In the four years between their 1999 art-rock masterpiece, 13, and 2003’s Think Tank, an awful lot had changed in Blur’s world. By 2000, frontman Damon Albarn’s musical interests had long outgrown the constraints of Britpop – that year he travelled to Mali to play with West African musicians on an Oxfam-sponsored trip, the fruits of which were released as the 2002 album Mali Music; and he had also began working with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett and producer Dan The Automator on what would eventually become Gorillaz’s debut album Released in 2001, the latter record was a huge hit, with worldwide sales eclipsing anything Albarn had managed with Blur. Not only leading to tensions with his original group, Albarn’s commitments with Gorillaz – particularly in the US, where Blur had received variable success – pushed planned sessions for a new Blur album back to late 2001.
Listen to Think Tank here.
A three-piece for the first time
Guitarist Graham Coxon had also been busy, releasing three increasingly accomplished solo albums in quick succession – The Sky Is Too High (1998), The Golden D (2000), and Crow Sit On Blood Tree (2001). Meanwhile, longstanding personal problems had come to a head and, in November 2001 – just as sessions for the Blur record were due to start – Coxon was admitted to the Priory Hospital in South West London, for 28 days, to be treated for alcoholism.
When Blur finally began sessions with producer Ben Hillier, at Albarn’s 13 Studio, for what would become Think Tank, they were a three-piece for the first time. Coxon rejoined the group in February and May 2002, playing on Battery In Your Leg, The Outsider, Morricone and Some Glad Morning (the first of which would end up on Think Tank, while the others emerged as B-sides), but he found the studio time “awkward” and decided to part ways with the band in August. Back to a three-piece, Albarn, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree travelled to Marrakesh, Morocco, to finish the album, with Hillier and Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook on production duties.