Regardless of where it ranks in Blur’s back catalogue (it’s one of their good ones for sure), Parklife is notable for containing plentiful moments of glaring accessibility that, in the UK at least, turned them into pop stars in the sense of sitting alongside Take That and Nirvana. They moved along from the brilliant Modern Life Is Rubbish by upping the buoyancy and pitching the kind of happy-gone-frustrated Anglicism practiced by Ray Davies and Pete Townshend in the 1960s to work as a winning 1990s pop product.
When Quadrophenia star Phil Daniels co-commentates on the title track, it epitomises the record’s ability to turn cynical nostalgic populism into something both pantomime and anthemic, awful and genius. Blur’s third saw them reel out the kind of killer singles that aren’t flat packed in an artistic sense. “Girls and Boys” taps a vein of cynicism and exuberance towards your peers’ recreation touched in English pop by the likes of The Specials and Arctic Monkeys. The keyboard squelches and “battery thinkers” encase an anthem which is every bit a peer of “Nite Klub” and “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor.” “End Of A Century” has stadiums swaying in the same way that “Don’t Look Back In Anger” managed for their most ubiquitous contemporaries.
Parklife transcends any box that the above would indicate though. It’s all that and more. Like the Beatles’ Revolver, Parklife seems to showcase a band confident enough to pull off their more interesting ideas while keeping an eye and an ear fixed firmly on commercial success. “Trouble in the Message Centre” is a Kinks blast at the everyday dressed in subterranean Factory-tinged electro. Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier appears for the Scott Walker and muzak echoing duet “To the End.” Albarn sounds joyous when wailing “It looks like we might have made it.” “Magic America” is a perfect portrait of British business class infatuation with the quality of life on display when visiting the United States. I can hold up a hand without feeling dissed. The song has a McCartney and Bowie-worthy ability to project cynically while still showing that their might be a point behind the rationale. “Jubilee” evokes a more polished Libertines eight years early, while “Tracey Jacks” is one of the most immediate and articulate non singles I’ve heard from a domestic mega seller. A telescopic view of the subject’s frustration comes across almost celebratory, peaking as he bulldozes his own house. “Badhead” is up there with the Small Faces best tuneful subversions of reality.
This is one of the definitive Britpop albums, and a very easy introduction to one of my favourite nineties bands.