This is the sound of a band doing exactly what they want to do.
Enough about Damon’s sappy side. Who cares about Justine? Damon hasn’t broken up with his mates yet and they release the album of the year in march.
There is a self-indulgence which is good. ‘Tender’ with its gospel choir and tinny guitar sounds and boards hitting the floor and 7 minute plus running time, is this sort of indulgence. From the time the band strikes in, Blur suck the listener into their indulgence. Damon’s croon goes all over the place from falsetto to baritone, sloppily, beautifully. The whole song is one sound. The contrast of Damon and the choir and Graham’s whine-ing refrain is matching by the warmth of the rhythm and the jangle of the guitars. I honestly don’t know another song which at 5 and a half minutes still has me wishing it wouldn’t end. ‘I’m waiting for that feeling to come…’
From the first noises of overdriven, overdosed guitar on the second track, ‘Bugman,’ it’s clear Blur are going to be all over the map with this album. All over the song map, but consistent in attaining sound. Each track has a sonic world all of its own. This is really a marvel of production. (William Orbit replaced Stephen Street behind the boards for 13.) The layers of noise aren’t separate from the band playing. The overdubs of Damon’s voice are always in sync aurally.
The only clear pop song on the record is the Graham-penned and sung ‘Coffee and TV.’ It comes third and is just as arresting in its tightness as ‘Bugman’ is in its messiness. despite the inherent pop feel, ‘Coffee and TV’ isn’t a song which Blur could have written in 1994. The song is laid back. It is without the contrivance of British pop which Blur previously held the patent on. It also showcases a new, confident voice of Graham Coxon whose ‘You’re So Great’ was a highlight of Blur’s last album blur, despite its ‘recorded under a table’ sound. (I don’t know how Graham contributed the catchy song amongst all the noise here after his solo album The Sky Is Too High broke all records for ‘loudest recorded levels on an album.’)
‘Swamp Song’ is another brilliant mess of guitars, noises. This entire album (especially the songs like ‘Swamp Song’ and ‘Battle’ and ‘b.l.u.r.e.m.i.’) puts Graham’s guitars to good use. Finally, his messy, electric and electronic affected sounds are heard in context. On previous Blur releases the guitar ‘solo’ was often a noticeable break for Graham to get his two cents of noise in. Here Graham’s sounds are the band’s sounds as well.
The song ‘1992’ is an endearing inclusion to the album. ‘1992’ was first demo-ed for Blur’s second album Modern Life is Rubbish. Apparently it was forgotton about until Damon found the old demo and suggested it for 13.
Damon announced in an interview that ‘b.l.u.r.e.m.i.’ should be pronounced ‘blur are e-m-i.’ The statement seems lovingly post-modern in its reference to the Sex Pistols song ‘EMI’ and Blur’s contentment with their major label. The song should be the band’s new anthem with the computer-synthesized voice singing along with Damon instead of Phil Daniels.
What makes this album futuristic is its holistic approach to the recording. Each song is its own sound. The mixture of the human elements (as in ‘1992,’ ‘Mellow Song,’ ‘Trailer Park’: acoustic guitars strumming along with up-front vocals) with the electric and electronic noises set the futuristic tone and the production and blur’s performance deliver the sound. Blur have relaxed and left the parklife for life in orbit.