Classic album review
Originally released: 1994
In February 1994, a band called Blur completed sessions for what will be their third album. Entitled ‘Parklife’, it was to used as part of the bands arsenal against another significant band of the time (Oasis, in case you needed reminding) and it became not just one of the great albums of the Britpop era but one of the best of the ’90s.
This review isn’t coming hot on the heels of a ‘deluxe edition’ or an umpteenth anniversary release of the album. I felt some people would enjoy a trip down memory lane but many may be enlightened to know what that bloke in Gorillaz did before he was, well, in Gorillaz and writing opera’s for sixteenth century Chinese stories.
Formed in early 1989 after meeting at college in Colchester, Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree formed Seymour. But after signing to Food Records in November 1989 on the condition they change their name, they become Blur.
The first few years of the bands life is very much up and down. Songs like ‘She’s So High’ and ‘There’s No Other Way’ from debut album ‘Leisure’ get rave reviews, NME making the former a single of the week.
In April 1992 they embark on an American tour with their ‘indie/baggie’ sound right when Nirvana and grunge is in full flight. Needless to say, Blur find the tour humiliating. But it was on this tour that, in response to the attitude the American audience showed the band, that Blur sharpen the English-ness to their music.
The follow-up album to ‘Leisure’, ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ receives mainly good reviews and features the singles ‘Chemical World’ and the Bowie-esque ‘For Tomorrow’.
With bands like Suede quickly gathering momentum and winning over the British music press, Blur completed ‘Parklife’ and released lead-off single ‘Girls and Boys’ in March of 1994. The opening track from ‘Parklife’, it was certainly a step up from their previous material. The album is released the following month and charts at number one.
Songs like ‘Tracy Jacks’ and ‘End Of A Century’ are in the vain of ‘For Tomorrow’, Albarn’s story-tale lyric style shining through and showing a writer finding their niche and really coming in to their own. And just like any music scene, with hindsight, the lyrics are littered with references to how people were feeling at the time. “We wear the same clothes ‘cos we feel the same…” Sings Albarn on ‘End Of A Century’.
The album acts almost as a blueprint not just for the musical capabilities of Blur but for British music as a whole; the madness of ‘Bank Holiday’; the fairground waltz of ‘The Debt Collector’; the loopy organ-tinged album-closer ‘Lot 105’. The romance of ‘To The End – “Well you and I/collapsed in love/and it looks like we might’ve made it to the end.” – made all the more special by the French-spoken guest vocal of Françoise Hardy.
Looking back I do wonder why there such great rivalry with Oasis (I think the word I’m really after is jealousy). Oasis had great songs (note past tense used here) but so did many other bands in the early ’90s. Though it’s hard to think of any that match Blur for musical diversity and vision. It’s fine If you want straight-up guitar songs, but if you’re out to prove your worth and show you have more than a few good tunes in you, you can’t see most bands for the proverbial dust Blur leave behind them.
The perfect blend of Albarn’s lyrical approach, Coxon’s almost abstract take on playing guitar, the bass of Alex James (being the crucial element of ‘Girls and Boys’ that makes the song really work) and the solid drumming of Dave rowntree (who’s now training to be a solicitor for those geeks among us 😉 ) shows why Blur have been around for so long and why they will be welcomed back so warmly when they reform for a tour (is a new album out of the question?) this summer.
Like Hardy on ‘To The End’, It’s a guest vocalist who takes things up a notch on the title track. Phil Daniels, best known for his role as Jimmy in Quadrophenia (with also starred just about everyone and anyone who went on to feature in The Bill) sends the cockney-o-meter through the roof, especially on the sing-a-long chorus.
The finest point on the album is without doubt ‘This Is A Low’. The lyrics, inspired by the shipping forecast, shouldn’t work or should at least be taken as a joke, but the tenderness and delicacy of Albarn’s vocal is an achievement in itself and something most singers would find near impossible.
So there you have it. Several Brit awards followed in 1995 for best british group, album, single and video (the latter two for the ‘Parklife’ single) and after beating Oasis in the much hyped but also disappointing battle between the singles ‘Roll With It’ and Blur’s ‘Country House’, (seriously, both songs were poor when compared to other offerings from each band and last I heard Blur had all but disowned ‘Country House’).
‘Parklife’ is one of the great British albums like ‘Sgt. Pepper…’, ‘Led Zeppelin IV’, ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and ‘OK. Computer’ (there are others but there’s no time to list them all!) that you just have to have in your record collection. When you just don’t know what music to put on, you can rely on one of these albums, come rain or shine, to brighten your day and make you feel simply fantastic.
Blur’s subsequent albums, ‘The Great Escape’, the self-titled ‘Blur’, ’13’ and the largely Coxon-less ‘Think Tank’, maintained the typical Blur sound while at the same time pushing their musical boundaries.
Coxon left during the making of ‘Think Tank’ releasing several solo efforts and more recently dabbling with various duties on Peter Doherty’s ‘Grace/Wastelands’ album.
For more information on Blur and 2009 tour dates, have a look at the following links;