Departing from all they knew, producers, style and working relationships between personnel, the frustrations and anxieties of 13 are heard within its opening seconds. Blur was on the brink and would take quite the break between this, Think Tank and The Magic Whip. Graham Coxon, guitarist extraordinaire as evidenced by the likes of Tender and Trimm Trabb, would depart the recording sessions following this one. Whether it bubbles from the issues underlying the creative process here is mere speculation, but the wounds do not heal over this hour-long experience. Blur at their broken point of no return, something they toyed and tried to understand on their previous, self-titled comedown album. Here, they are in the pits of despair and clawing at the walls, and themselves.
Everyone sounds as though they are preoccupied here. Damon Albarn’s focus on Gorillaz, a break-up with Justine Frischmann and the output it gives his lyrics, the wait for a feeling on Tender all the way through to the finality and hopelessness of No Distance Left to Run is an obvious look inside. Everyone sounds particularly down in the dumps, from the electro trips and distortion of Bugman to the missing-in-action feel of disassociation present on Coffee And TV. If Parklife was the desire to float, 13 is the sunken rot of post-fame hangups and personal explosions. All of it comes to a head and the result is Blur at a dangerous hour of caution to the wind music-making. Electronic expulsions on Bugman and the desperation to get out of the city with unknown freedom which came in the early days of Seymour found deep within.
Punkier, harsher and angrier than ever before, the intentions of Coxon to reverb this and distort that is a winning combination which unravels the band even further. It is what they had wanted for Blur. Set the tone, produce the fear. Misery runs rampant, the mind cannot wander though, everyone fumbles for the next step and the usual next foot forward is to batter themselves into thickly layered, expensive-sounding productions. Extract Swamp Song from 13 and whack it on a record from The Stooges. Personal, honest and a harrowing recount of the heroin-taking times of the late 1990s. All those personal pieces mount and rise through, past the safe-yet-impressive trio of opening singles, into the darkness of 1992 or the isolation and antagonising sparks of old-school Blur on B.L.U.R.E.M.I., the final nail in the Modern Life is Rubbish coffin.
Once a band passes on to their new phase, it is difficult to see how they can head back, retreating from the point of no return without a sarcastic flavour layered over the top. With each release, Blur attempted to try their hand at a next step, something different to separate themselves from their persona, directly responsible for the album behind them. They reach deep on 13, the animosity leading to an exceptional collection of inspired creativity and wildcard, yet broadly accepted, ideas. Clawing with desperation at the chance to do one last great work, Blur feel themselves moving further and further from the highs they had achieved just four years before. They still topped the charts, but the bitterness, the extreme change in mood and exceptional risks taken here are an essential, stomach-churning listen.