Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Think Tank - Blur

Rumours persist of a reunited Blur recording one final album as a foursome, but its worth remembering how much better their last album, sans Coxon, was than its predecessor, 13.

'No, I ain't got nothing to be scared of, no' intones Damon Albarn over epic opener "Ambulance". The quadruple negative is a useful way of thinking of the album; each portion is intensely negative in its own way, but as a whole the result is peculiarly positive. In terms of individual songs, this is the darkest album Blur have ever released. There is no feel good single here, no "Tender", "Coffee and TV" or even "Song 2" (though the short, furious burst of "We've Got A File On You" comes close). Despite this, it is probably also Blur's most uplifting album since 1994's Parklife. The three other albums since then have often been emotionally suffocating, even in the case of 1995's musically bouncy The Great Escape.

While Coxon's absence is notable, Blur had kind of abandoned guitars on their previous album anyway. The real shift here is from a band focus to a focus on Albarns writing. "Out Of Time" is a spacey, tragic ballad that sounds like a superior Gorillaz B-side. "Crazy Beat" sounds like a decidedly inferior Gorillaz A-side (Norman Cook's unwanted presence most notable here). Dave Rowntree's mathematical drumming takes a back seat to simple beats and Moroccan rhythms. Alex James's virtuoso bass playing is not so easily contained, and many of his neat bass hooks carry the songs melodically when Albarn's vocals make way for electronics and rudimentary acoustic guitar.

If Blur reunite for an eighth album, I hope that they take the Think Tank blueprint over the last album to feature Coxon. As the final track here, "Battery In Your Leg" proves, together the four of them can produce truly astonishing music. Uplifting and emotionally destroying, Albarn claims its the only song he has ever written about Blur. I hope it is more an appeal to Coxon to return, and not simply a tragic epitaph for one of the best British bands of the last twenty years.