January 16th, 2005 | 130 replies

Release Date: 1994 | Tracklist

The Band: Damon Albarn (Vocals, Guitar, Other Instruments)
Graham Coxon (Guitar, Backing Vocals)
Alex James (Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals)
Dave Rowntree (Drums, Percussion)

Released: 1994 (Parlophone)

Looking back at the mid-1990s British music scene now, it all seems quite odd. The era of Britrock, with bands such as Supergrass and Pulp dominating the radio waves was in full swing, and it seemed that feel good, resoundingly British music had simply taken over. However, at the heart of this movement were two bands that were evidently head and shoulders above the rest. Both Blur, and arch rivals Oasis, dominated the movement, competing with each other for chart placings, and for the hearts of fans, in spite of being two very different bands. Oasis were the more hard rocking anthemic band, indebted to The Beatles, while Blur were more of an arty pop band, following in the footsteps of The Kinks and The Small Faces, in being so resoundingly British that it's untrue. And, of course, there's no denying that much of the conflict between these 2 bands stemmed from the famous "North/South divide" in Britain, adding yet more edge to fresh releases from each band.

Parklife was Blur's third album, following on from the previous year's Modern Life Is Rubbish, and the largely forgotten debut album, Leisure. However, although it's now regarded as not having aged well, which, in large parts, it hasn't, this says something about its effect at the time. It effectively not only blasted Blur well and truly into the public eye, but also serves as a genuinely era-defining album, and tells you what it was like to be of a certain class, and living in London during this time. Albarn, taking the approach of an artist to his music, succeeds in creating a series of characters here, that speak more loudly than mere words about what real, everyday life is like, although rather than being a social commentary in the heavily cynical mood of bands such as Radiohead, this is largely a fun album, in spite of regularly employing a cynically humorous tone.

Let's take the example of the two massive singles from this album, in Girls & Boys, and the title track, Parklife. Girls & Boys pokes fun at the annual British exodus to Greece in lines such as "Following the herd down to Greece", while talking about sexual confusion, in the chorus which is made to be sung by the exact group of drunken holiday makers, in spite of it's tongue-twisting nature. The synthesised pop tones of this song in particular make it a very strong opening track, as well as immediately letting you know what the album's all about. And then there's Parklife itself. Featuring British actor Phil Daniels on lead vocals, this is a wonderfully ironic satire of English suburbia, with the targets of the song all being things we can identify with, whether they're the "joggers who go round and round and round", or "the gut lord marching". And herein lies the great talent of the band. They're not doing anything that hasn't been done before, but they're doing it with a great degree of wit, and making it relevant for the 1990s.

The album also takes in a great range of styles. From pure pop moments, it takes in more arty, complex songs, as well as even reaching into punk influences, on songs such as Bank Holiday, which is a chaotic stomp through the idea of a bank holiday weekend, where the narrator is already looking to going back to work. This song also showcases the fact that Graham Coxon is a hugely underrated guitarist by many people, with his skills at devising very catchy riffs, as well as being willing to remain in the background when the time is right, evident at several points on the album. These talents that he possesses make it even more surprising that his solo career has been a comparative failure, but on this album he really does come into his own. Although it sounds as if I'm making this point excessively, it's also important to focus on Damon Albarn's accent at times on this album. Although that's sometimes one of the criticisms of it; that his voice grates after a while, through the whole album he sings in a very British accent, again making it clear that this is a British album, and meaning that he bucks the increasing trend of many singers, in, whether subconsciously or not, slipping into an American accent in their songs. Here though, on songs such as the understated Badhead, where he sings wistfully of "grinning and bearing it", although everyone can identify with it, there's the undeniable air of British suburbia just lurking under the surface.

If one of the main criticisms of the album is that it hasn't aged well, the other is that it's possibly a bit too long, and for me, that's a more valid approach to criticising the album. Instrumentals such as The Debt Collector, and songs such as Far Out, seem still born, and could easily have been left off the album with a more judicious editing process, which would have trimmed the album down a bit, as well as making it more coherent. This also, to a certain extent at least, would mean that the album would have aged better, as recordings of circus music (The Debt Collector), don't sound brave anymore, so much as tiresome. Something that's important to realise though, is that these songs, although poor compared to the rest of the album, also serve to throw the rest of the songs here into the listener's mind, so you realise quite what Blur are capable of. Some of the songs on this album are generally among the best British pop songs of the 1990s, while others aren't just an acknowledgement of other styles, but are rather Blur definitely showing that they can master many ways of performance.

So, in addition to The Kinks, and The Small Faces, both of which I mentioned earlier, what other bands does this follow? Well, something that's been a feature of British alternative pop music for a long time, has been the kind of intelligently amusing lyrics, that can easily be sung along to, but contain sarcasm under the surface, that ranges from mildly ironic to genuinely venomous. While Blur remain near the softer end of this spectrum here, there's no doubting the effect of lyricists such as Morrissey on the album, and, with the creative axis of Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon, they're not really so far away from Morrissey and his hook-writing partner, Johnny Marr. It's a very English style of music, and one that, while the English don't quite have a trademark on, definitely contains among its best proponents a majority of Englishmen. More importantly, this style shows no signs of dying out. If you listen to this record next to Franz Ferdinand's debut from earlier this year, there are some definite similarities, in terms of the arty music contained on both albums, but also with heavy irony, such as on the sexually ambiguous song Michael, by Franz Ferdinand.

Two songs that I haven't yet talked about, but which I feel merit it, are Magic America, and This Is A Low. The first of these is another classic pop song, in the manner of Girls & Boys, with the character of Bill Barrett entering American life, with the result that he "bought and ate until he couldn't do either anymore." Poking fun at British parochialism, this provides a perfect summary of some of the main themes of this album, and again shows Albarn's skill at creating such clearly believable characters. This Is A Low, is simply a masterpiece, with it being another of the softer songs here, with it also being surely the best song ever written about the Radio 4 institution of the indecipherable shipping forecast. Beautifully quiet at the beginning, the chorus sounds as if it's coming from a long way off, and is a very touching moment of the album, as well as showing that while Albarn may not be about to win any prizes for his voice, what he does is very effective, as well as being better than many people give him credit for. The song also features far and away the best guitar solo on the album, as well as one of Graham Coxon’s overall finest. And then, just when you think the song has faded away, it bursts back into life, with the same atmosphere of haunting beauty, which makes it one of the best of the album.

In conclusion, this is an album well worth getting. There's no real overwhelming consensus on what Blur's best album is, although most people would probably say that this isn't it, but I would say that it's one of the most culturally important British albums of the last decade, although it says something about how much British culture has arguably changed, that this already sounds a bit dated. Be that as it may though, it's still both an interesting and entertaining listen, with all sorts of things going on in songs, where you least expect them, such as traffic directions in London Loves, and the downright strange ending to the album, in Lot 105. There's the occasional song on here you'll want to skip over, but these are vastly outweighed by the quality music on this album, and, although this isn't a concept album as such, it's definitely worth listening to the whole thing through a few times before you come to a judgement on it, as it tells a clear story, through Damon Albarn's intelligent lyrics, which are also underrated by many people, but which tell the listener a lot about British culture, in the same sort of way as Bruce Springsteen does in America. Even the album cover here refers to a very British pastime, in greyhound racing, but while this is an album that it probably helps to be British to understand fully, it can easily be appreciated by any music fan, and particularly fans of this genre.

Final Rating: 4.3/5

Recommended Songs
Girls & Boys
Magic America
Bank Holiday
This Is A Low

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Comments:Add a Comment 
December 22nd 2004


Had no one reviewed this???
Wow, good review, but how could you not recommend Parklife!!! :P
It's a good album, but Blur is one of those bands where, when I like their songs, I love em, but when i don't like them I can't stand them
But I love most of their songs
Graham Coxon is one of the best British guitarrists of all time

December 22nd 2004


Well...I think Parklife has been heard by just about everyone by now, and also I tried to make the recommended songs relatively diverse as well. And the song does get a bit annoying after a while, although it's still a good listen.

Dimes Make Dollars
December 23rd 2004


Great album, and the review is even better. No one can deny the awesomeness of "Girls and Boys" and "This is a Low".

December 23rd 2004


Great review. I don't own this album (or any Blur albums, actually), but by virtue of having been alive and English for the past decade or so, I've heard most of it. It's good. I don't think I can make a proper judgement, though.

July 31st 2005


Album Rating: 5.0

As I'm not English I have never heard any song off this album on the radio. I simply went to the record store and bought it. Fucking ace.

Badhead, Jubilee and basically every other song is incredible. I like 'Modern Life' a tad more though

November 4th 2005


Album Rating: 4.0

love this album, strong from beginning to end

just love Clover Over Dover

December 19th 2005


Album Rating: 5.0

I'm not a big fan of Blur but this was a great album nonetheless!

April 23rd 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

Sheer fucking brilliance...not a dull song on this one, it's such a varied and unique album.

'Girls and Boys' is just an awesome song to rant away to after a big night on the cans, 'End of a Century' gives me this really confused feeling i've never felt before, 'Parklife' is kind of what happens to a normal person when they get outta bed in the morning, 'To the End' has this really sort of 1960's british pop feel love song, with really thoughtful lyrics about the strength of love, while 'This is a Low' is just such a sad song. The chorus of this one just washes over you.

I love this album.This Message Edited On 04.23.06

May 5th 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

the album that has everything really,

sad, acoustic, angry, very random, all kinds of songs

if you dont like this album i will give you a massage with a rocket launcher, its so good

May 5th 2006


Looking at how people rated the album, I'm quite surprised by how popular it seems to be. I always thought that it was seen as one of Blur's better albums, but not right up their with their best. Guess I was wrong.

May 5th 2006


Album Rating: 4.0

I think it's being rated so highly based on the cultural impact it had and the influence on the music scene it still carries, rather than just the music itself.

August 14th 2006


Album Rating: 5.0

I actually think that this may be my favorite album of all time. It's just that good.

January 7th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

^^ I think this was rated so highly both for its cultural impact AND the music. Still, 3.5 is spot-on because there IS filler here ('Clover Over Dover', anyone?).

'To The End' is a brilliant song. Really chills you out

May 24th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

I have tried getting into the whole brit-pop thing but it really does suck.

August 8th 2007


Album Rating: 5.0

Best album by far this and modern life is rubbish is blurs best material

February 5th 2008


Parklife is decent, but really, Modern Life is Rubbish is Blur's best album. I don't understand why so many reviewers and longtime Blur fans alike praise Parklife more. MLIR is the band's best album.

I would even dare to say that Girls & Boys is a weird choice for a single. If there was a song I wanted to play for someone to try and get them interested in the band, this wouldn't be it.This Message Edited On 02.04.08

June 20th 2009


Album Rating: 3.0

If the album had The Debt Collector, Far Out & Lot 105 left off, & having it end with This Is A Low then I would rank this a 5, it's a good album, hell it was better than I expected it to be, WAY better... but those 3 filler "songs" keep this from being a 5 in my books.

July 22nd 2009


Album Rating: 4.5

Personallly I think this is one of the greatest albums of the 90s.

Huge fan of Blur,I think its a hard decision between this,MLIR and the self-titled.

But in the end,this captured a whole era in Britain so I think that gives it the edge.

I admit there are some fillers,but nothing too annoying.

End of a century,Girls & Boys,This is a low,To the end,Parklife,Tracy Jacks...great songs.

And btw,I think Alex James is also underrated.

November 21st 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

I prefer this album to Modern Life, there's just a lot more to it saying that the B-sides to this album are simply amazing, Peter Panic should have been on the album.

December 5th 2009


Album Rating: 5.0

Makes Oasis sound like a Casio keyboard preset.

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