Blur - Think Tank
In years to come, musical revisionists looking back on the Blur vs. Oasis debate that ripped mid-nineties Britpop apart will scratch their heads in amazement at the fact that the two bands were ever classed together in the same category. One listen to Oasis' latest effort Heathen Chemistry and it's obvious that the Gallaghers have stuck to plodding, sub-Beatles-rock that can only appeal to their ever ageing fanbase. It might sell records, but critically Oasis have peaked, and have spent their musical ideas.
Blur, on the other hand seem to triumph over every adversity. All hope was lost when frontman Damon Albarn sold millions of records to kids and adults with his anime-styled Gorillaz album, and when guitarist Graham Coxon mysteriously quit / was thrown out of the band, it seemed the foursomes' unity was virtually destroyed.
DJ Norman Cook AKA Fatboy Slim was brought in to produce the now-threesome's new album, and there were more rumours that Albarn and Cook were feuding behind the scenes. When Think Tank was finally released, production credits ranged from Ben Hillier of Elbow and Tom McRae fame to William Orbit and Cook himself.
Amidst the troublesome behind-the-scenes events that have distracted the band, Think Tank somehow manages to be the best album Blur have ever released. It's the perfect postmodernist evolution of their sound, as if played and rehashed through an apocalyptic wasteland eons after Britpop had died as a movement. Think Tank has everything including the kitchen sink both in terms of sounds utilised on the album and musical ideas invested in the production. It's a gutsy departure from the jangly guitar work that ironically is more Beatles in attitude than Noel can ever dream to emulate.
Opening with the intense ballad Ambulance and moving swiftly into first single Out Of Time, which itself harnesses Albarn's obsession with different musical cultures by featuring many Moroccan musicians, Think Tank is an ambient futurescope trying to cut-and-paste together an album's worth of music refreshingly without context. There are no guidelines, no limitations, and the results are impressive.
Crazy Beat is Cook's remixing done to affect the Song 2 stylising, and it's no surprise that this is a live favourite. Good Song is Think Tank's highlight, calmly reflecting the exhaustion of the world's toil in its major-seventh chorus.
On The Way To The Club is a brooding, rumbling neon take on night-life, whilst Brothers And Sisters attempts to deconstruct the hypocritical attitude to various chemical and cerebral drug forms, be it caffeine or text messaging! Caravan is a slow, desert-evoking filler which leads into the chaotic one-minute rocker We've Got A File On You which is already a fan favourite despite its one lyrical line.
Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club is a direct ecological warning, whilst the William Orbit-mixed Sweet Song is the album's most tender track, reportedly concerning Albarn's sadness over the troubles with Graham Coxon's departure.
Jets is a low-fi catchy filler, and Gene By Gene is a Joe-90 style retro-sci-fi take on American radio's obsessions with hits and the gruelling PR process. The final track, Battery In Your Leg is the only song in which Coxon receives co-writing-credit, and it's a slow anthem performed with doomed resignation that somehow survives, almost paralleling Blur themselves.
Also taking into account the bonus track hidden 'before' Ambulance on the CD - Me, White Noise, which is a storming ramble courtesy of guest vocals from old Blur associate Phil Daniels, Think Tank is a masterclass study of twenty-first century musical breakdown, used as an album's strength instead of a weakness. Blur have showed they can handle any crisis, and can draw up new codes and conventions just when you felt their contemporaries were going through the motions.