Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
‘13’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Every Song On Blur’s Classic Album
Edd Westmacott / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

‘13’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Every Song On Blur’s Classic Album

The ‘13’ album took Blur far beyond anything they’d ever done before, as revealed by this track-by-track guide to each of its songs.

Back

With new producer William Orbit at the controls, Blur plotted a course into the further reaches of art-rock with their sixth album, 13. Building on its predecessor, the simply-titled Blur, the album saw the group traverse uncharted terrain, as frontman Damon Albarn’s introspective new songs inspired a collective rethink over what Blur’s music could be at the end of the 21st century. Shaking off the Britpop shackles for good, 13’s 13 songs stand as some of the most remarkable the band ever recorded, as revealed by this track-by-track-guide through every song on the album…

Listen to ‘13’ here.

‘13’: A Track-By-Track Guide To Every Song On Blur’s Classic Album

Tender

Instigated by Damon Albarn’s breakup with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, and aided by a sympathetic refrain from Graham Coxon (“Oh, my baby/Oh, my baby/Oh, my/Oh, why?”), 13’s opening song and lead single, Tender, presented both Blur bandmates at their most vulnerable. Building from Coxon’s scratchy guitar intro – recorded on a dictaphone – through an unexpected percussion part created with planks of wood, and with Albarn’s impassioned, Otis Redding-inspired vocals held aloft by the London Community Gospel Choir, Tender is a seven-minute catharsis that immediately took its place among the best Blur songs, making it clear from the off that 13 would be a Blur album like no other.

Bugman

After the soul-searching – and soul-soothing – of Tender, Blur hit listeners with the fuzzy assault of Bugman, on which Coxon’s layered guitars enhance the itchy unease of Albarn’s lyrics (“I am an ex-offender/They let me out in the summer/I think I was in a coma/I didn’t know what to do”). A wake-up call to anyone lulled by the lovelorn Tender, Bugman picks up where some of the alt-rock stylings of Blur’s self-titled fifth album left off and welds them to the freewheeling noise-making the group had begun to embrace with producer William Orbit.

“He encouraged us to experiment and take risks, which was marvellous,” Coxon wrote in his memoir, Verse, Chorus, Monster!. “We would spend most of the day jamming, and then he would take over, staying up all night, trying to piece together the bits we had left on tape.” The looped bassline and frenzied clatter of drums that emerge from a siren-like synth line and clouds of guitar feedback towards the end of Bugman demonstrate this approach in action; Albarn’s falsetto drifts off in the coda, repeating the title to Sun Ra’s 1973 album Space Is The Place as if delivering an incantation for Blur’s latest reinvention.

Coffee & TV

Three songs in, and with Coffee & TV 13 has yet to settle into any particular style, as if Blur simply can’t wait to reveal just how much ground they’re covering. The closest thing the album has to a pop tune, the song is brewed from gentle melodies, acoustic guitars and electric counterpoints, sweetened by Graham Coxon’s touching vocals, the guitarist singing of seeking simple pleasures that can ward off the anxiety-making rush of the “big bad world”.

Written by Coxon at a time when he had stopped drinking, Coffee & TV draws from Eagles, The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, but the angular guitar solo that comes in at 2.51 is pure Graham Coxon: a controlled squall of noise cutting through the calm. Thrown out as a placeholder, it was later deemed unimprovable. Another spliced-on ending, this time a child-like organ outro, complements Coxon’s quest for comfort.

Swamp Song

Riding a woozy guitar part characterised by Coxon’s slide guitar, Swamp Song conjures the “weird, bad place” Albarn has said he and Justine Frischmann had found themselves in towards the end of their relationship. Here he delivers one of his most unhinged vocal performances, seeking everything from “good times” to “fever”, “insane” to “space brain” amid a sonic approximation of narcotic dissipation. “Give me music, give me love” he implores during the song’s chorus, reaching out for a lifeline to rescue him from the vortex of noise, as backing vocals circle ever tighter, edging towards unhinged mockery. The relentless build rivals Tender’s for intensity, but where that track served to raise Albarn up, Swamp Song is a descent into the darker corners of the mind.

1992

An art-rock drone that carries shades of the Leisure album track Sing, 1992 was originally demoed in the year of its title, though its lyrics fit the mood of 13, particularly given Albarn’s despondent delivery (“You’d love my bed/You took it all instead”). Whether glancing back at a failed romance or alluding to other events of all-consuming misery, when words are no longer enough Albarn makes way for – or is engulfed by – a tornado of treated guitar, plaintive piano notes and snatches of wordless vocals that evokes images of the singer suspended somewhere beyond reach. Describing the three-and-a-half-minute outro as the sound of “heading into a thunderstorm”, Coxon recalled producer William Orbit creating it at the mixing desk, “wrenching these knobs around with wild eyes, pulling this mad noise straight down to tape, while I laughed my head off… That was magic to me. It was like he was conducting this huge tempest, this massive force.”

B.L.U.R.E.M.I.

Few Blur albums are complete without a thrashy punk number that revisits the frantic energy of the group’s 1992 non-album single, Popscene. A deliberate attempt to jolt their label to attention – and with added duck-like vocal effects that would return on Think Tank’s Crazy Beat – B.L.U.R.E.M.I. was, Damon Albarn told music critic and Blur biographer Stuart Maconie, “sort of a test of faith” for EMI. With Song 2’s wall of noise still fresh in the memory, Albarn addressed the music industry’s habit of cannibalising itself (“Groups using a loop/Of another pop group”), throwing down a gauntlet for his band’s record label: “Do you see this as us being negative or us being positive?… Are you up for it or are you not up for it, because if you’re up for it, let’s go.” The song’s 42-second electric-piano coda introduces an ambient tone, cleansing the palette and perfectly setting up 13’s ascent into space-rock.

Battle

If 1992 was the sound of Blur slipping through the airlock, Battle is their trip through an entire solar system’s worth of moods – resigned, furious, defiant – as propelled by career-best, gravity-defying drums from Dave Rowntree, who powers what’s arguably the most risk-taking eight minutes in Blur’s entire catalogue. When they’re audible, Albarn’s lyrics are often inscrutable – asides from the repeated refrain “Battle someone, ooh”; meanwhile, the band surround him with ever-doomier intent, Coxon offloading a barrage of effects until sending the feedback equivalent of a Mayday signal, producer Orbit pulling everything into a dub black hole that somehow seems to turn itself inside out in time for the song to begin its final approach. A minute’s worth of what sounds like a warm-up jam is cut in to soften the landing.

Mellow Song

If Battle takes a trip out to the furthest reaches of Blur’s sonic galaxy, Mellow Jam brings things right back to the heart of Albarn’s emotional state as he began work on 13’s songs. Accompanied at first by a sole acoustic guitar – recorded so intimately you can hear the finger squeaks – Albarn depicts flashes of life in the period following his breakup, where music seems to offer the only respite from self-destructive despair (“Shooting stars in my left arm, it’s an alcohol low/Giving away time to Casio”). Electric piano, fuzzed-out guitar, wordless vocals, melodica and a solid beat from Dave Rowntree create a lightly psychedelicised swirl which, rather than destabilise things in the spirit of Battle’s intergalactic warfare, have the effect of offering support amid the gloom.

Trailerpark

With its low-slung beats, simple electric piano motif and repeated “Freestyle 45” refrain, the hip-hop-inflected Trailerpark is an early indication of the music Albarn would soon be making with Gorillaz. Lyrically sparse, the song glancingly refers to a chief cause of his breakup with Justine Frischmann (“I lost my girl to The Rolling Stones”), but, in the main, Albarn steps aside while the group get to grips with a new musical framework. Regular slips into the sort of lo-fi grooves Beck had perfected during the 90s eventually give way to a pacy guitar outro that suggests a band on the run from its collective past.

Caramel

Sinking into that knotty area where substance-use and creativity intermingle – and addressing the distressing impact that a combination of the two can have on a personal life – Caramel spins itself around one of Albarn’s most regretful vocals, the singer seeking to reclaim the magic of his work while also acknowledging, “I’ve got to get better.” A funereal organ and fragmented guitar parts initially tug at the edges of the song, before a cacophony of effects-laden guitars, dread-filled percussion and Alban’s own indecipherable utterances make plain the precarious state the singer has found himself in. On an album overflowing with ideas – and which makes a feature out of unexpected song outros – Caramel comes with two distinct codas, one a haunted end-of-the-pier Wurlitzer-style melody, the other a funk-flecked blast of heavy bass. Later selecting it as his favourite Blur track, drummer Dave Rowntree admitted that Caramel was the kind of song the band had been trying to perfect for years.

Trimm Trabb

Named after a model of Adidas footwear, Trimm Trabb revisits the melancholy of Modern Life Is Rubbish’s Blue Jeans; but while the narrator of that earlier song seems content with life’s day-to-day mundanities, Trimm Trabb finds Albarn casting his eye over “All those losers on the piss again” and noting how detached he now feels from that lifestyle. “I’ve got Trimm Trabb/Like the flash boys have/And I can’t go back,” he sings, before concluding, “I sleep alone.”

A somnambulant atmosphere prevails at first, Coxon’s clean acoustic guitar and a looped Rowntree beat cushioning Albarn’s vocals, but things get weird from 2.35 onwards. Snatches of treated mumbles and a wiry guitar part have already been doing their best to invade, but it’s here that the song heads for what was arguably always going to be 13’s end point: after a brief lull filled by piano tinkles and an ominous vocal emittance from Albarn, Coxon launches into some of the thickest guitar chords on the album, heralding the imminent sound of all hell breaking loose in a series of chopped screams and buzzsaw riffs from which Albarn finally escapes, trailing multitracked babble in his wake. An unlikely contender for “stadium anthem” status, Trimm Trabb has since become a live favourite at Blur gigs.

No Distance Left To Run

After the chaos of much of the preceding 11 tracks, 13’s penultimate song provides emotional release with a scuffed-up ballad that states things as plainly as any of the best breakup songs can: “I won’t kill myself trying to stay in your life/I got not distance left to run”. With Alex James keeping things simple on the bass and Dave Rowntree swapping sticks for brushes, the floor is given over to Albarn’s heart-on-sleeve vocal performance and Coxon’s supple guitar work – a mix of bent notes and warm chords enveloping Albarn like the most consoling hug. No Distance Left To Run later lent its name to the documentary that chronicled Blur’s 2009 reunion, though, as the albums The Magic Whip (2015) and The Ballad Of Darren (2023) would prove, the band’s story was far from over.

Optigan 1

From Commercial Break to Lot 105 and the instrumental reprise of Ernold Same that sits at the end of The Great Escape, instrumentals have long brought Blur’s albums to a close. Providing a gentle end to one of the best Blur albums, Optigan 1 – named after the vintage Optigan organ it was composed on – allows for a moment of reflection on all that has gone before, its looped retro melody suggesting not so much nostalgia as it does a place of acceptance finally reached at the end of the longest of long dark nights of the soul.

More Like This

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song
In Depth

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song

The song that kick-started the Don Henley and Glenn Frey partnership, Tequila Sunrise ushered in a new dawn for Eagles’ core artistic force.

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album
In Depth

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album

Sharp-tongued and full of vigour, Paolo Nutini’s third album, ‘Caustic Love’, broke a four-year silence from the Scottish singer-songwriter.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up