Blur, Think Tank (Virgin/EMI)

blur-think-tankThe Blur fan finds himself left in the lurch with Think Tank. First there was the departure of guitarist Graham Coxon before the record was completed (Coxon appears on one track) which is the equivalent of Keef leaving Mick. Remember that record Aerosmith did without Joe Perry? No one does. Blur has always been singer/songwriter Damon Albarn’s show, but the chemistry between him and Coxon arguably created Blur’s finest music.

Then, there’s all this talk about Think Tank being a “soulful” album. Which, if you’re wondering, means it’s a whole album of “No Distance Left to Runs.”

For practically their entire career, Blur have been accused of being dilettantes. Their initial reaction was to refute the accusation, point to their credentials, cite their influences. But it seems they’ve given up this tactic and now turn dilettantism into an art.

“Crazy Beat” and “We’ve Got a File On You” are sloganeering chant-alongs in the style of art-school punks everywhere. “Out of Time” is an atmospheric ballad. “On the Way to the Club” is one of Albarn’s prettiest melodies in another spacey package. “Brothers and Sisters” is sort of a groovy hoe-down.

Perhaps the record’s best track is “Morroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowl Club” where world music influences, Albarn’s sly melodies, and Dave Rowntree and Alex James’s rhythm section creates a big open sound that’s memorable, groovy and light.

Like their last record, 13, Think Tank finds Blur delivering moments but nothing as indispensible as their 1993-1997 albums. Blur fans may make an uneasy peace with Think Tank because it delivers much of what Albarn always promised (threatened?) – its grooves, experimentation and world music influences – but we can still pine for the pompous hooks and foppish attitude of Brit-pop’s heyday.

[This piece originally appeared in the Rage.]