I have, in the past, described “Tender” as a hug in the shape of a song, and it’s a description I’ll stand behind; there’s something comforting and emotional about this song for me every time I hear it. Everything about it feels… I don’t know, welcome, maybe? It’s not just that I’ve spent so many times listening to it that I know it inside and out (although I have, and I do; even the bit where there’s a really sloppy edit and you can hear the beginnings of the chorus before the guitar solo starts), but the very structure of the song, from the uplifting choir singing “Come on, come on, come on/Get through it” like they want you to succeed to the lovely and fragile backing vocals in the verses as Graham Coxon backs up Damon Albarn in what can only be described as the sweetest way imaginable (Coxon also contributed the “Oh my baby/Oh my baby/Oh why?/Oh my” bit, which I have a love-hate relationship with but make the song what it is, ultimately).
“Tender” is the aftermath of “No Distance Left to Run,” the recovery that follows the heartbreak. “Are you okay?” I once asked a friend who’d had a relationship crash into the rocks in a ridiculously spectacular fashion, and he looked at me and said “No, but I will be.” That’s this song; the hope that things will get better even though they’re terrible right now, set to a musical backing that is ramshackle and lilting (You can easily sing along with the guitar line for this song by going “Do-be-do-be-doo”) and all the more affecting for its lack of polish and sheen.
The end of the song, for years, confused me. I was convinced that Damon was singing “Kill me!” and thought, often, “That’s completely at odds with the rest of the song, it’s so depressing.” Years and years later, watching the Blur: No Distance Left To Run documentary, I realized that he was actually singing “Heal me!” which is, of course, so much more appropriate. That’s what the song is, a plea and a magic spell to heal broken hearts and find something to stop you being alone when faced with the ghosts you love the most. Come on come on come on.