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Blur - Think Tank


Review: Jack Foley

THE Blur journey to mega-stardom has, and continues to be, an interesting one.

Having gone head-to-head with Oasis, and emerging triumphantly, the band has continually evolved, seldom shying away from controversy or the desire to be different - even if it means their place in the mainstream is jeopardised as a result.

Think Tank, their seventh album, is a prime example of this ability to surprise and progress, succeeding in the face of enormous pressure, both from their own internal conflicts (founder member, Graham Coxon, departed midway through recording) and from critics keen to see 'pretentious' lead-singer, Damon Albarn, come unstuck.

Kicking off with the sublime first track, Ambulance, a plaintive, but reassuring song (with lyrics such as, 'I aint got nothing to be scared of'), the album then proceeds to deliver a musical tour-de-force of the quirky and the mainstream, encapsulating all that is great about Blur.

Certainly, die-hard fans are sure to miss the presence of Coxon's unmistakable guitar sound (underlined by his presence on the final track, Battery In Your Leg), but it would be churlish, even sulky, to dismiss Blur as a spent force.

Albarn's vocals have seldom seemed as strong, or as expansive, while the presence of producers such as Ben Hillier, William Orbit and Norman Cook, lends the long-player a more diverse feel.

And it is tribute to Albarn that while many of his influences are present (from Mali music right through to his Gorillaz collaboration), they never get in the way. This is, first and foremost, a Blur album, made richer by what the lead singer has brought to the band from other projects.

Of the highlights, of which there are many, the first single, Out Of Time, remains as achingly beautiful as the time you first heard it, while the appropriately named Good Song is as feelgood as anything Blur has produced in its heyday, benefiting from a simple guitar rift and a strangely hypnotic beat.

Encompassing some fairly weighty contemporary issues (such as war, TV and mobile phone usage), this is a love song with a social relevance - the underlying theme being that love will always prevail, no matter what is going on around it.

On The Way to the Club is another well-constructed record, featuring an instantly catchy chorus, while the piano-led Sweet Song is, perhaps, the most beautiful track Albarn has ever written, a heartfelt lament about the state of society with lyrics that really make you stop, think and reflect on things (take, for instance, 'I'm a darkened soul, my streets all pop music and gold, all our lives are on TV', or 'everyone is dying, stop crying now, here comes the sun').

But while there is certainly a darker feel to some of the issues covered, there are also some nice nods to the younger, brasher Blur of old, never more so than in the crazy shot in the arm that is We've Got A File On You, which lasts for exactly a minute and is as wild as, say, Bank Holiday.

The Norman Cook backed Crazy Beat, which is scheduled to be the second single, also lends itself to old school Blur, coming across as an extended, mixed-up version of Song 2, complete with some fun backing vocals from the remaining band members.

Indeed, the only misplaced track is Jets, an instrumental which merely exposes the absence of Coxon and drifts into something a little too experimental, but it is but a blip on an otherwise wonderful album, brought to a grandstand close by the epic Battery In Your Leg, where Coxon is finally unleashed to deliver a virtuoso guitar reminder.

Blur are back - but then have they ever really been away?

 

 

 

Track listing:
1. Ambulance
2. Out Of Time
3. Crazy Beat
4. Good Song
5. On The Way To The Club
6. Brothers And Sisters
7. Caravan
8. We've Got A File On You
9. Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club
10. Sweet Song
11. Jets
12. Gene By Gene
13. Battery In Your Leg

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