Album: Blur, ***

Think Tank, Parlophone

What with the guitarist Graham Coxon leaving the band, Damon Albarn's cartoon outfit Gorillaz becoming more successful, globally, than Blur themselves, and Albarn's attention drawn further afield with his Mali Music project, Blur fans can consider themselves fortunate that Think Tank was ever made at all.

Recorded in London, Marrakesh and Devon over the past year, Blur's seventh album reflects all the above factors, in varying degrees. With Coxon appearing only on the melancholy closing ballad, "Battery in Your Leg", it's less prey to his abrasive indie riffing than to Albarn's bluesy, jazzy guitar parts. The African influence surfaces in fragments of kora or oud, notably in the single "Out Of Time", where the guitar loop serves to link National steel-guitar country-blues with West African guitar modes. And in its laid-back experimentalism, Think Tank owes as much to Gorillaz' free-roaming dub-hop as to any past Blur release: a fug of dope-smoke hangs over the lethargically atmospheric "On the Way to the Club" and quirky singalong "Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club", both little more than half-formed ideas.

The most focused pieces are those on which either William Orbit or Norman Cook adds his five-penn'orth. The Orbit-enhanced "Sweet Song" is just that, with a lovely ethereal tone and angelic banked harmonies support Albarn singing, "I believe, I believe, I believe love is the only one", his voice tailing off dispiritedly in contradiction of the lyric. Cook is surely responsible for the infectious garage undercarriage to the looped squeaks and twangs of "Gene by Gene". It's less easy to see what he brought to "Crazy Beat", a second cousin to "Song 2", with its ironic swagger undercut by the distorted vocoder squawk of the title hook. It's one of two nods to Blur's indie past, the other being the abrupt "We've Got a File on You"; but even there, a restless eclecticism blends Wire's punk formalism with the B-52s' pop archness – in less than a minute.

The best tracks move towards a voodoo-swamp-soul trip-hop sound akin to Dr John's Gris-Gris, such as the brooding bohemian anthem, "Brothers And Sisters", and "Caravan", which has the rough, organic quality of Dylan's Time out of Mind. "Sometimes, everything is easy," sings Albarn on the latter. But sometimes it can be too easy: witness the fragmentary "Jets", where etiolated country-blues guitar and a choppy organ grow big bass muscles before being replaced by a synth and sax break that's like an arid Sun Ra; too "cool" to get involved – the album's main failing. They're trying to stay experimental, but a decent song would be nice.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future