This is the most underrated album ever. I said it. Ever. It's full of diverse and experimental noise that just drowns you in this weird alternate universe Blur lives in. Throughout the beggining of their career I'd always jest "this is what The Clash would have sounded like if they did Sandinista! or Combat Rock right." This double edged sword led me to characterize Blur as a sort of band not to be taken seriously. I like to beleive " Think Tank" is what happens when Damon Albarn combines the most tender moments he had in "Parklife" and "The Great Escape," but didn't flip everyone off. Think Tank trades the raw edginess of Blur for the genuine emotion of songs like "The Universal." It's beautiful when you step back and take a look at the universe they want to create with this breathtaking body of work. That is, if you'll allow it to take you.
A completely relevant reason as to why this album has received so much backlash is the drastic and seemingly unexpected change of musical style. Although this is far off the beaten path than what Blur has done before, it isn't a complete surprise of an album. If you'd like, you can call this the Damon Albarn show because that's exactly what it is, and it really isn't necessarily bad, at all really. His usual experimentation in earlier Blur tracks revealed some strikingly unique song progression and very refined melodies and general structure. Damon is a scientist in every album he attempts to make because nothing is ever completely the same. He derives inspiration from his current status, soaks it up, and then throws it back in the form of music. His growing interest in world music and hip hop is the most apparent in Think Tank more than any other Blur album. Think Tank completely throws any structure out of the window and rests its head upon your shoulders to give it some company.
You're probably thinking "Oh boy, a world music album and Damon Albarn? There must be no trace of Blur in here at all." To an extent, there isn't. Without Graham Cox collaborating with Albarn, there is no lid on the levels of influence Albarn has on the music. The base of what Blur is can be heard in the backbone throughout the entire thing, but is usually drowned out by an atmospheric wave or odd little spark of Gorilla-esque whatever it is. The result is sort of an extremely Brit-Punk Radiohead kind of sound, and it's brilliant. The scattered thoughts of Albarn inadvertantly meld into coherent and unique songs that remain to be out of this world Blur experiments. The most "Blur" a song gets in here is definitely limited to "Crazy Beat", which opens with a ... something. The riff in here is primo Garage-Rock Blur with an Albarn twist. But perhaps he twists it a little too much, as the result feels like a "try to hard" attempt at salvaging a song from being too different from the rest of the album. This is something Albarn really shouldn't have done, because the other songs in here are convoluted and absolutely gorgeous little monsters he's managed to squeeze out of that jumbled universe of planets he calls a brain. Don't be fooled though, "Crazy Beat" is a very fun song but has little to no refinement. "Green World" without the Green if you will. Thankfully, Albarn takes refinement lightly or in an odd way within the remaining music of Think Tank.
What Albarn does do well is whatever he wants to do. When he isn't hopelessly trying to recapture what Cox grated into previous albums, Albarn manages to have fun with tracks like "Ambulance." What's more complimentary to this is the inclusion of the ill-directed but easily intriguing "Me, White Noise." Albarn effortlessly strings together statements like "No, I ain't got nothing to be scared of" and "I'm an original." This is the essence of Blur, originality. Needless to say his cloud-like thoughts over this album, and it has to be said, Graham Cox, manage to condescend into some really nice tracks, even if they feel aimless at times. The focus on atmosphere here is used rather nicely. The lack of clean, uniform attempts at the sewing of songs in here almost lets the album work the together in more "blended" way. It's messy and splashes in so many different directions it may confuse you. But at least it all splashes "together."
A big portion of the album is mellow but noisy efforts to stream an apparent purpose across. What's refreshing about this is how Think Tank doesn't try too hard to take itself seriously, if at all. The style is typical of post 2000 indie rock albums, but the intents of many releases are so drab and serious it almost turns you off. Albarn has never been one to take musicality and lyrics too seriously, but this element is exactly what takes Think Tank to a different level. "Good Song," "On The Way To The Club," and "Brothers and Sisters" are gapingly beautiful examples of this. The medley of so many different elements in here are also a nice reference to "Think Tanks." Albarn crams so many colorful instruments and sounds in here that they elegantly smooth, glide and mix over the heavy focus on the atmospheric craft Albarn is so intent on perfecting.
Another key component to the success of this stunning body of work is the sense or lack of dedication to a certain genre, while still keeping everything completely relevant to each other. The unbelievably beautiful "Caravan" just sways back and forth between a dream and musical euphoria, it almost envelops you in a way. It effortlessly polishes itself past a rather quirky "Brothers and Sisters" while fitting itself nicely in between the garage rock driven guitar of "We've Got a File on You." As the album itself progresses, the experimentation continues to follow and becomes more appealing as you begin to understand it (hopefully.) "Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club" is admittedly the more exuberantly odd world music approach of the album. Albarn manages to gently push through the song with some interesting (if you will) vocals that...well....it's not something I'm particulalry used to Albarn trying.
The last two songs on here (before Battery In Your Leg) go hand in hand as oddities. The 6 minute epic "Jets" is quite a chore for most instant gratification ridden hispters. Those who are up to waste 6 minutes will be rewarded with an absolutely astonishing song, with some of the best musicality I've ever heard. It may drag on in between a prog rock to dream pop cycle, but it's the cycle that somehow keeps me stuck within it. "Gene By Gene" is another excellent example of just how creative Albarn can be, with another great set of choruses. Actually, Gene by Gene sounds an awful lot like something out of 13, which of course isn't bad at all. It manages to fit effortlessly near the end though.
The final and most brilliant track on here "Battery In Your Leg" perfectly sets the tone for the album that came before it. The dreary and desolate landscape Albarn tries to paint is almost shapeless. Almost, that is, until you realize how it encapsulates everything that came before it in, you guessed it, a Think Tank. There is some more to it here, something astounding and disturbing. I like to think of inspiration in this song that way. There's always something else in there you can't quite figure out, can't quite unlock, locked within a jar, a Think Tank. That's what intrigues me so much, that's what inspiration is.
Albarn makes many efforts to reference Coxon throughout the album, presumably utilizing the repitition of "we" as a way to at least attempt at sending a sort of message. Quotes like "Caravan's lost, in the sun and in the dust, no one loves you, when you are lost" feels almost like a plea, or yearning for the company of Albarn's long time friend. "I try to quit, but my heart won't buy it. I got family..." It's almost heartbreaking really. Ironically, Coxon's influence is felt heavily within the album whether he's absent or not. In a way, Albarn makes readily apparent efforts to make up for the loss with mimmickry of Coxon's intelligent guitar work with his own voice. Perhaps Coxon's abrupt departure was a way of pushing Albarn down the line, only to bring him back up even higher. It's a sort of cliche, but Albarn's persistance and dedication drove the album to a higher place. The album's general feel can be summed up with one line from "Out of Time." "And I don't know what love will be, but if we stop dreaming now, lord knows we'll never leave the clouds." I thank you very much Blur, for never leaving the clouds, even when everyone truly wanted you to.