Like all big-name bands, Blur is one of those groups who people have been ready to write off for awhile now. Despite some serious in-band fighting and side-projects galore and a well-publicized spat with Mogwai (and their "Blur Are Shite" t-shirts), the group has surprisingly been able to hold on better than most of their contemporaries who have gone through similar problems. Although I haven't always been a huge follower of the group, I was actually unaware that they had even completed a new album until very nearly the release date of this newest disc. I'd heard all the stories of Graham Coxon leaving the band for some reason or another (mostly publicized as an aversion to Damon Albarn and his growing ego), and I wondered if the effort would be one last tossed-off money-grab.
Well crap, the band has gone and surprised me again. While Think Tank isn't as brilliant as some would make it out to be, it does have it's fair share of good songs, and even a batch of really great songs. There aren't as many beautiful guitar parts that we've all heard Coxon coax into the groups earlier albums, but the three remaining members take things in some new and interesting paths, resulting in a chaotic run through 13 tracks and 50 minutes of music.
"Ambulance" starts the disc off in fine form, and where the track previously may have featured a soaring solo by Coxon, the stripped-down, bass-lead pushes into into fine territory anyway as Albarn croons "I ain't got / nothing to be scared of." Based on the music alone, there's reason to believe him. "Out Of Time" follows with another groove-heavy track, but a jangly acoustic guitar puts a bit of meat on the ribs and some warm synths and chimes provide some sinewy surrounding tissue. Along with the jaunty plucked acoustic guitar loop on "Good Song," it's one of the best tracks on the disc. When Albarn goes falsetto on the latter track, it's one of the more blissful moments in the groups last couple albums.
Sandwiched between those two songs, however, is hands-down the worst track on the album. It's the worst example of what you might imagine would happen if Fatboy Slim produced a track for the group (which he did), and if I had indeed heard this song as the first single off the disc, I would have written off the entire thing. With a looped vocodor vocal sample and absolutely ham-fisted blaring guitars, it's the worst of both contributors and is a glaring blemish on the release (and if it's indeed the track that pushed Coxon to leave, I guess I wouldn't blame him).
The middle section of the album gets back on course a little bit as "Brothers And Sisters" again rocks a funkier side for the group while "Caravan" mixes in a bit of middle-eastern sounds to nice effect over programmed beats. Even the spazzed-out, minute-long hindu-thrash of "We've Got A File On You" provides a bit of arm-pumping fun before things slow back down again towards the end of the release. "Sweet Song" arrives as one of the more touching tracks that the group has ever done, mixing a nice piano melody with some quiet organs and subtle rhythm while "Battery In Your Leg" (the only track featuring Coxon) closes the album out in fine form, feeling like Blur's answer to OK Computer, mixing swirling guitar swells, piano, and a slathering of effects. For all the crap that the group has caught over the years, I guess the moral of the story is to not count them out quite yet. Who knows if they'll be back for another round, but Think Tank would be a fine send-off if they aren't.