Blur, Parklife (Special Edition)

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 05.18.11 in Reviews

Parklife (Special Edition)


"Call it London" was the most usable piece of advice given Blur by their label boss — he thought the band's third album sounded like a mistake. There's something charmingly clunky about Parklife. Its songs are obtuse, willfully awkward and far more playful than the career-reset fury of Modern Life. Where their previous album suggested four men trading the straitjacket of expectation in for tailor-made mod suits, the open, diverse Parklife infiltrates a wider set of locations, as on their packaged-holiday-ridiculing, synth-pop hit "Girls and Boys." Alex James's bass frolics alongside Albarn's seemingly nonsense rhymes while Graham Coxon's intermittent shards of guitar remind us: approach the nightclub with caution, and a bit of self-awareness. Albarn's instincts as a cultural critic had matured. New characters populated his songs — "Tracy Jacks," the staid middle class citizenry of "Parklife," a solitary soul on the cliffs of Dover, "Jubilee," the self-loathing Brits of "Magic America," as well as London itself, the unkind city of "London Loves." And even Albarn's own ambitions and anxieties were scrutinized on "Badhead" and the glamorous "To the End."

The most complete album Blur ever made

Parklife helped inaugurate an era of "Britpop" pseudo-nationalism — what else would you expect from an album that featured a song called "Bank Holiday" and a prominent guest spot from British actor Phil Daniels, of "Jimmy in Quadrophenia" fame? But, as with Modern Life, this was not a celebration of the British present: An acerbic chauvinism remained; but this time, you could dance to it, pogo along at the concert, etc. From "Girls and Boys" to the astounding concert-closer "This is a Low," Parklife was the most complete album Blur ever made. By 1995, they had somehow pulled off an unlikely trick: they had become pop stars on their own terms, ascending the very populist charts that their songs suggested a philosophical opposition against. "Tracy," "Jubilee," "Bill" from "Magic America" — they buy records, too.