Virgin Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/23/2003
The rumors are true: Think Tank is a career-ending album.
It has happened before. Albums have fractured Massive Attack ( Mezzanine), Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, just to name a few recent examples. In Blur's case, guitarist Graham Coxon left the band as they were recording this album. Coxon was a much-needed creative counterpart to Blur frontman Damon Albarn.
But a career-ending album isn't necessarily the same thing as a career-suicide album. And this is no Metal Machine Music. Indeed, the first listen to Think Tank is off-putting: it's reminiscent of Albarn's other band, Gorillaz, it's another album whose theme touches on the post 9/11 world and well, it's the seventh album from these guys. Their rivals, Oasis, haven't exactly achieved greatness since What's the Story (Morning Glory)? Still, put all of that aside, and after one listen of Think Tank, the listener is likely apt to give the album another spin.
Suddenly, weird songs like "On The Way to the Club" and the "Come on people now, smile on your brother"-vibe of "Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bows Club" reveal Blur's seemingly unlimited well of creative potential. Portions of the album were recorded in Morocco, as Albarn has repeatedly gushed about his love for world music. But unlike so many inferior artists, Albarn's incorporations of world music doesn't feel forced or as merely a symbol of his diversity. Its inclusion actually adds a great amount of depth and legitimacy to the songs on Think Tank.
The biggest saving grace of Think Tank is its uniformity. Albarn was an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led coalition against the government of Iraq. As a result, Albarn was able to see the relative futility of the peace movements throughout the world as the march to war seemed all but inevitable. So, it's no surprise that Think Tank is packed with a sense of elegant resignation.
"Where is the love song to set us free," Albarn sweetly laments on the opening line of "Out of Time." The love song that he seeks is definitely not on this album. On "Ambulance," Albarn trembles, "I ain't got nothing to be scared of." Yeah, right.
Not all songs work as effectively. "Jets," while having a loopy groove backed by a great sax solo, meanders and rambles. And "Crazy Beat," a song created with the help of Fatboy Slim, all but screams, "this is the radio hit of this album." Expect the incessant chorus of "Yeah, yeah, yeah"s to be played at your next sporting event. It has been reported that Albarn removed two songs that were all but guaranteed radio hits from Think Tank. He might have done himself a favor and removed "Crazy Beat" as well.
The last two songs of Think Tank are crucial in that they redeem some of the weaker tracks and more importantly, wet the listener's appetite for a second listen. The quirky "Gene by Gene" is melodic, but the noise effect (something akin to a squeaky box spring mattress) is one of those sounds that will likely come back into your head, either at 3 in the morning when you're trying to fall asleep or during an hour-long commute on the way home from work.
The last track, "Battery in Your Leg," is a poignant ballad for life under "Alert Color: Orange." Albarn sings, "This is a ballad for the good times," as Coxon lays down perhaps his final statement to Blur: a wrenching guitar line. Consider this Coxon's way of giving the middle finger to his boss on the way out the door. He will be missed.
Think Tank is not an album that you are likely going to get on the first listen, nor the second, nor even the seventh listen. Still, Blur have found a great way to market the album as a sort of freak show: "Step right up and come see the album that pretty much fractured the most musically accomplished Brit-pop band of the '90s!" But the album possesses enough hooks and exists as a cohesive front-to-back listen to keep the listener hooked. For those who want a soundtrack to get elegantly wasted to in this era, Think Tank rises above its baggage and delivers the goods.