From the ‘90s to the early 2000s, Blur dominated the brit-pop scene alongside bands like Oasis and Supergrass. Blur’s successful records, such as “Parklife” in 1994 and its self-titled project in 1997, implemented the band as one of the most prestigious groups of their time.
However, after the release of “Blur,” it was time for the band to take a more experimental approach to its overall sound. In 1999, Blur’s unconventional magnum opus, entitled “13,” was released to the masses. With “13,” Blur took a bold step into experimental rock, striving to move well beyond the pop sound that they were so attached to.
It is indisputable that “13” is Blur’s best effort to date, as every experimental leap the band takes always lands beautifully.
The album opens with my favorite Blur song of all time, “Tender.” Although not the most experimental song on the record, it presents everything that makes Blur such a fantastic band. Blur was always known for driving repetition and catchy hooks, something that this song holds an abundance of. “Oh my baby! Oh my baby! Oh why! Oh my!” guitarist Graham Coxton belts in the chorus, almost as if he’s begging and pleading for the listener to sing with him. Even with its seven-minute run-time, this song remains to be one of the most memorable on the album.
Songs such as “Coffee and TV” and “B.L.U.R.E.M.I” also fall into the same category as “Tender”; not over experimental, but still showing glimpses of what made Blur a sensation in the first place.
The band does dip into the melodramatic and sad with this album, a rarity among Blur’s preceding discography. Songs such as “1992” and “Mellow Song” provide soft-spoken vocals by singer Damon Albarn and hypnotizing instrumentals that give Blur this heartfelt edge that was unfamiliar, but well-received. These two songs make for a great soundtrack when lying in your bed at 2 a.m. while contemplating the meanings of life.
Within the more experimental side of the album, songs such as the blistering “Bugman” come to mind. With this tune, Blur has never sounded heavier or more abrasive. The band’s use of fuzz-drenched guitars, drill-noises, and overlapping vocal tracks is what places“Bugman” as a highlight, and even possibly a peak, of the band’s experimentation. “Space is the place!” Albarn screams out to end the song, as if to describe the band’s newfound creativity.
One of the other experimental highlights of “13” comes in the form of another personal favorite of mine, “Trimm Trabb.” Combining a Latin drum groove, a catchy guitar riff, and some incredibly strange lyrics makes this song almost other-worldly. If I had to describe the soundscape of this tune into words, imagine being strapped to the hood of a bullet train transcending through a black hole, only to explode at the end of the trip. That is how specific and unique Blur gets with this song and the album as a whole!
In retrospect, Blur’s “13” is not only its best album, but one of the best examples of a conventional band taking an unconventional route. To go from one sound that defined the band to something completely different takes a lot of guts, as it could have been career suicide. However, this album was not only a hit with Blur fans, but it was also a hit with music critics.
This is not an album for entry-level Blur fans, as it can be bizarre and off-putting on several levels. However, if you are a die-hard Blur fan or even an experimental-music fan in general, this album will be a blast!