Classic Album: Blur - Parklife

The band that soundtracked a decade
Blur - Parklife
For almost ten years, Blur were arguably the best band in Britain, re-introducing a bolder, more confident UK music scene to a world that had lost interest in it a couple of decades before. Since they went their separate ways in 2003 though, it’s not as if Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave been sitting at home reflecting on past glories.

So, why the sudden need for the return of Blur? Could it be that they just miss the fun of it all? God knows that in these dark days we need some, and no band entertained with quite such insouciant glee as Blur in their heyday.

The release of ‘Parklife’ in 1994 was something akin to a seismic shift in perception and attitude within the British music industry that had been a long time coming. Fifteen years of Tory rule had left much of the creative community in the UK isolated, introspective and downright depressed. This was reflected in the best of the nation’s musical output: undoubtedly inventive and groundbreaking at its finest, but dominated by a darkness and ponderousness that kept much of it confined to the peripheries of popular consciousness. By 1994, change was in the air: Tony Blair was the country’s great hope, and suddenly it seemed like there was the anticipation of a brighter future. Being British was something to be celebrated once more. This was once more a vibrant young country in search of a good time.

Musically, the slaughter of the fattened calf that was the American rock scene was imminent. As Kurt Cobain said in the very first lines of Nirvana’s final album ‘In Utero’, “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old.” The stage was set for a distinctly different sound to emerge to pre-eminence and offer something fresh. It was almost inevitable that a quintessentially British album such as ‘Parklife’ should lead the way. However, it almost never came to pass at all.

The band had released their debut, ‘Leisure’, in 1991 but failed to make any real impact, and their much-underrated follow-up ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ was similarly overlooked. By 1993 the band’s label Food was ready to drop them if their outlay was not returned with some solid gold hits.

Albarn began writing new material furiously, finding inspiration in the minutiae of British life happening around him and also vitally in the comedy, pathos and small dramas of Martin Amis’s novel London Fields. The band headed to Maison Rouge studio in South London in August 1993 and recorded the new material with urgency. Still, Food was not convinced with the final cut and soon the label had been sold to EMI. Food failed to see what was seemingly quite obvious to EMI: ‘Parklife’ was a great British album in waiting with works of great breadth and scope interspersed with some real radio friendly unit shifters. From the moment that lead-off single ‘Girls & Boys’ pogoed its way across the radio waves, it was clear that a monster was coming, complete with estuary English vowels, a Fred Perry T-shirt and a pair of Doc Martens. This was British music by a British band with a gift for storytelling and tune-craft unknown amongst many of its contemporaries.

As well as the enduring anthemic singles of package holiday paean ‘Girls & Boys’ and the Ray Davies’ tinged study of the daily grind in ‘Parklife’, Blur showed that they could stand among the titans of British pop music with the likes of ‘End Of A Century’’s tale of overbearing British reserve and frustration, as well as the simply sublime ‘To The End’. However, it was in tracks like the epic sweep of Britain that is ‘This Is A Low’ that Blur cemented their place as the nation’s favourite.

The combination of Albarn’s deft lyricism, Coxon’s inspired fretwork and the rhythm section of James and Rowntree saw Blur become the band that soundtracked a decade. When ‘Parklife’ was released in 1994 there were few more compelling bands to be found anywhere and the quality of the songs on that album will continue to endure for quite some time to come. That, at least should ensure some damn good fun and happy recollections for those who might find themselves being reminded of this at the band’s various appearances this summer.

Words by Karl O’Keeffe

Released: April 25th 1994
Producer: Stephen Street

TRACKLIST

1. Girls & Boys
2. Tracy Jacks
3. End Of A Century
4. Parklife
5. Bank Holiday
6. Badhead
7. The Debt Collector
8. Far Out
9. To The End
10. London Loves
11. Trouble In The Message Centre
12. Clover Over Dover
13. Magic America
14. Jubilee
15. This Is A Low
16. Lot 105

MUSICIANS
Damon Albarn: vocals
Graham Coxon: guitars
Alex James: bass
Dave Rowntree: drums

1994: IN THE NEWS
• Serial killers Fred and Rosemary West are arrested.
• Schindler’s List sweeps the board at the Oscars.
• Kurt Cobain commits suicide.
• Brazil beat Italy 3-2 in penalties in the FIFA World Cup.

1994: THE ALBUMS
Alice In Chains ‘Jar Of Flies’
Green Day ‘Dookie’
Beck ‘Mellow Gold’
Morrissey ‘Vauxhall And I’
Manic Street Preachers ‘The Holy Bible’

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