The new Blur album, “Think Tank,” drops on 5 May in the UK, and 6 May stateside. Please buy it. I beg of you. Not just because they really need it, but because it’s so damn good. Yes, I’ve already heard most of it (courtesy of Kazaa), and no, just because Norman Cook, Mr. Fatboy Slim himself, is producing it, doesn’t mean it’s all techno’d out. The first track I heard was “Crazy Beat,” which I had heard somewhere would be their first single (it’s actually going to be “Out of Time”). When I heard the first few seconds, I almost cried, because it was WAY too “Starfucker” for me, you know? It starts out with a synthesized voice chanting “crazy beat” to a drum beat. I was like “Oh good lord, it isn’t even good Blur techno, like ‘Girls and Boys,’” but then the guitar kicked in and it wasn’t bad. Even though it was rather like a hi-fi version of the White Stripes.
That track, in my opinion, deviates from the feel of the rest of the album. The other songs are characteristic of Blur, maintaining musicality, but always experimental. “Gene by Gene” is charming, guitars taking a backseat to Damon Albarn’s slurred voice and unconventional percussion instruments. I think I heard something like a squeaky playground merry-go-round in the background, or maybe it was a squeaky gate door. I don’t know, but they use all these weird sounds in such a musical way. (Wait, squeaky mattress springs?)
“Battery in Your Leg,” the only song on the album where Graham Coxon claims songwriting credits, is…well, more Coxy. Damon Albarn sings more like a spoken word performer about “being here cos i’ve got no fucking choice.” Obviously one of the more political songs in the set. Then it gets all Fatboy Slim with the voice manipulation tricks.
“Out of Time” is an interesting choice for a first single, quite minimalist in production. The drums are light, giving way to the featured Andalucian string quartet (apparently that refers to guitars). It recalls “The Universal” with its noveau-retro sound, but the best part is the instrumental, where the guitars take centerstage and jam the hell out of that song.
The real highlights of the tracks I listened to are “Sweet Song” and “Caravan.” The former is lovely, like a watered down yet sweeter version of “Tender,” creating the same atmosphere of longing and beauty, only a bit lighter and more ethereal. Albarn’s voice floats over an airy piano and angelic backing vocals. “Caravan” was my favorite song, guitars disguising themselves as gypsies and Albarn’s voice distorted a la Julian Casablancas, only more listless. “Here I’m a clown,” he sings, “Pulling my world down…and when it comes, you’ll feel the weight of it.” Something that sounds a cross between a toy piano and a banjo plays during the chorus, and in the background the guitar plays on. He even busts out horns and accordians. Man is this song good.
It’s been too long, Damon. Much too long, Alex and Dave. Now that Justine Frischmann has been purged from your mind (via “13), you can start making good music again that’s not heartbreakingly wonderful. Everyone who bought the Best Of album and heard the only new track, “Music is My Radar,” don’t let that sway you. It’s nothing like what they’re making now.
While I do regret Coxon’s departure from the band solely because now there’s no chance they’ll ever make anything as good as “Coffee & TV” ever again, the new, improved (yes, improved) Blur is good enough for me. Please America, find out what you’ve been missing all these years!
(extended review to follow upon release of album)