Find a review of Blur’s ‘Think Tank’ without the mention of Graham Coxon’s departure and this reviewer will happily step up and buy you a beverage if we ever happen to meet. The truth is, Coxon’s departure plays heavily on the sound and atmosphere of this album, whether or not the departure is the direct cause of the result, we may never really know. But this, Blur’s seventh full length offering is much more than just sound and atmosphere, it is an eclectic metamorphosis of a band; distinctly vibrant, diverse and academically cultural.
“Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club” is a wild funk trip into desolate tribal sounding unknowns. Its springy percussion work and new wave sounding electronic fusion is craftily highlighted by Damon Albarn’s chocky, energetic vocals. The track’s jive filled raucous approach makes it accessible to all from the deepest and darkest jungles to the innocent streets of Sesame. It is perhaps a distinct indicator that Blur’s straight forward Britpop outlook has all but evolved.
In “Sweet Song” they demonstrate a far more subdued sound. In it’s almost lounge friendly aura, it tinges with light sophistication – tender bass lines, crooning vocals and a very gentle sprinkle of a certain Tony Bennett (yes, Tony Bennett) quality. It’s an aptly titled tune; perhaps the album’s most serene and beautiful. A far cry from the boisterous “Crazy Beat”; electronically charged and guitar driven, it’s back beat drumming and knob turning effects make it a strange rock hybrid – a spirited tune, but perhaps the least imaginative of this collection. Delicate in instrumental work, “Good Song” is a meandering of sorts; lightweight in nature but seemingly without clear-cut purpose. An opposite of “Brothers and Sisters”; this funkdooby, jangly ode to drug themes is yet again a plunge into a more worldly musical sound – but is without that pop edge felt in “Moroccan Peoples…”.
If it weren’t enough that Blur visit musical revolution on their own, they bring in Norman Cook (the slimmest of Fatboys) to assist in some areas. Most notably the shiny, playful “Gene By Gene”. It’s tropical feel and playground-rhyme-like vocals are as sunny and delightful as it’s tapping cha-cha-cha-esque musical sound. Yes, it is super produced, but the certain good-natured naiveté that emanates from the track is refreshing.
‘Think Tank’ is not an easy listen – traces of “British” that so quantified their previous records are all but gone – replaced by a more international flavor. It is often lively and mysterious, like the single “Out of Time”, sometimes serene and yet at times it can be simply non-chalant about its musical experimentation. This is Blur’s finest and most troubled moment. Seemingly struggling with itself, forced to change and grow but trapped inside preconceptions and lofty expectations. But don’t be deceived by attempts to closely relate the progress of this record with their far more humble beginnings. ‘Think Tank’ is a vital step in this band’s growth and evolution.