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Blur’s seventh full-length album, “Think tank”, was their first in a large mittful that I didn’t rush out to purchase upon release. I had been a rabid fan for over a decade by this point and loved everything they did but as I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this Best tunes of 2003 series, I didn’t have a lot of disposable funding in the early 2000s and was forced to be excessively discerning in my CD purchases. And though I became familiar with some of its songs*, I didn’t really give the album a good listen until a decade or so later when I purchased it as part of the “21” vinyl box set and really got an understanding for how much I had previously underestimated its value.
Still, it’s a bit of an outlier in their catalogue, being the only album to which founding guitarist Graham Coxon didn’t contribute as a full-time member, only appearing on its final track. He left the group very early on in the recording sessions, after they had started them without him while he recovered in rehab and then, found himself not on the same wavelength as his bandmates**. And while it’s not quite as out there and as experimental as their previous output, “13”, it’s not exactly the accessible pop record that Damon Albarn had promised beforehand. Without Coxon’s influence, “Think tank” really reflects Albarn’s ever changing interests, less focus on guitar and an increased synthetic palette, and of course, it’s painted with a big world music brush.
“Out of time”, just as an example, features an Andalucian string group, a benefit of their having recorded a large part of the album in Marrakesh, Morocco. These strings come in during the latter part of the song, after the rhythm section of Dave Rowntree and Alex James have set the scene with the subdued drum beat and lackadaisical bassline. All the while, Albarn is crooning along to vaguely unintelligible sounds, like he’s performing with an orchestra of ghosts.
“And you’ve been so busy lately
That you haven’t found the time
To open up your mind
And watch the world spinning
Gently out of time“
He is addressing someone, or perhaps a gaggle of someones, who is completely removed from everything else going on in the world and that perhaps that someone is partially and inadvertently contributing to everything that is going on. When the orchestra (of ghosts or of Moroccan musicians) kicks in to gear, it’s like the rest of us should be joining in and rising up together.
*Including this one
**Coxon has, of course, since participated in all of the group’s reunion activities, including the surprise/surprising eighth album, 2015’s “The magic whip”.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.