When I first heard "There's No Other Way" back in 1992 or so, I got my first glimpse of Blur and thought that they were pretty cool. The album that it was on had some seriously catchy songs and I just couldn't get that one track out of my head. On subsequent albums, I listened, but every time, there only seemed to be one or two tracks that I really liked, while the others fell into sort of a limbo that was either too damn cheesy or simply not interesting enough for me. There were a few moments of brightness on their last self-titled disc, but still not enought to warrant a purchase.
Needless to say, when I heard the first single from 13, it kind of slapped me back in the face. Here was an epic sounding track that evolved from a simple guitar and beat to a chorus with a full gospel chorus and stadium-rock qualities. Relegating it as the one album on the track that I would like, I again put off the disc until I read a little more information on it. The next thing about the disc that struck my fancy was when I read that William Orbit (who made even Madonna almost listenable on last years Ray of Light had produced it and it was their most experimental and sprawling album to date. I managed to find the disc on MP3 (yes, I am a proponent) and after listening through the tracks, decided that I needed the album.
Let me just say that if you're a fan of the old Blur material, this disc may not be your thing. I've already heard from several people who liked their old work who were simply either confused by the new disc or completely pissed-off by it. It's not that it's a completely different direction for the group to take, but it's definitely a large detour. After the afformentioned epic album opener, the disc tears into the super-noisy track "Bugman." With feedback-a-plenty, the song is quite possibly the most raucious song the group has ever done. Eventually, it climaxes in a flurry of noise before dissolving into a nearly a minute of static and clumps of the refrain. Finally, some sense of normalicy for the group is reached on the pop-gem third track "Coffee and TV," but even then lead singer Damon Albarn takes the vocal back seat to guitarist Graham Coxon. If it's not a hit for the group, I'm not sure what will be.
After another noisy, stomping track ("Swamp Song"), and the swirling, slowly-building "1992," they break into a bit of trip-hop light on "Battle." The almost 8-minute track flavored with a throbbing beat, piano, chunked-out guitars, and strangely-treated vocals. It's probably one of the most interesting tracks they've done. It's enough to make me want them forget rock music in general. "Caramel" starts out with a couple minutes of ambience, but eventually builds to a hilt, commencing in a spaced-out mix of swishing guitars, brushed drums and offset vocal parts before fading into a strange little drifting ditty. Even then it's not over as a guitar winds up and cranks out a riff for about 30 more seconds. Again, really excellent. After another track and the album's obligitory ballad ("No Distance Left To Run"), the disc ends on a two-minute ambient number called, "Optigan 1."
Overall, 13 is by far my favorite disc I've heard by the group. I'm not sure if it's Orbit's production or simply more experimentation by the group, but the 68-minute effort is full of songs that take more than one listen to sink in. There are catchy songs and ones that grow on you after a few listens. Regardless, it's quite an achievement for a group I'd written-off. Plus, 13 is my lucky number.