Jacob Mendez
Jacob Mendez

Blur and “13”. The album was created in suffering and became a cult classic

Those who know the work of the London group know that this is their previous album “Blur” released in 1997 was a decisive stylistic turn and a nod to the alternative rock coming from America. The songs became a bit rougher, the guitar Graham Coxon highly predatory, which resulted in reviews of the group's “commercial suicide”. Meanwhile “Beetlebum” turned out to be a number one single, and a raucous musical joke “Song 2” an immortal hit that even penetrated the consciousness of the American audience, which to this day searches for the music video on the famous website using the phrase “Woo-hoo”.

It is no secret that after almost a decade of a common musical journey, the band experienced friction and misunderstandings, which intensified after the end of the murderous concert tour promoting the album. If we add to this the musicians' private problems related to the abuse of alcohol and psychoactive substances, we see an uninteresting landscape that was supposed to be the environment for the creation of the next album. AlexJames he gained fame as a London playboy, fueled by bubbles and drinking large quantities of champagne. Dave Rowntree he has just replaced alcohol with other drugs. Graham Coxon, in a drunken state, still had a grudge against him Damon Albarn about everything, and he, in turn, became an infamous tabloid hero after the breakup of his heroin-filled relationship with Justine Frischmannvocalist of a popular band Elasticawhich brought him to the brink of breakdown.

Artistically, the two strongest personalities that drove Blur's work seemed to be on two different tracks. Coxon was fascinated by the alternative sound of American groups. His soul was filled with a passion for dynamic and sharp riffs, combined with sparse production, which he successfully demonstrated on his solo debut. “The Sky Is Too High”. Albarn was not afraid of musical experiments. However, he was inclined to expand the band's style to include electronic elements and playing with rhythm. No wonder, after the breakdown of his romantic relationship, he moved into a small apartment with his friend Jamie Hewlettand a project was slowly being born in his head, which two years later turned into a new musical child – Gorillaz. The effects of these new fascinations appeared on the upcoming album in the form of compositions “Trailer Park”in which Albarn raps, “I lost my girl to the Rolling Stones.”

Although emotionally Damon Albarn was, as he himself claimed in one of the interviews, a wreck, he was able to write almost most of the material for the upcoming album in his apartment for several months. He poured his sadness, grief and despair into several surprising and delightful compositions. A clear example of this triumph of creativity over sadness was the opening single of the album “Tender”. Seemingly incongruous with the group's previous work, the song was an incredible seven-minute anthem that emerged from almost complete silence to rise higher and higher with each chorus. The recording sounded like a great confession from Albarn in pain – “Lord, I need to find someone to heal my mind” – and at the same time a message of hope: “Get through this / Come, come, come / Love is the greatest thing we have / I'm waiting for it feeling”. Alex James confessed in an interview that when they finished recording the song, he was sure that it was the best song in Blur's history and would definitely become number one.

Unfortunately, her plans were slightly thwarted Britney Spears, whose song “Baby One More Time” topped the British charts, pushing the ballad Blur to second place. Nevertheless, the sales of the single were stunning, which confirmed the band's belief that their musical exploration was in the right direction. He was the person who encouraged full and unrestrained experimentation in the studio in the first place William Orbit. This British producer was elated by the album's success Madonna “Ray of Light” was chosen by the group to work in the studio. He replaced Stephen Street, who was responsible for the sound of the five albums of the London quartet that defined his career. However, this time the musicians wanted someone new to supervise the entire process. “It was so personal that we needed someone who didn't really know us at all,” he told “DIG!” Albarn – “Throughout all this, William was acting a bit like our psychiatrist. He encouraged us to do emotional bloodletting.”

Initially, the recordings were made during many hours of sessions, but after some time the pressure between the musicians increased, resulting in frequent absences. William Orbit came up with the idea that helped complete the album, and he had the tape recorders on the entire time. He recorded every moment when one of the musicians appeared in the studio. Thanks to this, some compositions, such as the brilliant “Battle”, were created on the Orbit production table. The producer from another musical world created an almost magical reality, combining Rowntree's pulsating drum rhythm, James' flowing bass line, Albarn's dreamlike singing and Coxon's almost cosmic-sounding guitar, which seems to pierce every second of the composition, and this one resembles a dub track more than a rock song. .

As William Orbit recalled years later, two personalities clashed in the studio. Coxon pushed towards almost punk madness. Its emanation was the piece “Song 2” with wheezing guitar echo “Bugman” or almost crazy “Swamp Song”which could easily appear on the album “White Light/White Heat” by The Velvet Underground. Coxon's guitar wails like a violin at times John Cale'and. Albarn, in turn, wanted to immerse himself in multi-layered rhythm and experiment with sounds, as in “Trim Trab” either the already mentioned “Trailer Park” or minimalist “Caramel”. Roughly speaking, it can be said that the first part of the album is more filled with Graham Coxon and the second with Damon Albarn, although the famous producer later concluded that from his perspective it was the guitarist who was the winner of these struggles and marked “13” very strongly with his talent.

In all this crazy sonic pursuit of sound and breaking down stylistic barriers, we also have two outstanding pop moments that would easily fit into Blur's previous achievements. Behind one of them is Coxon, who suddenly became an inspiration for “Coffee & TV”. The story of searching for simple pleasures that can distract one's attention from a world that is not the happiest place on earth, sung by the Blur guitarist, seems almost like a Brittop classic. Only the slightly drilling guitar part at the end almost reminds the listener that this is not another “Boys & Girls”.

The recording, released as the second single, turned out to be a golden hit again, reaching number eleven on the chart, and the story inspired by Graham's struggle with addiction appealed to listeners. By the way, a music video for the song by the famous duo Hammer & Tongstelling the adventures of a milk carton whose journey brings Coxon back to his family and who, after completing his mission, goes to heaven, has become one of the most popular clips in the history of music.

The third single promoting “13” was a delicate ballad “No Distance Left to Run”. The composition that almost closes the album sounds like a moment of relaxation, after an emotional musical journey full of struggle and anxiety. “It's over / You don't have to tell me / I hope you're with someone and you feel safe falling asleep at night / I won't kill myself trying to stay in your life / This is the end of the run for me,” Albarn sings, his voice breaking. The recording is the highlight of the entire album and one of the most beautiful compositions about breakup. After all, no one transforms loss into perfect compositions as beautifully as the singer of Blur, as we could also see last year with the album “The Ballad of Darren”.

“13” – an album that was created with difficulty and led to tensions in the band, as a result of which Graham Coxon left the group for several years – turned out to be a commercial success. The seemingly difficult album proved that Blur was able to find a new path of artistic expression, and this did not mean breaking the bond with the recipients of their music. Journalists joked that the band had finally created a sound that fully reflected its name. What is characteristic and important – this new sound, despite the passage of twenty-five years, is still surprisingly fresh and modern, unlike previous hit compositions that are influenced by the 90s.

Despite the experimental side of the album and its seeming inaccessibility, it must be said that even the most crazy songs have their own melody and this is something that makes listening to them a lot of satisfaction. These are not, with three exceptions, simple songs, but one could argue that they are demanding musical landscapes that draw listeners in with their unpredictability. Although the first reviews were not entirely favorable, with each passing week the appreciation for Blur's new work grew, until it finally turned into adoration. Years later, “13” is considered one of the masterpieces in the history of rock music and one of the most important albums in the group's history.