Blur: Parklife

April 25, 1994 – Blur: Parklife is released in the US.
# allmusic 5/5

Parklife is the third studio album by Blur, released on this date in April 1994 on Food Records. After disappointing sales for their previous album Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), Parklife returned Blur to prominence in the UK, helped by its four hit singles: “Girls & Boys”, “End of a Century”, “Parklife” and “To the End”. Certified quadruple platinum in the United Kingdom, in the year following its release the album came to define the emerging Britpop scene. 

After the completion of recording sessions for Blur’s previous album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, Damon Albarn, the band’s vocalist, began to write prolifically. Blur demoed Albarn’s new songs in groups of twos and threes. Due to their precarious financial position at the time, Blur quickly went back into the studio with producer Stephen Street to record their third album. Blur met at the Maison Rouge recording studio in August 1993 to record their next album. The recording was a relatively fast process, apart from the song “This Is a Low”.

Blur frontman Damon Albarn told NME in 1994, “For me, Parklife is like a loosely linked concept album involving all these different stories. It’s the travels of the mystical lager-eater, seeing what’s going on in the world and commenting on it.” Albarn cited the Martin Amis novel London Fields as a major influence on the album. The songs themselves span many genres, such as the synthpop-influenced hit single “Girls & Boys”, the instrumental waltz interlude of “The Debt Collector”, the punk rock-influenced “Bank Holiday”, the spacey, Syd Barrett-esque “Far Out”, and the fairly New Wave-influenced “Trouble in the Message Centre”. Journalist John Harris commented that while many of the album’s songs “reflected Albarn’s claims to a bittersweet take on the UK’s human patchwork”, he stated that several songs, including “To the End” and “Badhead” “lay in a much more personal space”.

Parklife remains one of the most acclaimed records of the 90s, released in April 1994, debuted at number one on the UK Album Charts. The album stayed on the chart for 90 weeks. However, the album only charted at number 6 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers album chart in the United States. Johnny Dee, reviewing Parklife for NME, called it “a great pop record”, adding “On paper it sounds like hell, in practice it’s joyous.” Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars. Reviewer Paul Evans wrote, “With one of this year’s best albums, [Blur] realize their cheeky ambition: to reassert all the style and wit, boy bonding and stardom aspiration that originally made British rock so dazzling.”

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine, allmusic
Modern Life Is Rubbish established Blur as the heir to the archly British pop of the Kinks, the Small Faces, and the Jam, but its follow-up, Parklife, revealed the depth of that transformation. Relying more heavily on Ray Davies’ seriocomic social commentary, as well as new wave, Parklife runs through the entire history of post-British Invasion Britpop in the course of 16 songs, touching on psychedelia, synth pop, disco, punk, and music hall along the way. Damon Albarn intended these songs to form a sketch of British life in the mid-’90s, and it’s startling how close he came to his goal; not only did the bouncy, disco-fied “Girls & Boys” and singalong chant “Parklife” become anthems in the U.K., but they inaugurated a new era of Brit-pop and lad culture, where British youth celebrated their country and traditions. The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur’s vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed — sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record — but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking “Badhead.” Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden “End of a Century,” the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute “To the End,” and the swirling, epic closer, “This Is a Low.” For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-’90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record.

All music by Blur and all lyrics by Albarn, except “Far Out” written by James.
“Girls & Boys” – 4:50
“Tracy Jacks” – 4:20
“End of a Century” – 2:46
“Parklife” (starring Phil Daniels) – 3:05
“Bank Holiday” – 1:42
“Badhead” – 3:25
“The Debt Collector” – 2:10
“Far Out” – 1:41
“To the End” – 4:05
“London Loves” – 4:15
“Trouble in the Message Centre” – 4:09
“Clover Over Dover” – 3:22
“Magic America” – 3:38
“Jubilee” – 2:47
“This Is a Low” – 5:07
“Lot 105” – 1:17


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