May 1999
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Blur 13 (Virgin/Food)

A review by Courtney Knopf

Lately when you hear the name William Orbit, you instantly call to mind the work he did on Madonnaís Ray Of Light. But on Blurís latest release13, the listener isnít bombarded by very many throbbing beats that are almost to be expected when Orbit is in the production booth. Instead weíve been given a densely layered and experimental album that diverges in almost every way from its predecessors. Gone are the days of the catchy pop hooks of Parklife and The Great Escape. Blur, the granddaddys of Britpop, have matured.

Lead singer Damon Albarn and Elasticaís Justine Frischman were the Britpop equivalent of Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley, and a great deal of the shift in Blurís sound can be attributed to their much publicized breakup. 13 is the first time that Blur (and more specifically, Albarn) have consciously ventured into any sort of emotional territory with their songwriting. The album opens with the epically beautiful "Tender," which, taking a cue from Spiritualizedís Live at the Royal Albert Hall, is backed by a full gospel choir. "1992," named for the year that Albarn and Frischman began dating, is a spiraling guitar laden look back on the break up and finds Albarn reluctantly coming to terms with his competitors with lyrics like "Youíd love my bed/You took the other instead." And the resigned melancholy of "No Distance Left to Run," which closes out the album, is a sadly apologetic lament on which Albarn sings plaintively "Itís over/You donít need to tell me/I hope youíre with someone who makes you feel safe when youíre sleeping tonight/I wonít kill myself trying to stay in your life/I got no distance left to run."

Though much of this album is catharsis in the wake of a sour breakup, donít expect to hear Damon caterwauling about lost love throughout the entire disc. Not abandoning their Britpop roots entirely, the buoyant "Coffee & TV," (penned by guitarist Graham Coxon) is a softer and sweeter take on the pop songs of The Great Escape and Parklife. The unrelenting energy of "Bugman" and sexy grind of "Swamp Song" both focus on rough guitars and a throbbing beat, and tend to rock harder than any of Blurís previous work.

The mesmerizing pulse of "Battle" is where William Orbitís influence can really be heard. Picking up where some of the edgier material on 1996ís Blur left off, the spaced out drone of Coxonís fuzzy guitar and the tinkling of a moog, puts the listener in a dreamy trance that is only furthered by Albarnís soft refrain. Dually, the spare arrangement of "Caramel," winds itís way into your subconscious while Albarnís voice lulls you into near hypnosis only to kick your ass into gear with an explosion of synths.

13 is nothing if not a study in contrasts. Itís explores both the harder and softer sides of Blur. The raucous chorus of "B.L.U.R.E.M.I." will probably be fodder for soccer hooligans to sing along to for years to come while "No Distance Left to Run" will echo through a dark room seeped in cigarette smoke to comfort some recently brokenhearted fellow. And the cheekily ironic "Trailerpark" probably marks the first and last time you will ever hear Damon Albarn order you to ĎFreestyle.í The strength of this album as a whole, rests in its ability to mesh the different styles and still come out as one cohesive product.

[89%] B+

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