Blur – 13
If there was any indication that their self-titled album was just a detour and Blur’s follow-up would return to something in the vein of Parklife or The Great Escape, 13 firmly squashes that theory, placing the band further away from the Britpop movement they so lovingly pioneered. Perhaps more importantly, it is also the first Blur album after Damon Albarn’s breakup with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann and their first album without the help of long time producer Stephen Street. The result is Blur’s most noisy, cluttered, and harrowing collection of songs, and unfortunately their least consistent since their début. It is easy to criticize this album for being an overambitious mess but some of its more ambitious moments are actually among its best. “Tender,” a moving hymn to lost love where a gospel choir urges Albarn to push past the pain, is among the band’s best work; “No Distance Left To Run” is equally as gorgeous in its romantic devastation. Meanwhile, the bitter “1992” growls with noise and the lyric, “You loved my bed/You took it all instead.” Yet, for as emotionally potent as these songs are, 13 fails when it tries to obscure this directness with either unnecessary experimentation (especially the uncomfortable trip-hop of “Trailer Park”) or punkier numbers that detract from the album’s cohesion (“B.L.U.R.E.M.I.”, “Swamp Song”). This owes as much to the band as William Orbit’s foggy production, which, while nicely accenting the simpler songs, often bloats the tracks—and the album—so much that they collapse under their own weight. For as many missteps as there are on the album, though, about half of these songs rank among the best of Blur’s later work, leaving 13 a frustrating listen since it is clear that closer editing could have yielded a more satisfying record.