Virgin Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Adam Mico
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/17/2003
More than four years have passed since Blur's 13. The band that defined the Brit-pop genre and filled the gap between the Smiths and Radiohead has finally resurfaced. Each member went on their own during their extended hiatus and promise of a new album. Not surprisingly, the most successful member has been lead singer Damon Albarn.
Albarn co-created the hip-hop cartoon disguised as a group with The Gorillaz. Their album sold more world-wide than any other Blur album and was actually Albarn's only big break in the U.S. Since his work and touring with the most creative and uber-successful visual band was not enough, he invaded Paul Simon's territory and grouped with Africa African musicians to create Mali Music.
What were the other members up to?
Graham Coxon (lead guitarist) continued on with a modest solo career and has settled into relative obscurity. Alex James (bassist) and David Rowntree (drummer) seemed to be waiting around, for they have not hitched onto another band, made any solo albums or done anything notable. Coxon was the only member that decided not to return as a full-time player on Think Tank, but did contribute to the final track, "Battery In Your Leg."
Before I tear a gaping hole in this album, it is my privilege to point out the positive. There are a few excellent recordings here that should be considered definite grabs. "Ambulance" contrasts progressively-layered monotonous vocals and dynamic electronica to create a melodic neo-shoegazing tune. There are some off-the-wall sounds (like a squeaky bed and rhythmic clatter), but when "Gene by Gene" is pumped with a funk and drum beat, amazing and unorthodox pop developed. "Out of Time" is sung with an aching melancholy, while it boasts fun experimental (drum and flamenco guitar combo verses an "alien invasion" soundtrack) support.
On with the negative...
Think Tank has no coherent sequence; the songs fail to build off each other. If there was a worse possible order, it would be difficult to create. For example, "Crazy Beat" is a jarring and unnecessary jolt that removed any of the satisfying energy received from the first two tracks. In the middle, the predominately hookless/slow tempo songs drag you into a slumber that only a die hard fan would or could wish to work him/herself out of.
For the first time in their career, Blur has deliberately depended on production tricks rather than extending them as a tool for art with commercial accessibility. The Blur formula does not equate without the Coxon element.
There was only one other notable member of Blur outside of Albarn and that is the man who left. The other members are session players for practical purposes. No overall sense of a band performance was evident without Coxon's balance and great riff creations. Most of the rock element oozed down the drain as he closed the door behind him. Since I learned that Graham Coxon has a quiet yet strong personality, he was likely the reality check to Damon's ego and the balance to his creative diarrhea.
Think Tank has solid moments, but is a major disappointment due to its jumbled production, excessive filler, poor execution and just plain dull songs. Dear readers, if you walk past this in the record store and see this record; just pass through. If the money is still burning a hole in your pocket, we can make arrangements.