By Rob Brunner
Updated May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
Blur: Peter Marlowe

Despite the recent departure of key member Graham Coxon, Blur’s seventh album more or less sticks to the formula established on 1999’s ”13,” blending traditional songs into a messy mishmash of experimental jams and half-formed ideas. The combination worked on ”13,” with well-crafted tunes like ”Coffee and TV” and ”No Distance Left to Run” providing oases amid the vast expanses of musical exploration. Unfortunately, Think Tank’s songs just aren’t as good, and its experiments aren’t as intriguing or, well, experimental.

Whether this is due to guitarist Coxon’s absence, frontman Damon Albarn’s involvement in distracting side projects like Gorillaz and ”Mali Music” (his Malian musician cohorts occasionally show up on ”Think Tank” as well), or some sort of creeping post-Britpop apathy is anyone’s guess. But there’s no denying the evidence of Blur’s decline: Kickoff single ”Crazy Beat” — overproduced by over-the-hill DJ Fatboy Slim — is a cartoon-voiced throwaway that’s neither deranged nor danceable. ”Jets” matches whoa, dude lyrics (”jets are like comets at sunset”) with a lifeless groove and a sax solo bearing so little relation to the music that it sounds lifted wholesale from a different recording. ”We’ve Got a File on You,” meanwhile, finds Albarn repeatedly barking the track’s title over a tired distortion-overdrive guitar riff.

The ballads fare better. ”Good Song” and the Ray Davies-ish ”Sweet Song” live up to their (not exactly imaginative) titles, and ”On the Way to the Club” and ”Out of Time” make up for sappy lyrics with heartfelt vocals by Albarn. Still, for an album called ”Think Tank,” this muddled retread seems awfully short on ideas.