At long last, after a three-year hiatus, the British supergroup Blur has returned. Yet during that time, it seems as if they never really went away. A great deal happened the band during their break, including the release of their “Best Of” compilation, the success of frontman Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project, and the departure of legendary guitarist Graham Coxon. Though these events are powerful enough to end any other band, Blur stuck together, and as a threesome they managed to pull off their first album since 1999’s critically acclaimed “13.”
Entitled “Think Tank,” Blur’s long-awaited seventh album has actually been in the works since November 2001. At the time, the band regrouped from what was then a one-year hiatus following their “Best Of” set, and they discussed ideas for their next record. Though some of the album’s recording began around the same time, the bulk of the work took place throughout the summer of 2002. Beginning in Albarn’s basement studio and eventually working its way to Morocco, the sessions for the new record produced an eclectic mix of 27 songs, including eastern chants, pop harmonies and the occasional punk outburst. Though edited down to a 13-track release, the album remains Blur’s most diverse to date, not to mention their most compelling since 1997’s self-titled effort.
Due to the fact that a good number of “Think Tank’s” songs were recorded in Morocco, there is a great Eastern influence throughout the album. One of the songs, “Out Of Time,” is the first single to be lifted off the new album. Standing as Blur’s “comeback single,” the song displays a very gentle demeanor, both in its sound and lyrics. Unlike most of the songs on the album, “Out Of Time” sticks to a very mellow tempo, vaguely reminiscent of Blur’s work from the early ’90s, but in itself staying unique. It primarily utilizes Albarn’s soothing vocals and a very well-placed Andalucian string section to stress a mellow feeling, while the lyrics only seem to strengthen the sound. Pondering over the meaning of life in the context of love, the song remains pensive and seemingly forced to “watch the world spinning gently out of time.”
Should one be looking for a big, bombastic song on “Think Tank” in the vein of 1997’s massive “Song 2,” they need look no further than “Crazy Beat.” Considered by many as “the big hit,” the song has been released as the first single in the United States, and in turn has garnered a great amount of airplay on stations across the nation. Driven by a synthesized vocal hook and buzzing, punk-rock fast guitars, “Crazy Beat” is all but insane, but in a good way. Its lyrics are split between dealing with partying and politics, asking “why are the C.I.A. having fun?” and pondering whether or not one should offer ecstasy to the president. In truth, the song itself is a non-stop party and has “classic Blur” elements.
Another seemingly classic song on “Think Tank” is the aptly titled “Sweet Song.” Lying somewhere between 1991’s “Sing” and 1994’s “This Is A Low,” the song takes Blur’s concept of loneliness to a new level. It focuses on trying to make life better for someone who is really unhappy, and wraps itself around the thought that “people get so lonely.” Generally, this would be a simple concept in Blur’s catalogue, as it has been done time and time again. But considering that the song is seemingly written about estranged guitarist Graham Coxon, it holds more meaning and emotion than the average sad song. With the lyric “I just believed in you,” not to mention Albarn’s heartbreaking piano work, “Sweet Song” openly shows how much Coxon meant to the band on a personal level, and in turn is powerful enough to bring tears to all who listen to the song.
As “Think Tank” winds down to its final track, “Battery in Your Leg,” one may pleasantly find it to be the best song on the entire album. Being the only track in which Graham Coxon plays, it stands as the last song of Blur’s former incarnation, and as Albarn said in a recent interview, “the last time (the band) felt really right together.” But aside from the drama surrounding it, “Battery In Your Leg” remains quite superb, dealing with the good times of the past and a longing to relive them with a loved one who will not return.
Overall, it sends a bleak message, supported by means of Coxon’s stratospheric guitar solos, but tenderly pulls everything together with the final verse, “you can be with me, if you want to be, you can be with me.”
If there is one thing left to say about “Think Tank,” it is that it is unlike any of Blur’s previous records, but suggestive of them all. Each song is unique from one another, but they all seem to have certain aspects, and at certain moments, hints toward the band’s earlier material. Though this has led many to believe that the album is all hype and no bite, they are dead wrong.
Blur spent the good part of a year perfecting the album, making sure it was the best work they could put out, and they truly succeeded. The album is distinct, brilliant in words, and awe-inspiring in musicianship. Hands down, “Think Tank” is the album of the year, and as Blur considers it, “the record of [their] lives.” Upon hearing it, only the chorus of “Song 2” can suffice in displaying the emotion: “wooo-hooo!”