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Select, 13 review and Interview: March 99

Blurnica!

Britpop? Pah! Introducing a sprawling, abrasive album about Damonís break-up with Justine. Bombs away!

BLUR: 13

FOOD/ PARLO PHONE

ē Blur's sixth album, produced by William Orbit and named after the number of the industrial unit that houses Damon Albarn's personal studio.

ē The band won't be touring this album, the preferred option being isolated one-off shows. The first of these happened in Oxford on 4 February when Blur played '13'in its entirety.

Back in the mists of time, when class war still raged, when there were only three television channels, when higher education was something reserved for a fraction of the population, pop groups tended to crash into success in their very early 20s. As a result, their audiences could follow their slow progress into adulthood with rapt interest.

Today, thanks to a seemingly ever-increasing number of college places, rampant dope-smoking: and the fact that you're allowed to lay claim to youth for as long as you like, no one seems to hit it big much before they're 26. By that point, their agendas have been worked out and a long-term partnership is probably in place. They're older, for better or worse, than most of their public.

Blur, by contrast, elbowed their way into the public mind when they were - Dave Rowntree excepted - not much past 21. Ever since, they've picked their way through all the archetypal phases of people's 20s Olympic-standard socialising, problem drinking, life-changing relationships, utter confidence and heart-stopping crisis. Now, colliding with their 30s, things are no less captivating.

It's a precarious age, for sure. Seemingly unbreakable relationships can founder, while the prospect of singlerJom is suddenly terrifying. And it can easily coinride with an escalating desire to hold on to youth's dimming flame not for nothing are the world's tattoo parlours disproportionately crowded with people hovering between 29 and 32.

Such is the sound of '13', and the crux of its Iyrical content. Damon's claim that the group have re-connected with their pre-Blur, off-beam incarnation as Seymour makes sense - but still rooting the record in 1999 is the fact that it's unavoidably tangled up with the demise of his eight-year relationship with Justine Frischmann.

Blur's sixth album is wilfully messy, coming loose at the corners, and set - in large part - in a weehours world of disquiet, self-doubt and creeping panic. According to Damon, most of it was written in a bedsit on Golborne Road in West London, trying to adjust to the aforementioned break-up And whereas his songs about the relationship were once clouded by name-changing ('Yuko And Hiro'), ambiguity ('Beetlebum') or poetic conceit ('To The End'), some of these are absolutely see-through.

Such is 'Tender', seemingly written at the exact moment Damon realised he might well make it through a trauma that, judging by the rest of this album, all but engulfed him. The chorus "Come on, come on, come on/Get through it" - hardly needs deciphering. But Blur have put that song at the beginning of '13', meaning the emotional messiness comes afterwards. A case in point is'1992'possibly named after the year Damon and Justine started, and not dissimilar to'Sing'from'Leisure'. It certainly seems to house some telling lines "You love my bed/You took thc other instcarl "

Likewise, the creepingly imprcssive'Caramel', is shot through with despair. "I've got to get over," Damon half-mumbles, "/'ve got to get better.. I love you forever." 'Trimm Trabb', meanwhile, switches from acoustic scratchiness to noisy muscuI arity, as Damon sings the kind of lines only someone in his predicament would: "A// those losers on the piss again/l doze, doze away... I sleep alone..."

The penultimate track on '13', meanwhile, is so starkly personal that you almost feel you shouldn't be listening to it. It's called 'No Distance Left To Run' and is amony the best things Blur have ever recorded. The sighing guitar alone places it in admirably elevated territory, and only a true churl could mistake the song's sincerity for cliche. "If you see me/Turn your back and walk away," Damon sings in utterly fragile style.

That song is also one of the few that end at the right moment. Lovelorn disaster, in fairness, rarely makes for economical pop music (the only truly straightallead song here is 'Coffee And TV', written by Graham), but '13' is often too disordered, the songs sprawling to the point of sheer ineffectuality

'Mellow Song', for example, has the frustrating sense of a potentially great song falling into chronic repetition So does 'Trailerpark', a limping, fauxeerie half cousin to 'Death Of A Party'. 'Battle', on the other hand, sounds fantastic but avoids the pressing question of what exactly to do with itself. And the splenetic art-punk pairing of 'Bugman' end 'B.L.U.R.E M.l' really are Besides riding above their station - songs that beg the question why the same group who wrote 'Beetlebum', 'For Tomorrow' and 'This Is A Low'thought them worthy of inclusion.

At its heart, '13' is an arresting communique from a group passing through another chapter of adulthood Fascinating rather than brilliant, it'll seduce some with its honesty, while sending others trembling back to 'Palklifc', 'What's The Story?' and that copy of 'Urban llymns'thcy kecl7 "fo' the car". Whatever, Blur are duty bound to stay together until at least 2015. The male menopause album should be even more compulsive.

JOHN HARRIS

Q&A

Damon Albarn on Ry Cooder, love on the rocks and the accidental glories of the new album

After working with Stephen Street for so long, was it difficult adjusting to a new producer?

Obviously, it was entirely different. At first, we were only going to do a couple of tracks with William Orbit, but we thought- Lets take the plunge.

He told Select that- figuratively speaking- thereíd been blood on the floor. Do you agree?

Yeah, I saw that. Thatís nice. There was definately blood on the tracks. It was an extremely tense period. And I was also scoring a film, so I was working up to my eyeballs. Which was good- it all forced a degree of dedication that Iíve never really experienced before. The other thing is, my voice has changed over the last year: its become a lot lower. And more free.

Was it intentional?

Nothing was intentional on this record. Its very, very... organic.

How easy was it for you to write ĎNo Distance Left To Runí, the song most obviously about your break-up with Justine?

It was hard to actually finally commit to it. That was the thing- finally singing it. It made me very miserable. Itís a very miserable song. I was genuinely upset while I was singing it. And thats very uncomfortable- people in a studio watching someone go through that. But it wouldnt be what it is unless Iíd genuinely felt that.

Do you feel any trepidation about letting that song into the public domain?

No. Not at all. This whole record is about that. And I hope I dont have to go through it all again- once is enough in a lifetime for that particular experiance.

Trailerpark was intended for the South Park Long Parliament. Is it thematically linked to the cartoon?

No. It was the forst song I wrote that related to a sense of loos: I lost my girl to the rolling stones. I think thatís why it works on this record.

What records were you listening to while you made this record?

Iíve been listening to a lot of Latin music, which was started off by (Ry Coodera) Buena Vista Social Club A lot of Can, which you can discern on this album. Iíve really got into Otis Redding. And I really like Lauryn Hill.

Whatís the next single likely to be?

Weíre not sure yet. Battle or Caramel will be a single at some point. And there wont be anything like that in the charts... if it gets intot he charts. Noone else is making music like that.

Does it bother you that you now dont seem to have any contemporaries?

Our one attempt at hiving contemporaries was when we tried to share our Best band Brit award with Oasis, and we know how badly that back-fired. Ever since, its been, ĎWhy Bother?í Its not in our make-up to share.

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