Sometimes I know well ahead of time what the AOTW is going to be. Other times, like this current edition, I don’t really decide until I sit down to write. For some totally unknown reason not all related to last week’s music news cycle I’ve had Blur on the brain so now I’m going to visit one of the high points of their eclectic discography.
Blur – Parklife
Released April 25, 1994 via Food Records
My Favorite Tracks – Parklife, End Of A Century
Parklife represents the second of a trilogy of Blur records that would come to shape and define the emerging term Britpop. In fact, if one were to wonder why the term was called Britpop as opposed to the seemingly more suitable Britrock, Blur and Parklife would be the signpost for why.
The album is a collection of varied styles that examine the British life through many different lenses. While it is a musical hodgepodge, they exploration of styles does well to convey the mostly sardonic look at typical British life and style. Everything from dance beats to jangly riffs can be found as the record plows it course through England.
The album opens with a dance party on the hit single Girls And Boys. The song has a simple point – Damon Albarn was inspired to write it after watching people get drunk and hook up in night clubs. The song is not praise or criticism of the practice, rather just observation. I’d see the scenes described in the song play out a few year later when I was in Europe as part of the US military. And yeah, Girls And Boys pretty well nails it on the head.
While the musical stylings of Parklife are overwhelmingly upbeat in nature, the topical fare isn’t always a party. London Loves and Jubilee both take aim at the corrosion of substance in culture. The chill vibe of Badhead belies the heavier subject matter of falling away from a loved one. Tracy Jenks observes a man’s midlife crisis, while Trouble In The Message Center handles the inevitable hangover after a night of partying.
While the 16-track album is a wonderful listen in whole, I find my two personal favorite tracks toward the record’s beginning. The third song End Of A Century is a guitar-driven roll through the “late stage” phase of long-term relationships as well as a nod to the winding down of the 20th Century. The song hits at the mundane nature of life while also looking toward the new millennium. It’s a very identifiable vibe and also makes me want to scream at them to stay put and avoid 2020 especially. The refrain “it’s nothing special” truly defines the song’s context.
For all of the contemplation of British life and culture to be found through the album, nothing hit the nail on the head like the album’s title track. Parklife became the defining song from the album and its cultural significance rings true still nearly 30 years after its release. Blur recruited actor Phil Daniels to deliver the song’s verses in spoken-word fashion while Albarn handled the sung chorus. The bright and cheery tune masked a bit the absolutely sarcastic sneer at British park life.
The song hasn’t lost its touch in the decades since release. Left and right it’s easy to find people who still point to Parklife as the “ultimate British song.” It’s become a celebration of that aspect of Britain even while many can acknowledge the sneering intent behind the track.
Parklife the album would be a huge success for Blur. They sold a few million copies of the record in the UK and across the European continent. The band would line up for awards left and right, basking in the newfound acclaim as the “it” band in British rock. Their more artistic approach won out among the populist masses.
At least for one album.
Blur would get about a year to enjoy the accolades brought forth from the success of Parklife. The “Battle of Britpop” was just on the horizon, and while Blur won that battle, the downslide just after when the British music press turned on them would mark another uncertain chapter for the group, one ended when the band jettisoned the concept of Britpop and embraced alternative and garage rock instead.
None of that is the story of Parklife, however. The album remains a high water point for the Britpop movement and marked the point where Blur shook off their early failures and became a successful, noticed band. While the group weren’t working class stiffs themselves, they were able to offer up a view of British life that connected with a wide audience. Both the record and the title song are offerings whose significance outweighs even their successful record sales and awards. The album peered into British life and as a result became a foundation for Britpop to continue building on.
On Wednesday I’ll get into the Damon Albarn versus Taylor Swift thing that happened last week and dominated the news cycle until Neil Young came along.