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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Think Tank
Virgin Records

Rating: 5/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Think Tank marks the first release since the departure of longtime Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, a development that many feared would lead to the band's demise. Without Coxon to reel in front man Damon Albarn's every musical whim, many were unsure where exactly Blur would be headed. Coxon's resignation (under murky circumstances that include Fatboy Slim and the country of Morocco) has unquestionably led to a change in direction for the band, and fans of the old Brit guitar sound of Blur will undoubtedly be disappointed. It would, however, be a bit premature to denote Coxon's departure as the beginning of any sort of demise for Blur, as the band has taken up the reigns of influence from Albarn's much ballyhooed cartoon/club project Gorillaz and, somewhat surprisingly, ended up in similarly green pastures.

Think Tank opens with "Ambulance," a strikingly lush piece of emotional pop that will undoubtedly catch every Blur fan off guard on the first listen. The song is chalk-full of interesting elements that find cohesion in an unlikely mix, but from there the album skips around, hopping from convincing one minute to cringing the next.

On the positive side, the production work of guest Fatboy Slim on tracks "Crazy Beat" and "Gene By Gene" give the Colchester Englishmen an undeniably rhythmic quality that they haven't shown before, with dance, reggae and world beat influences bubbling on and just below the surface of almost every track. The dusty Brit-funk of "Brothers And Sisters" reminds oddly of some Chemical Brothers B-sides I heard long ago, and the syrupy blood of "On The Way To The Club" lends a heavy hand to the album's overall feel.

The beats and grooves laid down by bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree project the rhythmic duo in a new light, but one has to wonder if they are unleashing their own sequestered club beasts or merely holding on to the line that Albarn is towing. While the production is generally top notch, it is also noticeably thin and sugar-coated, each song's weight resting cautiously on a sweet crust that could crack at any moment. To Albarn's credit, most of the time the weight is borne successfully, but at times compositions come off as half-baked and thrown in almost as afterthoughts.

While Coxon's departure figured to play a lead role in the sound of Blur that would surface on Think Tank, few outside of the band themselves could have predicted the extent of the impact. Virtually everywhere on Think Tank Coxon's input is glaringly missing, perhaps most noticeably on simple numbers such as "Good Song" - the track relies on a laptop acoustic guitar loop that simply screams for Blur's authentic guitar sound.

For all of the glitch and burbles of Pro-Tools, analog synths and wandering instrumental acid jams, Think Tank is at best a passable album when compared to Blur's back catalog, and I surmise that without a competent co-songwriter to reel in Albarn's cheap nightclub fantasies the band will soon be closing up shop. Not to say that this isn't a listenable release, but simply to point out that the Gorillaz are a much more plausible outlet for this sort of thing.

Reviewed by Lukas Shipman

See other reviews by Lukas Shipman



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