“I ain’t got nothing to be scared of,” sings Damon Albarn on Blur’s seventh album, and he means it as both an opening gambit and a mission statement. Since his breakup with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann in 1998, Albarn has discovered hip-hop, monkeyed with Gorillaz, gone native in Mali, and raged against the war machine. Unfortunately, America’s response has been a half-hearted “woo-hoo,” usually between periods at hockey games.
No matter–the world’s a big place. After spending act one of their career in archly Victorian fashion–skewering snooty Englishisms, exoticizing the dog track, engaging in horseplay by the pool behind the manor–Blur have reinvented themselves as boldly postcolonial popsters. Think Tank‘s songs aren’t merely multicultural, they’re multilateral, recorded partly in Morocco and sung in a musical polyglot Hoovered up from stray corners of the empire: aspects of Afrobeat, bits of bhangra, images of Islam. With guitarist Graham Coxon missing in action, the rhythm section of Alex James and Dave Rowntree steps up, and the album shuffles and grooves like Fela Kuti sloshed on gin and tonics. Opener “Ambulance” surprises with skronking saxes; “Sweet Song” and “Caravan” ooze and shudder with a world-weary melancholy.
Back on the home front, Fatboy Slim funks up “Crazy Beat”(suggested alternate title: “Song 3”). But the track’s escapist laddism feels forced and hollow. The far better “We’ve Got a File on You,” with jackbooted punk noise interrupting the sound of a Muslim prayer call, cops to the uglier side of Britpop’s rah-rah nationalism. The album’s highlight may be the failure-soaked, heart-stoppingly lovely “Out of Time,” which perfectly captures the jumble of beauty and dread that defines life under orange alert.”Are we out of time?” Albarn asks, desperate for one last peace march or one last snog. Emboldened by politics, fatherhood, or some primo Jamaican ganja, Albarn has learned what the Pentagon has not: The planet is its own Total Information Awareness Network. As he sings near the end of the album, “You’ve got a battery in your leg.” Either plug in or get out of the way.