Between recording their self-titled, fifth album and the onset of the innovative process that sired 13 , Blur must have discovered where the good drugs are kept. That’s what people say when a band veers off onto a road less traveled via an unknown map of inspiration. Pre-release hype surrounding 13 declared it to be unlike anything Blur has done before. Such bold comments generally provoke controversy and lead to the question of what, exactly, has changed for Blur to bring about such a radical departure? In this case, the motivation behind the plumbing of new emotional depths is revealed to be the dissolution of Damon Albarn’s relationship with long time love, Justine Frischman of Elastica. The record starts off with Albarn’s bold-yet-vulnerable emotional exorcism “Tender” — a Roy Orbison-esque weeper, spiked with an exalting, gospel choir chorus. Albarn’s cathartic endeavor to comfort himself while reaffirming his belief that love is still “The greatest thing that we have” results in what will be tagged as “so unlike Blur,” while standing as one of the strongest performances of their career. Go figure.

But 13 is not a somber affair. Blur’s inherent playfulness provides the common thread tying these songs together. “Bugman,” a rousing, punk melee, and the very British “Coffee & TV” are throw-backs to the group’s work on Leisure and Park Life . Blur also enjoy deconstructing the verse-chorus-verse pop song by creating elaborate sonic atmospheres on the haunting, somnambulistic “Battle” — a song that nearly takes on the shape of the gorgeous, melancholy “Sing” from the Trainspotting soundtrack. Similar to the way tracks on OK Computer segued seamlessly into each other, here brief aural lullabies, calliope interludes or playful mini-feedback jams fill the crevices between songs. It’s not easy to predict whether 13 will recruit non-anglophiles into the Blur camp, but hose who’ve had an eye on the game since “There’s No Other Way” and “She’s So High,” should be pleased with the band’s progression. 13 is Blur’s Bittersweet Symphony of life.

Virgin Records, 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-1412;

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