Album review

Blur : Think Tank

Blur : Think TankDamon Albarn does a good line in self-belief. "I ain't got nothing to be scared of," he sings on Ambulance, the opening track of Think Tank, the first new Blur album for four years. But then he's spent his time away from home, as it were, immersing himself in the alternative cultures of dance and world music. And, like all good student-travellers, he's learnt a thing or two about self-reliance, and brought home some tasty souvenirs too.

Think Tank is an album suffused with unsettling beats, mellow, woozy experimentation and an overwhelming sense that the survivors needed to move away from the punchy 'blood on the studio floor' that was 13, and to give something back that did not capitalise on the mockney wanker yobbishness of old.
    And by jove they've done it. This is a damned good album, and certainly the most enjoyable Blur offering I've heard to date. Beat-led and forsaking the guitar mangling pyrotechnics a la Coxon, Think Tank is a stoner's dream. Blending a sense of fun and foreboding, love and politics, with a loose musicianship that borders at times on the careless, this does indeed present itself as the soundtrack for a junk shop, as one critic put it. But in junk shops, there be treasure!

Not without a sense of irony then that opener Ambulance picks up the pieces of a fragmented and turmoiled existence for Blur over the past four years. As a track and as an analogy for what has been before, Ambulance ambles along unguided until it suddenly realises it has job to do and gets focussed.
    Crazy Beat marries Norman Cook party lunacy with early Floyd-style barre-chord riffing and a Donald Duck vocal refrain. Progressing its way towards an awkward mangle of fucked up beats and jangling keys is On The Way To The Club. We've Got A File On You is an enjoyable, comically trashy and thrashy 62 second filler that flows into the comically funky Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club, all green social conscience and 80s funk pop. Sweet Song and Good Song are two beauties in the midst of all this good-natured whimsy.
    Jets sounds like it should have been the hidden track at the end of the disc, and is a hypnotic, stoners' laid back groove. Its filthy bass punch and staccato guitar twang culminate in a Gong-esque sax frenzy.
    The Clash-style vocal sneers of Gene By Gene are pitched against a jolly chugging mess of sounds, punctuated and brought to a close with the sound of 'care in the community' - keeping time by swinging on the door of a rusting corrugated farm building. No, really.
    The only Coxon appearance, on album closer Battery In Your Leg, is a wistful lament. It chillingly piles on the Cocteau Twins-style reverb guitar and finally lends a tear-stained quality to an album that, okay lets admit it, spends most of its time fighting them back with a barrage of quirky ideas. Graham Coxon will be missed.

Now that Albarn has travelled far and wide from the safety of the homestead, he has discovered a bit more about who he is and what he wants. He may claim to have nothing to be scared of, but he has returned to the band without his chief protagonist and that veneer of confidence seems almost transparently thin at times.
    Given the circumstances, Think Tank as a title is no accident. Even though this is too good an album to be an interim project, Blur will still no doubt be asking 'where to next?'

:: Tom Alford

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