** Blur, "13," Food/Virgin.

Ever foppish, Blur has insistently colored its pioneering Brit-pop with odd bits, betraying both a restless creativity and the art-pop aspirations that may (or may not) have kept this U.K. star from conquering the U.S. market like its erstwhile rival Oasis.

As those odd bits nearly take over Blur's sixth album, some might deem it boldly experimental to enlist producer William Orbit (Madonna's "Ray of Light") and his studio minions to layer mounds of electronica over singer-songwriter Damon Albarn's moody love laments, gritty anthems and other assorted ephemera. Others might call the wildly diverse "13" bravely noncommercial, especially since the group made its biggest American impression with the moderate 1997 hit anthem "Song 2."

But strip away the gloss of swooshing sounds, faint mumbling and driving techno beats, and many of these tunes have no real core. Pursuing alternative song craft is a noble impulse, but the best moments are more "traditional," whether it's the campy glam-rocker "Bugman" or the spare, bitter ballad "No Distance Left to Run."

Still, you could put on headphones, program the CD and set a course for inner space with such lyrical soundscapes as "1992" and "Caramel," which start small, then blast into the cosmos. It's just that too often the songs are going nowhere.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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