Review Summary: I've gotta get over
They say the best art comes from emotion. 13 is a record that shows that is entirely true. Written and recorded following front man Damon Albarn's split with his girlfriend Justine Frischmann of the band Elastica. At the same time, lead guitarist Graham Coxon was struggling with alcoholism and was feeling betrayed after Albarn had moved in with Coxon's friend Jamie Hewlett (The two later formed Gorillaz together). Britpop had finally bit the dust and Blur, once champions of the genre had taken a new direction. Their previous, self titled album was a mix of blaring lo-fi guitars and avant garde leanings. 13 took the negativity floating around the band at the time and channeled it into a swirling landscape of noise, melancholy and remorse. Did it work" Well let's see.
13 continues in vain of their previous record, in it being a Lo-fi alternate rock record. However, 13 is a much more experimental work. While Self Titled did indulge in some psychedelica (mainly on tracks 'Beetlebum', 'Strange News From Another Star' and the spoken word noise piece 'Essex Dogs'), 13 goes all out into a noise rock experimental freak out. Tracks like the crazed 'Bugman' and out of control 'B.L.U.R.E.M.I' harken back to the group's early punk days, though now the music is much more stylised and harsh. There's elements of trip-hop ('Trailer Park'), Folk ('Mellow Song'), Blues ('No Distance Left To Run'), Gospel ('Tender') and just flat out what the ***ery ('Battle'). It's a difficult record to digest at first. If one is expecting something like Parklife or even Song 2, 13 can come off as too out there even for hardcore fans. The album's extended jams, inflated with hidden interludes and lengthy instrumental endings can make 13 seem overbearing, it is the longest album the group made after all. However, it's important to note each of the tracks here were all born and crafted from in studio jams, which were built up into full songs.
The opening track 'Tender' is a 7 minute gospel singalong and undoubtedly one of the group's best tracks, with Albarn crooning about the joys of Love and the fear of separation that comes with it. The choir and slow shambling beat crescendo into a gorgeous refrain sung by Coxon. It's a wonderful song and one of the group's most emotional and honest tracks. The snarling freak out of 'Bugman' presumably about Albarn's drug issues is a sonic collage of feedback and screaming, highlighted by the blaring guitar riffs and the extended Krautrock-esq coda. Coxon steps up to the mic for 'Coffee and TV', a mellow song which features upbeat acoustic heavy verses and a solo, consisting more of a mess of notes rather than a structured set of chords. Coxon's voice is soothing and high And while He isn't the greatest singer in the world, his almost amateurish vocals given Coffee and TV this comfortable sense of familiarity and warmth. It's a warming and almost welcoming song and one that I adore. The uncomfortable piano Jam '1992' presents us with some of Damon's most cryptic lyrics and a warped, hypnotic guitar effect, and the electronic avant garde trip 'Battle' is a frightening, dissonance heavy piece with distorted fuzz guitar and mantra like lyrics. It's Stark and confusing yet incredibly effective and accomplished. The highlight 'Caramel' is a truly haunting song, with incredibly sparse almost wailing guitar parts and incredibly bleak lyrics and vocal delivery. Damon lists off essentially everything ruining his life and the immense struggles of dealing with them and letting them go. It's incredibly honest and vulnerable and one of the group's more personal tracks. Trimm Trabb is another stripped back affair, with a chugging acoustic riff and spacey vocals which erupts into a heavy fuzz guitar jam. The grand finale (not counting the ambient organ instrumental 'Optigan 1') is the primal, mellow blues track 'No Distance Left To Run'. It's a devastatingly sad track, probably the most depressive song they ever released. Yet, it's a song about acceptance too. "I won't kill myself trying to stay in your life" Damon mumbles over the heavy bass riff of the song. He wants to move on and he knows he has to, even if it tears him apart in the process. It's an incredibly mature and one of Damon's lyrical masterpieces, even in it's simplicity.
13 is an album that can be off putting at first. The lengthy electronic noise rock tracks and the dissonance heavy musical choices can be incredibly off putting for some. Tracks like 'B.L.U.R.E.M.I' and 'Trailer Park' aren't what I would call the group's best material (though they certainly are enjoyable songs) and the seemingly endless stream of bleakness and pure unfiltered sadness could also be a turn off to some. I admit some of the songs here confused me at first. The screeching trip hop Of Trailer Park and the blaring guitar effects on 1992 completely threw me off. But 13 is a record that rewards multiple listens, with new details creeping up on every listen. It's a dark and mature album, but most of all it's Human. It's real. And to be honest, that's the best thing I can say about an LP.
Coffee and TV
No Distance Left To Run