Saturday, 18 June 2011

Blur - 13


It's 1999. And while a certain Oxfordshire-based band are recording what would later call itself by the word "kid" and the first letter of the English alphabet, another British band has just released what, at the time, is their sixth outing into music. This album - defined only by a number unlucky for some - shares a common element with their predecessors. And that element, is evolution.

But it's there that all similarity stops.
Blur, having started off as young shoegaze-inspired rockers, transpiring later into punk-rock adventurers and later the driving force at the forefront of what would later be branded "britpop" before returning once more to their classic rock roots (WOOHOO being the most memorable one-liners of that output) - by the end of the twentieth century find themselves presenting to the World a vast, multi-layered field of experimentation. And with William Orbit at the helm, the band showed no hesitation and no conservativeness on how many tracks you can layer on one song at one single time.


Whether it's the gospel-fuzed harmonies and Albarn's merciless expression of love in 'Tender' or Coxon's fuzz-distorted guitar strings of 'Bugman' or '1992', the band are not afraid to push buttons (quite, literally) and turn the knob all the way to 11 on how much you output. And in some cases, HOW you output it in the first place.
But even said experimental fusion doesn't dominate the record, leaving some well-deserved breathing space for some classic unaltered guitars and drums on 'Trimm Trabb' and to pave a story of much-needed escapism, as is detailed in the album's lead track, 'Coffee & TV', Coxon taking lead role on lyrics, guitars strumming away as he pleads "Take me away from this big bad world and agree to marry me/So we can start over again".


But just as the trauma of emotion and emotion of trauma have faded away, ambient-esque organ chords filling the final half-minute, we're pulled once more into the album's uncanny nack for fuzz-fuelled drive. 'Swamp Song', a nod to a now-ceased feud with another once-leading britpop-labelled rock band (no points for figuring out who), is an aggressively rocky trek. But again, it's the lyrics that question just what road are we trekking across. The fading wavey lines of "I wanna be with you/I know that you want it too" demonstrate the tug-at-war battle the album's sound is going through. Is this a message of love? Or a cry for what can't be had? Because at the end of the day, though Coxon is the driving force of its sound with his pedal-plugged guitars and swinging drone-like chords, it's Albarn's vocals that really define the emotion of this record.


And if the later clashes of vocal harmonies and fuzz-guitars on 'Battle' & 'Caramel' don't convince you that something is up, then 'No Distance Left To Run', arguably one of Albarn's most heart-on-sleeve calls for closure and acceptance, proves these tracks are built from more than just the basic equation of lyrics + instruments = song. "It's over, you don't need to tell me", Albarn sings. "I hope you're with someone who makes you feel safe in your sleep tonight."


Indeed, the album on a collective basis may in fact be about closure. Having escaped the imprisoning tag of "britpop" (a genre now defunct in nature and way past its expiration date) and accepting the doomed crumbling of a relationship...who's not to expect such sounds seeping through from a band who, previous to this, continued to push boundaries and expand their sound? But what makes 13 stand out against the crowd is its raw beauty. True, it's a beauty synthesized by distortion, layering and a Newton's Cradle-like switch between sound dominance, but if emotions exist and you have the tools (and indeed, the producer) capable of sculpturing such a feeling...hell, there's nothing stopping you, right?
~Jordan


9.3

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