More like STINK Tank, because this album…
But they didn’t break up! The guitarist just left! Also Damon signed my copy of this album with “XO” and I’m still waiting for my hug and kiss.
First the snark: this album was recorded in Africa, which is a resort country that bands go to to get in touch with their roots if they feel a little lost creatively. It’s a good thing that it exists, the country that is, and can exert an “African” influence on the music made there. Yes, Africa has poverty, but it has nothing except wealth when it comes to feeling. Why, sometimes it seems like the entire country is filled with happy choirs and bongo players living in happy thatch-roofed houses.
Luckily, Blur don’t do that that much, it just bothers me when bands go to Marrakech or Ghana or Johannesburg and come back acting like they’re suddenly more in touch with themselves. Maybe if they went to the slums of Lagos and wrote an album about how badly they wanted to kill themselves I’d be more forgiving. The only real “African” sound on here is the Moroccan orchestra on “Out Of Time” and because it’s so eerily pushed back in the production and only appears on the one song it’s actually pretty good. Unless you count having interesting percussion production, which it does throughout, and it a bit mocking, but lettuce put that carrot aside. For my handwords the real influence here are big-beat bands and early electronica, clashing with Blur’s more traditional pop sound. Most of the songs have real drums made to sound like “beats” and odd sound loops. Oh, and there’s nearly no guitar at all thanks to the departure of Graham Coxon. So that’s different. It’s a weird mix with Damon’s expressive lyrics, but it generates generally positive results.
This is the first Blur album ever not to fit an obvious theme, way moreso than the eponymous album. Lyrically it’s sort of a mish-mash between the last album’s songs about self-worth and Leisure’s (!) predilection with dancing and going clubbing. Guess which theme doesn’t work for a group of three men in their early 40s! Not that I doubt that Damon went clubbing and did drugs and whatever, especially since he was busy masterminding Gorillaz at the time, but that whole “white people in clubs are empty, man” focus has no emotional impact for me at all. If it does for you then “On My Way to the Club” (co-written by “James Dring,” whose name, when spoken, makes the speaker sound like half a ‘tard) and “Brothers and Sisters” might be for you. But not “Crazy Beat,” the resident blatant attempt at a hit single, even produced by Fatboy Slim, with a big dumb riff (that sounds like “It Could Be You”), an aggravating duck voice, and the awful line “I love my brothers on Saturday night, yeah!” which should make anyone twitch violently.
Me, I prefer “Ambulance,” the opener that goes “I ain’t got nothing to be scared of” over and over, the pensive “Good Song” (according to Damon the best song on the album when I asked him because I’m an idiot), random loud shouty thing “We’ve Got A File On You,” Clash-y “Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club” and the aforementioned apocalypse-y “Out Of Time,” because where IS the love song to set us free?
There are quite a few mediocre tracks filling it out, like the six-minute sax-led jam “Jets” and the annoying “Gene By Gene” and the almost good but what-the-hell’s-with-title “Battery In Your Leg.” Also, the best song on the whole album is spoken (and sometimes shouted) oddball slow-burner “Me White Noise” that they inconveniently hid before the first track so that you can’t hear it unless you have an old-timey CD player. Well, another day another dolla. It’s a sad little end to a great band, but at least it’s not a shameful end.