Northern Africa in the run up to the album. The opening lyric of the album ‘I ain’t got nothing to be scared of’ resonates well with this transition of Blur from a british-pop music machine (a label they would have despised) to an honest and seemingly naked statement of musical intent.
As if Damon's hate for fame had not been made clear enough through the creation of the Gorillaz - a platform through which he could have incredible musical success all from behind a cartoon screen - this album is deliberately left un-smoothened and raw to avert the public eye. The album lurches from charmingly simple rock ballads to loosely slung, abrasive jumbles of sound such as the messy, freehand rhythm of ‘JETS’ or the intentionally threatening 1 minute mantra ‘WE'VE GOT A FILE ON YOU’. Arguably the two most beautiful songs on the album are patronisingly titled ‘GOOD SONG’ and ‘SWEET SONG’ in such a dismissive manner as to echo the anti-fame theme that underpins this album. The desperation for privacy is not only evident in the music but is also clear in the video released for the poignant and endearing single ‘OUT OF TIME’ which doesn’t even feature the band members, a stark contrast to the fun auto-biographical narratives of their earlier music videos.
The decision to work with Norman Cook (a.k.a Fatboy Slim) on the two tracks ‘CRAZY BEAT’ and ‘GENE BY GENE’ adds another dimension to this already complex album. The move sees a previously self-righteous and stubbornly British rock group embrace not only African and Middle Eastern influence but also the musical aspects of jazz, dub and hip hop. The only song to feature Coxon is the final track on the album ‘BATTERY IN YOUR LEG’ which opens with the lyric ‘this is a ballad for the good times’ and is an incredibly powerful acceptance of a changing in times and a touching goodbye to the genius guitarist who meanwhile rings out a desperately melancholy twanging riff behind Albarn’s raw and emotional vocals. A fitting end to blur’s most mature and intelligent album. A transitional masterpiece.