BLUR – ” 13 & Think Tank ” Reissues

Posted: February 26, 2023 in MUSIC

To many, Blur are the definitive BritPop band. Certainly, the London-born quartet were responsible for many of the movement’s most memorable and iconic moments and songs; they were the first band from that scene to truly crash the mainstream, and one of the first to eschew the early ’90’s obsession with grunge and American-isms, and instead embrace England’s musical past, drawing inspiration from jaunty ’60’s pop and quirky, quintessentially British ‘characters’.

When they adopted this approach, anyone saying that they knew this was a style that would become a massive cultural obsession is a liar, but Blur paved the way for that scene’s dominance. When the movement ran out of ideas and was clearly dying, Blur refused to die with it, instead embracing art-rock, awkward mathy punk and African rhythms to create one of indie rock’s most diverse and eclectic back catalogues.

Blur at their most experimental, and their their punkiest, Blur at their boldest and simultaneously broadest, Blur at the peak of their creative powers: that’s “13” and it’s why it tops our list as the best Blur album.

Having skilfully avoided the BritPop trapdoor two years prior, Blur doubled down and went even further into art rock territory; moving to Reykjavik for a spell, bringing in dance producer William Orbit to work with them for the first time, and quite pointedly and deliberately indulging in the members even widening musical palettes.

During this period Damon Albarn’s much-publicised relationship with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann had ended, inspiring much of the mood of “13” and giving his lyrics a downbeat and sombre quality that is the emotional core of the record. That’s not to say that this is a dour or depressing album.

Opening track “Tender” is a classic, full of real heart, depth, and when the choir come in to back Albarn on the chorus it is still a spine-tingling moment. “Bugman” has Coxon’s fingerprints all over it, like a more assured “Song 2”and the cowboy slide guitar of “Swamp Song” is a delightful, curled lip garage rock banger.

It’s clear though, that the band really excel when the pace does drop; the nearly 8-minute trip-hop of “Battle” is exceptional, the slight yet mechanical Sigur Ros meets Kraftwerk of “Caramel” utterly at odds with anything Blur had ever produced before and Coxon’s fabulously resigned, sighing vocal performance on the otherwise upbeat “Coffee & TV” is filled with ennui.

But the finest moment is the chilling “No Distance Left to Run”which is unquestionably one of the finest break-up songs ever recorded: over a single chiming guitar Albarn’s voice and lyrics paint a picture of a man heartbroken, beaten and tired. It’s poignant, moving, effortlessly gorgeous and the highlight of the most complete album in the career of one of British music’s most endlessly fascinating bands.  

The sole Blur album that doesn’t feature Graham Coxon, “Think Tank” finds the band pretty much unrecognisable from the chirpy Brit-poppers of the early ’90s. It’s a politically minded, experimental, often angry, often sombre record, influenced by Afrobeat and Albarn’s time in Morocco, and featuring production credits from electronic artists such as William Orbit and Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).

As such, it often gets overlooked somewhat when the Blur discography is being discussed, and while it is far from their strongest effort, there is much to admire about the album. First single “Out of Time” is wonderfully minimalist psychedelic dream and Blur can dart between “Sweet Song’s” hypnotic and delicate melody, the one-minute punk blast of “We’ve Got a File on You” and the country dub of “Brothers and Sisters” without losing your attention. A bit of a lost gem, truth be told.

To celebrate the 21st anniversary of their debut release, Blur’s last (to date) album “Think Tank” has now been expanded across two discs, cut on heavyweight 180 gram, audiophile vinyl and housed in a replica of the original sleeve artwork.

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