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Sunday, March 14, 1999 Published at 09:48 GMT

Entertainment: New Music Releases

CD Review: Blur

Blur: Tortured journey into the soul (Food)

The Essex boys are back in town and this time it's personal.

If the Great British public had to pick a number between one and 13, they would inevitably take two - "Song 2, The Album, 60 minutes devoted to your favourite song as you've never heard it played before."

Instead they've got the album 13. Approximately 66 minutes of intelligent, indulgent exploration into the very heart of Damon Albarn's tortured soul.

And it's an experience that must not be missed.

Albarn's split with Elastica singer Justine Frischmann has been almost as well-documented as Rod and Rachel or Mick and Jerry. Here it's stripped to the bare bones, providing ample material for the vultures to gorge on.

[ image: Blur: In introspective mood]
Blur: In introspective mood
The album bravely begins with the epic Tender, or The Gospel According to Albarn & Coxon.

In the good old days of long players, this "ruin of my life" would have been track four on side two. Yet here it is leading from the front and presenting its authors with a nigh-impossible act to follow.

But follow it they do with a weird and wonderful collection that improves with each listen.

The fuzzed-up Bugman is early Damned meets Suffragette City, while Swamp Song with its hypnotic, whining riff leaves a ghoulish taste in the mouth, while exorcising the ghost of Britpop past.

Pigtail pop

The laddish Parklife era has, of course, been replaced by pigtail pop or Britney pop if you prefer. The lager frenzies of old have surrendered to Ovaltine reflections and brandy mutters.

The musing over love's labours lost continues apace - a slow pace, that is - with the mournful 1992: "Going into business, an agreement of your bombast, you've loved my bed, you took the other instead."

This is real slit-your-wrists stuff and the melancholy meanderings persist within the shimmering guitars of Battle and the haunting, sprawling brilliance of Caramel, which sees Bowie playing cards with Pink Floyd in a smoke-filled basement at three in the morning.

[ image: 13: Melancholy meanderings]
13: Melancholy meanderings
Producer William Orbit, fresh from working with Madonna, captures the mood perfectly to cover the album with an eerie sheen. But it does on occasion appear to lose its sense of direction.

It would be wrong to file 13 under 'downbeat' though.

Although the subject matter is, for the most part, depressing, it is punctuated by little bursts of energy throughout.

B.L.U.R.E.M.I is The Stranglers - with apologies to Elastica - from their Men In Black phase, while Mellow Song leans on Nirvana's On A Plain. TrimmTrabb has the Blur hallmark of simple but effective stamped all over it and is of the solid silver quality we've come to expect.

But perhaps the most pleasing feature of recent years is the emergence of 'our Graham' from the shadows.

Harmonies to die for

Graham Coxon's excellent vocal performance on You're So Great from Blur's eponymous album led to the notable solo debut The Sky Is Too High. Here he pops up again on Coffee & TV - quite possibly the pick of an attractive bunch - with a riff and harmonies to die for.

It's Damon who has the last, sorrowful word, though as the emotionally-charged No Distance Left brings 13 towards its close. "It's over, you don't need to tell me.

"Hope you're with someone who makes you feel safe when you're sleeping tonight. I won't kill myself trying to stay in your life," he sniffs.

And that's that. By the time the traditional 'circus' ending has subsided into nothingness it takes at least five minutes of rapid blinking and shaking of the head to recover your compsure and get on with life.

Alternatively you can go back to track one and start over again - making sure you've got the hankies handy this time.

Chris Charles

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