Parlophone, 1994

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Modern Life Is Rubbish both established the Blur sound and cast a glance at society as a whole, with the conclusions found in the album’s title. Parklife is the flip side to that record, joyous and sunny where the previous disc was darker, concluding that life for many people may be mundane and odd but it is full of beauty and fun and catchy beats if you can break out of your rut.

The result was Blur’s commercial breakthrough and one of their best-loved records, as well as a shining moment for ‘90s alt-rock and Britpop as a whole. The songs make no secret of their love for classic pop, but the disc is thoroughly modern, very British and a lot of fun. Because the band’s label was going to drop them if their third album wasn’t a hit, Damon Albarn used novels and everyday British life to spur his lyrics, while the band took similar cues – plus an optimism coming out of Britain at the time – to create the characters and sounds that populate Parklife.

“Girls And Boys” bounces into view with goofy synthesizer effects, a neo-disco beat and a cheerful update on Berlin-era Bowie, remaining one of Blur’s best songs. “Tracy Jacks” is a catchy character study of the type Blur was quite good at and “End Of A Century” uses lovely background vocals, jangling guitars and a well-placed horn break to describe the ennui of everyday life.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track is pure fun, my personal favorite Blur song and a piece only these guys could pull off. Actor Phil Daniels (Jimmy in the movie version of the Who’s Quadrophenia) memorably embodies the title character’s slog through daily life of disaffected, pointless youth, but rather than wallowing, the song is an upbeat pop stomper with a rubberband bassline pushed forward in the mix that lends a cheeky air to the whole thing. It’s creative and a little strange and utterly great.

Things change on a dime throughout Parklife, with the pop of “Parklife” giving way to a two-minute punk rocker “Bank Holiday,” which then bleeds into the jangly country-pop “Badhead,” a downcast but expansive acoustic number that suggests John Mellencamp, R.E.M. and the Kinks were in Albarn’s CD changer that afternoon. “The Debt Collector,” meanwhile, is an instrumental Tom Waits tribute of sorts that briefly stalls the momentum, and bassist Alex James gets a brief turn in the spotlight with a 90-second ditty called “Far Out” that pays homage to early Barrett-era Floyd but does little more.

These minor foibles aside, it should be noted how much depth this album actually has. The hit singles were more pop than before, sure, but songs such as “To The End,” “Badhead” and the penultimate “This Is A Low” show impressive ranges in mood and songwriting chops. Of course, just as “To The End” fades out, the chunky funk bounce of “London Loves” sails on in to remind everyone that Swinging London was cool again in 1994. The song also is punctuated by Graham Coxon’s guitar squall solo, which recalls Carlos Alomar’s work on Bowie’s Scary Monsters. By contrast, “Magic America” is gaudy and soulless.

“Trouble In The Message Center” and “Clover Over Dover” are fine rockers, but “This Is A Low” ends the disc on a truly high note, with Albarn’s most effective singing of the disc, a killer Coxon solo and a lush, lovely arrangement. This is one of the few times Blur actually tried to sound huge and important (which Oasis, only a few months later, would turn into a mission statement). The actual closing track is “Lot 105,” a minute-long instrumental ditty that’s here because, hell, CDs are 80 minutes long and they had to fill the space.

Trimmed by five tracks, this would have been a completely coherent statement, but then again, all of Blur’s discs run a bit long, and you can skip the few songs in the middle that don’t measure up. Parklife rightly established these guys as stars in their home country and remains a touchstone of British and alternative rock. While a compilation may be the best way for beginners to delve into Blur’s world, this remains their finest album-length statement.

Rating: B+

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© 2016 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Parlophone, and is used for informational purposes only.