"Song 2" and more...
“Woo-hoo!” Blur’s 1997 self-titled LP was where Britpop’s most vocal boosters signaled the last call for the movement and decided to go American. What “Song 2” demonstrated to surprisingly receptive U.S. radio stations was that the foursome was as adept at pastiching Seattle grunge and grubby lo-fi indie rock as it was the fathers of British guitar pop. Alex James and Dave Rowntree lay down a solid beat, Coxon rolls out the last great alt-rock riff of the ‘90s, and Damon Albarn mewls vaguely discernable lyrics that are punctuated by the most imitated sports chant this side of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Often chided for being pop-minded middle-class art students instead of proper rockers like the working-class heroes of Oasis, all the fellas should ever need is this roaring two-minute single to silence those who challenged their ability to whip up an audience into a moshing frenzy. A.J. Ramirez
Smack dab right in the middle of Blur’s 1997 self-titled album is one of the most unflinchingly raw and vulnerable songs in the entire Blur canon, and—‘lo and behold—it’s the very first solo song we ever got out of Graham Coxon. While the album did mark the band’s move towards the American underground lo-fi rock sounds that Coxon was absolutely infatuated with, there was never a clear heart to be found on the disc. Songs like “M.O.R.” and the sexy “Beetlebum” showed that the band still knew how to strut, and the more experimental passages in the disc’s latter half were necessary, if only occasionally interesting, but “You’re So Great” was where the heart is. Boldly without a drum track to speak of, this is just Coxon by himself, his guitars positively soaking in lo-fi fuzz, his reedy voice just barely poking through the mix. Yet the melody is so strong that we would’ve paid attention to him regardless, and when he gets to that final bit of the chorus—“And I feel the light / When you tell me ‘It’s OK’ / ‘Cos you’re so great and I love you”—we feel that exact light that he’s talking about, that warmth working its way into our hearts, leaving “You’re So Great” as one of the most thoughtful tracks Blur has ever done, a title which unknowingly manages to describe it perfectly. Evan Sawdey
“Tender” found Blur at a crossroads, but, then again, what else is new? It’s well known that 13 was made in the wake of Albarn’s break-up with Elastica’s Justine Frischmann, and “Tender” definitely makes its mark as an introspective and, well, tender moment for someone whose strength as a songwriter had always been writing about other people. After years of being cheeky and clever, Albarn puts his feelings out there with Coxon’s coaxing, making corny sentiments like “Love’s the greatest thing” sound sincere and even heartbreaking. And when that backing choir chimes in ever so unobtrusively, you feel how Albarn’s not going it alone on a song that manages to feel soul-searchingly intimate and transcendently vast at the same time. Arnold Pan
Introspective and paced to pull the heartstrings, “Coffee & TV” gently marches along to a simplistic guitar strum. For this anomaly from 13, Albarn stepped aside to make room for guitarist Coxon to wax sensitive and deliver perhaps the most vulnerable of their hits. It’s a delightful and unusually off-key anthem for an underdog. A high-school recital vocal delivery combined with the playful keyboard part give it a universal patio or road-trip appeal even many years after its release. Darryl Wright
Throughout his career, Albarn has been heralded for his succinct pop knowledge and his wry, biting lyrics. Yet vulnerability was never his strong suit—that was Coxon’s department. Yet 13, the final full Blur album with Coxon intact, featured Albarn on the mend from breaking up with Frischmann, and Coxon could not have been a better foil for his bandmate. “No Distance Left to Run” is a somewhat incredible number, as it features only the most minimal of elements. “It’s over,” starts Albarn in a detached, wounded coo, the song serving as both his confessional and his time for mourning. The sweet voices and light keys near the end are simply a coda, a lullaby to sweep the harm away, but from the sounds of it, Albarn is shattered to the core, which is doubly true when you consider that he’s said in interviews repeatedly that he had a difficult time even recording his vocals for that track—it left him wrecked, shattered by the end. Although Albarn entered the album with a broken heart, he can take some minor consolation for coming out the other side not only with some perspective and a slight sense of comfort, but also one of the greatest breakup songs ever written, full stop. Evan Sawdey
In retrospect, “Out of Time” couldn’t be a more appropriate title for Blur’s last great single. With Albarn splitting his attentions after Gorillaz had blown up and Coxon just plain splitting from Blur as Think Tank was being recorded, there was already a posthumous feeling to “Out of Time” even as the album was current. But that didn’t mean Blur couldn’t tweak its sound one last time: “Out of Time” typifies how Albarn was looking forward to new challenges, even while he was still at the helm of his old band, incorporating the African musical elements that he would champion later. And yet, the ethno-pop touches blended right into Blur’s mix, which showed an eclectic and experimental side without messing with the signature character of the band. It’s as fitting a tribute as there could be for a band that never settled for resting on its laurels, evolving even as it was going out in style. Arnold Pan