I think I mentioned this earlier (?) but this is my favorite album by Blur and one of my favorite albums of all-time. Whereas the previous self-titled album still had some similarities to previous Blur albums 13 (mostly) sounds the most experimental of all of their albums. William Orbit produces this one, the first time they didn’t have Stephen Street behind the boards. Let’s get to it.

The (upper half ) of the album cover, a painting by Graham Coxon

Track 1: “Tender“: The opening sounds like an old timey guitar that sounds sampled but probably isn’t. Nice almost 1 minute musical intro. They employee an actual real sounding choir here and it works perfectly. Albarn is using multiple voice registers (I count at least 4 in the first 2 minutes). The drums just bang on this album, right from the start. At seven plus minutes it’s their most ambitious album opener ever and probably their best as well. I obviously love Blur but I wouldn’t describe their music as soulful, this song is. Six albums in and they continue to push themselves.

Track 2: “Bugman“: Heavily distorted guitar to kick things off. La La La Na Na Na’s here (a staple) but a bunch of utter distortion besides the guitar and two minutes in a buzzsaw effect and more guitar histrionics and then an utter jam erupts for next minute or so. A false end with 1:25 left and just more jamming and the last 50 seconds sounds totally like a Gorillaz track with utter musical distortion and Albarn singing “space is the place” in a super high falsetto. Good song.

Track 3: “Coffee & TV: Coxon writes and sings the lead on this 5 star banger of a song. Off kilter guitar opening that delves into an immediate driving groove. Alex James does some wonderful bass work on this song. The lads all join in on the chorus, “sociability, is hard enough for me” etc etc. As mentioned just a driving groove still and then the guitar histrionics kick in as well. A side note, this has a weird video as well with a lost cartoon milk carton (with Graham Coxon’s picture on the side, this used to denote missing people lol) and the band just jamming out. I remember this being probably a top 3 hit for them in US in terms of other people I knew heard and liked this song (“Song 2” and maybe “Girls and Boys” the other 2 “hits” they had in the US). The first 5 star banger on the album. In the video the organ part at the end of the song, the milk carton rises to heaven after having found Graham Coxon and then reuniting him with his family.

Track 4: “Swamp Song“: Maybe a bit more in the well house of a typical Blur track here, but having Orbit produce it makes it sound pretty fresh. The guitars and music in general just has a harder edge on this album than any of their previous releases. They could go hard but never did it consistently as they do on this album. It serves this album well. A great outro here that is a signature of Blur, the manic chanting and general weirdness employed very well. Good song.

Track 5: “1992“: A driving piano and off kilter guitar. This song harkens back a bit to something like “Oily Water” or “Miss America”, not quite as successful but a definite 4 star song. Pretty much lyric less after the first two minutes and just experimental jamming. We are getting into the thick of this album right here. Waves of sonic ocean swell the last minute, just great.

Tack 6: “B.L.U.R.E.M.I.”: A punkish song and maybe their best one ever? Debatable but just a banger of a song. Fits perfectly onto this album cause it’s a less straight punk song than typical for them. There is a distinctly “Gorillaz” esque harmonica part halfway through. A major false ending and odd keyboard part to finish up the song.

Track 7: “Battle“: This is a pretty epic song stating off with major panning musical parts that sound like a spaceship of some sort. This is a major head phone song. The drums majorly kick and have that east coast hip hop sound, we will come to learn Albarn loves this type of sound via Gorillaz. The hard core crunchy guitar is back as well. They are just jamming and throwing the whole kitchen sink against the wall and it totally works. 5 star banger song. The last minute hits harder than (arguably) anything they’ve ever done. Another false ending with an instrumental part the last 1:20.

Track 8: “Mellow Song“: This song starts off/sets up the greatest continuous 4 song cycle that Blur (or possible any group) pulls off consecutively on an album. It starts off with a simple acoustic guitar and Albarn vocal and then kicks into a weird vibe about halfway through. This musical vibe will be carried throughout the next 3 songs to form almost an inside of an album album. A bit of a musical worm hole if you will that just builds upon itself. I think I’m correct here, because at the end of the song there is a bit that sounds like tuning through radio stations.

Track 9: “Trailer Park“: This just kicks in with a totally weird guitar keyboards and then come the pounding drums. We are in 90’s golden age hip hop territory here. Just a shimmering pulsating beat and rhythm here, broken up by more distorted banging guitar and just out of tune guitar jamming. There’s a repetitive keyboard part being constantly played as well that also adds to the hip hop (ish) vibe to my ear. The guitar gets more unhinged as the song continues but the drums continue to pound away. Damon lost his girl to the Rollings Stones. Total 5 star banger. An undeniable stunner. A musical ending that sounds like an escape soundtrack to movie that leads into the next song…

Track 10: “Caramel“: Which just sounds like a continuation (musically) to what started a song and a half ago. The tempo is slowed back down but we are in some sort of outer space drifting to an unknown destination. Two minutes in the intensity starts to crank up and Blur start to empty their musical holsters. We get the Tony Allen drum part about 3 minutes in and the musical freakout is taking shape. They really explore the studio space the rest of the way to say the least. This is an example of a band pushing their own limits and totally succeeding in a triumphant way. There were always musical signifiers that they were building to a possible limit pushing of their music from a creative standpoint and they are paying it all off right now. 5 star banger. We are still in outer space the last minute of so but we are transitioning over to another station that still exists on the same wavelength.

Track 11: “Trimm Trabb“: Albarn, sounding drunk and distorted, announces the boarding to the final stop of this musical interlude. Just more pounding drums (the Tony Allen sound again) and it sounds like they may be heading back to earth initially but this is just a ruse. There’s a short distorted keyboard with three minutes remaining and they just again tear the roof off. Maybe they are the Mothership landing? Just an undeniable 4 song musical journey that is essentially perfect in my mind. I can’t tell you the countless times in my life I’ve just played these four songs back to back to back to back. Coxon’s terror guitar just now again giving me major musical goose bumps. It never fails to deliver. Of course a 5 star banger.

Track 12: “No Distance Left To Run“: A very sad song about Albarn breaking up with Justine Frischmann. A very good song and I like it, on the border of 3/4 stars. It’s just hard to follow up what I just heard and compare anything to it, but a very good song.

Track 13: “Optigan 1“: 2:34 song that’s just basically an organ and some rhythmic parts. It’s very good though. Makes this thing a baker’s dozen without a miss.

This pretty easily holds up as my favorite Blur album which is pretty astonishing seeing how much I love all of their albums (minus Leisure). They weren’t getting along at all by this point but they were still able to achieve a huge musical statement, one I think they had been working up to their entire career. Not much more to say, one of the best albums of the 90’s and maybe my favorite album of the my favorite musical decade. This isn’t regarded as their best album, but it is in my mind.

5 star bangers: “Coffee & TV” “Battle” “Trailer Park” “Caramel” “Trimm Trabb”

Everything else either a 3 or 4 star song and zero clunkers!

Allmusic review of 13 3.5/5 stars