Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
One rumor had it that Blur was making a world-music album. Another held that the band's seventh set would be a dance record. The actual recording, "Think Tank," is neither. Instead, Blur has delivered radical modern rock that juxtaposes sonic invention with some of the sweetest pop tunes that frontman Damon Albarn has ever written.
"We're in love with melody," Albarn notes. "But I think we're also adventurous musically. This is the first record where those two elements have truly come together."
Due May 6 worldwide (via Virgin in the U.S. and EMI in Europe), "Think Tank" is a key release for the former Brit-pop champions, whose battle for chart supremacy with Oasis reinvigorated the U.K. rock scene in the mid-1990s. It is the band's first album as a trio, following the departure of guitarist/founding member Graham Coxon. It also marks Blur's return from the lengthy four-year sabbatical that followed the release of 1999's "13."
"Think Tank" also comes on the back of considerable speculation about the band's future, fueled by Albarn's recent pursuit of several successful side projects, including film soundtracks; hip-hop/dance act Gorillaz; his own record label, Honest Jon's; and African fusion album "Mali Music."
This has caused some to question his continued commitment to Blur, but Albarn insists that his extra-curricular activities have enabled the band to come back stronger than before. "You have to go out and find your sense of identity as a musician," he notes. "I'm still looking for that, and I expect that I'm going to spend my whole life doing it."
EMI Recorded Music U.K. & Ireland chairman/CEO Tony Wadsworth also believes that Albarn's activities away from Blur have contributed to the band making the most impressive album of its career. "The first thing that struck me when we heard the material was how vibrant and different it was," he says. "It was obvious that the songwriting had been energized by the success of Damon's other projects."
The band began recording "Think Tank" in late 2001 in London as a quartet, before Coxon's departure in June 2002. His guitar playing has survived on one cut, "Battery in Your Leg."
"We weren't fighting. But Graham got to a position where he just wasn't comfortable with me calling the shots," Albarn explains.
The trio of Albarn and the band's longstanding rhythm section of Alex James (bass) and Dave Rowntree (drums) continued work on the album in Morocco. Finishing touches were added at the end of 2002 at Albarn's home in Devon. Production is by Blur and Ben Hillier (Elbow, Tom McRae), with additional production by William Orbit and Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook on a number of tracks.
Lead single "Out of Time" is accompanied by a video directed by John Hardwick that depicts a female marine serving on a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf. The band will evenly divide its time between the U.S. and Europe, where the band will tour extensively.
Excerpted from the May 3, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services  section.
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