Patrick Robertson

"Think Tank"

10th June 2005
reviewer: Patrick Robertson
rating: 5 out of 5
published by: Food
released: 5th May 2003
  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

These are dark days for Blur. After opting for a more prog-rock-esque, downbeat route for their music than their previous cheerful Britpop days, their most recent album, ‘13’, was universally derided by the music press. As if that wasn’t enough, lead guitarist Graham Coxon has left the band to start a record label. Which begs the question – how exactly has this disfigured mess of a band produced the album of the year?

Just as ‘Parklife’ was constructed around the four monumental ballads ‘End of a Century’, ‘Badhead’, ‘To the End’ and ‘This is a Low’, the best moments on Blur’s latest album come with the love songs. Two outstanding guitar-led ballads (the subtle, restrained ‘Out of Time’ and the defiantly simple ‘Good Song’) and two equally superb piano numbers (‘Sweet Song’ and album closer ‘Battery in Your Leg’) provide the pillars for ‘Think Tank’. The appearance of Graham Coxon on the latter lends it a ready-made aura of poignancy.

But unlike ‘Parklife’, which would feel a little insubstantial and throwaway without the aforementioned tracks, there’s plenty of genius elsewhere on this record. Most of the other tracks take a more eerie, Middle-Eastern-sounding vibe as their template. ‘On the Way to the Club’ is a glistening jewel of a song with a glorious and highly memorable chorus, while ‘Caravan’ is darker and spookier but just as affecting. ‘Ambulance’, the slowest burner on the album, builds itself around a simple drumbeat and the repeated line “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of”. ‘We’ve Got a File on You’, meanwhile, which comes in at just over a minute long, is a flawless blend of earlier Blur rock-out anthems and the ‘Think Tank’ feel.

It’s an interesting irony that the two songs on ‘Think Tank’ that bear most resemblance to Blur’s earlier work – ‘Brothers and Sisters’ and ‘Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club’ – are the worst on the album. The counter-argument to this comes in the form of ‘Crazy Beat’, the spiritual successor to ‘Song 2’, and ‘Gene by Gene’, which provide welcome respite from the slight sameness that pervades the rest of the album. Then there’s ‘Jets’, which is the most unusual, disparate song Blur have ever done, and undeniably one of the worst. It’s baffling why they even let this abomination near the record.

Still, that faintly samey sound and those three weak tracks do little to detract from the wealth magic and warmth that makes ‘Think Tank’ one of the essential records of the year. Surprised? It seems that after the slightly disastrous ‘13’ and the departure of one of the greatest guitarists alive today, Blur have made arguably their best record yet. Maybe it was Coxon letting them down all along.

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