Monday, September 24, 2007

[063] Parklife

Album: Parklife
Artist: Blur
Release Date: April 1994
Label: Food/SBK/ERG
Producers: Stephen Street, with Stephen Hague, John Smith & Blur

"We wear the same clothes 'cause we feel the same"
- from "End Of A Century"

"I'd love to stay here and be normal
But then it's just so overrated"
- from "Tracy Jacks"

Despite the fact that Parklife, Blur's classic third album, debuted at #1 in the UK, the band will forever be criminally underappreicated by the people of their home because they came to be perceived as the snarky bourgeois counterparts to the working class upstarts in Oasis. It's fitting then that in the great documentary Live Forever, Blur singer Damon Albarn pops the balloon, revealing that the album, which originally seemed like a celebration of being English, is actually an indictment of the post-Thatcher Americanization of the London suburbs. It was sarcasm, one long bit of taking the piss, much like the Beastie Boys' claim that the fans they acquired from "Fight For Your Right" were the exact type of people they were lampooning. In the film, Albarn goes on to plainly regret being so flippant with his message, and considering it was right when the most people were listening, if he had written this album in a simple fashion, the way he was feeling, Blur's career would've likely been far different.

If, I guess like most of the Brits who bought this album, you pay no attention to the lyrics, Parklife is one of the most enjoyable Pop/Rock albums since the 1960's. Surely it was massively popular because it so effortlessly recalls the most popular and most British of bands, from The Beatles and The Kinks, to The Jam and XTC, while also moving their own sound forward. There's almost a mad carnival theme running through the music; the way the waltz of "The Debt Collector", the psychedelic "Far Out", and the silliness of "Lot 105" suggest a commentary on the way the British musical tradition of 20th century, like the long shadow of Music Hall, largely fetishized novelty. The majority of the songs bounce along and easily put a smile on your face, from the frantic punk of "Bank Holiday" to the pastoral beauty of "Badhead" to the cool new wave of "London Loves", but what does it say that we've come to expect this kind of variety of classicism from creative British rock bands? And it is not for lack of trying that Blur update their sound. Only two songs, "Magic America" and "Trouble In The Message Centre", still hold some of the scattered vibe of Modern Life Is Rubbish. On the rest of the album, the band is ten-times as focused as on the previous album. Blur could not have made this album a few years earlier, with guitarist Graham Coxon especially stepping up. Where, on a song like the 1992 single "Popscene", Coxon would heap on the noise, here he cleans it up, and plays smart and subtle. Soaring epic closer "This Is A Low" in particular highlights his brilliant playing. If Pulp hadn't recorded "Common People", then this song would likely be the highlight of the Britpop movement.

Returning to this album now, years later, anyone would think it should have been obvious to everyone where the message of the album was aimed, right from the start of "Girls & Boys", which skewers the promiscuous Brits on holiday in Greece; I'm sure they thought it was an anthem just for them. What does it really say for the cynicism of an entire nation that the youth generation, adults of tomorrow, adopted these songs as anthems?? "End Of A Century" and "Jubilee" are straight-forward attacks on the laziness and mindlessness of being a couch potato, but because of their jaunty strides, the lyrics get overlooked. There are also a few comments of excessive drinking, as well as an undercurrent of unemployment running through some of the songs, most notably the title track. It wasn't a kinder, gentler version of the punk rebellion against the hypocrisy of the authority structure of their society. It was more apathy than anything. The music really did dominate the words, because with one look at the lyrics, I was amazed at how dour and biting they are. It occurs to me now that the reason that a film like Trainspotting, or recent films like 28 Days Later and Shaun Of The Dead, resonate so well is that in the wake of the Thatcher era, there really was a zombie-like nature to British suburbanites. Beyond getting high, or pissed in Begbie's case, what did Renton and his friends ever do? Nothing. Exactly. And that's what almost every song on Parklife is ultimately about; Albarn was begging for his country to see that the urbanization of the countryside he loved, which he had seen examples of the end result of while on tour in the US, was a giant waste of time which he blamed on the influence of American commerce. It's a shame that the people who needed these messages, the ones that Damon Albarn and Blur were trying to shake out of their funk and get back to their senses, were just looking for some Pop music to dance to.

01. "Girls & Boys"
02. "Tracy Jacks"
03. "End Of A Century"
04. "Parklife" [feat. Phil Daniels]
05. "Bank Holiday"
06. "Badhead"
07. "The Debt Collector"
08. "Far Out"
09. "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"

"Parklife" [video]

"Girls & Boys" [video]

- BONUS: "End Of A Century" [video]
- BONUS: "To The End" [video]
- BONUS: Damon Albarn talking about the inspiration for Parklife
From the Cool Britannia documentary Live Forever; go in 1:30
- BONUS: "Tracy Jacks" & "Magic America" [from the concert film Showtime]
- BONUS: "Parklife" [from the concert film Showtime]
- BONUS: "Girls & Boys" & "Bank Holiday" [from the concert film Showtime]
- BONUS: "This Is A Low" [from the concert film Showtime]

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