Blur
Parklife


5.0
classic

Review

by Ben Thornburgh CONTRIBUTOR (113 Reviews)
August 22nd, 2013 | 51 replies | 3,849 views


Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 8)

Three months after the release of Modern Life is Rubbish, Blur headlined Reading Festival’s Sunday tent. With their only competition being the increasingly insufferable The The, the crowd for Blur ended up being bigger than expected. Blur had an unfortunate run of botching major gigs in those days, their disastrous performance at the Town and Country Club in Kentish Town almost got them dropped from their label, but the lads came through this time, delivering a performance of startling confidence from a band coming into its own. Damon later called it “A good days work”; David Rowntree remarked it was an “Hour and a half long orgasm”.

Reading Festival was the turning point. British pop music, thanks to changes in Radio One’s staff, had begun to embrace the indie set. Damon had his swagger back, making bigheaded remarks to the press like “I think we are the best British group since The Smiths.” While Modern Life is Rubbish was only a modest success, its quality is what really galvanized the band. It was a success on their terms, it flew in the face of current trends and record label requests and earned Blur a cult following. “That was really the birth of us turning into the kind of modern Blur,” reflected Rowntree. As the mainstream caught up to it in the brief year following Modern Life’s release, Blur were ready to take over with the release of their absolute masterstroke, the Britpop defining Parklife.

Parklife is a collection of nigh-on perfect music, expansive and adventurous yet all revolving around the very British idea that intense sadness is no reason not to make it to work in the morning. It overhauled the sensibilities of The Kink’s 1968 The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society for the post-Thatcher era and crashed the 1995 Brit Awards, winning best album, band, single, and video, a record. They treated the award ceremony like a playground, after Prince showed up with the word “Slave” written on his cheek in defiance of the record industry Dave Rowntree snatched an eye pencil and wrote “Dave” on his.

Parklife has a reputation in critical circles as an album that’s all patriotic on the surface and all sadness inside. While there is certainly some truth to this, that’s selling the album a little short. After all, isn’t the most compelling patriotism honest patriotism? Damon Albarn may not be running around like the town crier declaring “ALL IS WELL” but that doesn’t mean he loves his country any less. If anything, much of Parklife testifies to British resilience in the face of misery. When Parklife dips into beautiful balladry, Albarn’s character studies illustrate depression without drama. People who have off days, breakups, contemplate death and the futility of it all but, like most of us, get along with their lives.

”So far/I’ve not really stayed in touch”

Yet, unlike any other album that rests in my personal top 10, this is a very difficult record to connect to emotionally. It’s easy to appreciate for everything it does so well but to feel like it has a genuine stake somewhere in your life as a complete album is tricky. The album plays too distant with feeling to really ground itself.

I used to think this was the album’s sole flaw until I realized that’s the whole point. Parklife is, at its lowest, an album about despondency and numbness. A world where the end of a relationship is communicated as “It looks like we might have made it to the end” in the same way one might say, “It looks like it might rain tomorrow.” The sad sack protagonist of “Badhead” wakes up around 2 just so he can “Get a touch of flu”. On the masterful “End of a Century” the excitement around the new millennium is dismissed as “Nothing special”. Parklife zeroes in on these characters at an intensely micro level, examining the very relatable and very human struggles at their core. The sadness on this album is comfortable, something to sink into for a while and come ripping out of again.

”Following the heard/Down to Greece/On holiday!”

And rip it does. Blur are at an all time pop music peak here, taking the catchiest melodies and twisting them through their singular vision of what popular music should be. Opener “Girls & Boys” is one of Britpop’s defining singles and an incredible achievement for how close it comes to being grating. Damon sings in a flat cockney accent so thick it borders on parody. It stands in direct contrast to the bands ecstatic disco bounce behind him. “Tracy Jacks” – One of Blur’s most underrated songs - repurposes the mid-life crisis as a joyous rebellion against malaise as its titular protagonist heads out at 5 in the morning, strips naked, runs around town, and, finally, bulldozes his own house, “saying its just so overrated”. “Parklife” sports possibly the best use of spoken word in pop music history as Phil Daniels shares laddish wisdom while Blur refashion day to day living as an ecstatic pogo hop. “Bank Holiday” makes vacation sound more stressful than just going to work and “Jubilee”s quiet inside life is either loneliness or contentment but no matter what his dad is giving him the boot.

All of this is laced with Grahm Coxon’s spindly guitar lines and constantly unique solos, evoking a backfiring car on “London Loves”. Alex James’ pitch perfect basslines buoy the whole of the record, contributing subtle hooks that underscore the melodies.

Producer Stephen Street’s contributions are as vital to the album as any official Blur member, giving each instrument the exact amount of separation and space. The crispness of his production lends each band member a remarkable amount of room to work while his other touches, the harpsichord on “Clover Over Dover” or the synth solo on “Magic America”, are perfectly complementary. Also of worthy note, American producer Stephen Hague produces “To the End” and lends it the French noir atmosphere it demands.

It all comes down to the grand finale, “This Is A Low”. After 14 tracks of intensly micro focused music “This Is A Low” blows the album into macro, wrapping its arms around Jubilee, Tracy Jacks, the habitual voyeurs, the debt collector, the girls & boys ***ing like rabbits on holiday, all of England and just holding tight. With its echo laden snare shot and Grahm Coxon’s epic guitar solo seeing it off, it seals Parklife as more than just a collection of great songs but a true album lover’s album, one that became a huge commercial success and put Britpop on the map as a full force movement.

But because ending with the epic weepy ballad is so cliché, it ends with the “Technical Difficulties” keyboards and chippy la la la’s of “Lot 105”. How cheeky.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
August 22nd 2013



1614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Full series: http://badgersenate.com/category/a-guide-to-contemporary-british-music-1988-2013/

New review every Tuesday and Thursday

I cant believe I'm the first person to write a 5 for this. Stone cold classic people.

StallionMang
August 22nd 2013



5480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good review, pos'd. 'Bout time this got 5'd.

Digging: LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

YoYoMancuso
August 22nd 2013



11028 Comments


this series is awesome.

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
August 22nd 2013



50141 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

eck

Digging: Tiny Moving Parts - Pleasant Living

jtswope
August 22nd 2013



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Might eventually bump this to a 4.5. End of a Century and Badhead are pure gold.

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
August 22nd 2013



50141 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I guess you have to be British to get this

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
August 22nd 2013



1614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

But I'm not.

The777thVermicide
August 22nd 2013



277 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Album needs more love here.

jtswope
August 22nd 2013



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Agreed.

Gyromania
August 22nd 2013



15508 Comments


hell yes, ben!

DrHouseSchuldiner
August 22nd 2013



5643 Comments


rules but i think i dig modern more tho ...

Freddey
August 23rd 2013



135 Comments


Nice, ive been meaning to check these guys out.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



1614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

If this album had never come out, I could see Modern Life getting the 5.

WarmInTheWinter
August 27th 2013



78 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review, and I love this album. I've always found that people never really bring up just how damn funny it is though. It's definitely their most playful album I think and "The Great Escape" is the darker album (I actually slightly prefer it; sue me). This one definitely has more variety though, especially compared to "MLIR" which I find dreadfully repetitive.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
August 28th 2013



1614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The Great Escape has ended up woefully underrated due to circumstance (The Battle of Britpop) which is a shame cause its pretty great.

Yeah this is a funny album, that whistle on Tracy Jacks gets me everytime

MonotoneMop
September 26th 2013



161 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I always think of this album as tongue-in-cheek britpop, but I forget that there's a lot more variety to it than that. Clover Over Dover deserves far more love than it gets, This Is A Low is one of the best Britain songs of all time and End of a Century just has this great drowsy, sexy feel to it. A lot of Blur's britpop era music wouldn't be accepted as 'good' by the masses these days, particularly here in the states, but those three songs at least stand the test of time and could be used to get a skeptical friend into the band.

HolidayKirk
Contributing Reviewer
March 15th 2014



1614 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I am now the default review for every Blur album I've reviewed so far, making me Sputnik's resident Blur authority.

*checks that one off the life list*

Froot
March 15th 2014



882 Comments


PAAKLOIFE

Digging: Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Pinata

menawati
Contributing Reviewer
March 15th 2014



15907 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

clover over dover is probs my favorite blur song

Digging: Hominido - Estirpe Litica

StallionMang
March 15th 2014



5480 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Album is fun as hell



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