It's no secret that Blur's seventh and final album Think Tank polarized critics and fans when it first debuted in 2003. Blur hasn't ever been a band that lived on my radar. Although I've enjoyed a song or two and haven't ever complained about hearing them, their records have spent most of their time collecting dust on my digital bookshelves.
All that said, I've heard Blur's albums consistently throughout my life through sources other than my own headphones -- all their albums except Think Tank, that is. Now all the knee-jerk hullabaloo has passed by and the album still seems to rest awkwardly on fans ears. Is it the best thing ever, or a weird last hurrah of an experiment?
It's bleeding awesome is what it is. It takes a few moments to reorient the ears away from their earlier work, but where Think Tank stands out is where Blur treads new ground. It's an album for people who don't particularly care if Blur exists or not. Sure, one might be willing to argue that the album is actually a collection of all the things that make Blur great, but in the same token, it's a set of what has made Blur different.
It's probably a little shameful in some circles to admit I never got into the whole Brit-pop thing, but if my memory serves, I was wandering around listening to post-rock-something music in 2003, and the Brits were too present-rock. They just didn't get me, and I didn't get them -- or so I thought, anyway. But in 2003 I wasn't the brightest of stars.
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Lacking Graham Coxon the album is heavily synthesized, which, although the band toyed with it before, it started really meshing together here. It was as if replacing Coxon with a computer was the best thing to ever happen to them, probably because they didn't try to make a stand-in, they made whole new sounds. Of course, in retrospect, the changes make complete sense, namely because we have the benefit of hindsight to see what has become of the group.
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It's probably a bit counter-productive at this point to pick apart what happened to cause Think Tank, but it seems like the album was a jumping point for what was to come from the rest of the crew. Damon Albarn wandered off to do work with a few hip-hop and dance producers, as well as Gorillaz and Monkey. Dave Rowntree is off fighting the good fight against file-sharing prosecution, while Alex James has hopped from band to band recently aligning himself with a few parts of the disbanded New Order. Notice a trend here? Technology. Even Rowntree, who's mostly stayed away from music post-Blur has kept his hand in it.
What Think Tank did in 2003 was announce the end of Blur, but also the beginning of a love interest with technology and production. It's had some absolutely amazing results and will likely continue to do so. Although this might not be the best album for most to dip into the Blur universe, it was probably the best for me, and I'm a bit disappointed in my 2003 self for not recognizing it sooner.