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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blur - Parklife (1994)

For Christmas in 1994, my parents bought me two CDs: Oasis’s Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife. These albums were pivotal in the development of the UK indie scene. I was a huge fan of both bands, and saw the whole media storm surrounding their rivalry as a bit contrived to say the least. A lot of it seemed to be more of a rivalry between the North and South that, as a Midlander, I could never really relate to. It reminded me of playground squabbles over whether Nintendo was better than Sega or Ultimate Warrior better than Hulk Hogan.

What I liked most about Parklife at the time was the fact that the inner sleeve included the guitar chords for many of the songs. I’d received a guitar for Christmas the previous year from my uncle, and there were very few ways back then of getting hold of guitar tab without spending a load of money on sheet music. A lot of the time I’d work stuff out by ear, or occasionally borrow tab books from Wolverhampton Central Library. One of the first songs I learnt to play from the album was End of a Century, a nice simple song that I used to impress a couple of girls I fancied at school during music lessons.

Album-opener ‘Girls and Boys’ still sounds great: it’s bouncy; it’s silly; and it really captures that era perfectly. ‘Tracy Jacks’ is fun, but the production sounds really dated on this one. ‘End of a Century’ still sounds stunning. I love the chord progression and the unexpected backing vocal harmonies that come in during the chorus. The titular ‘Parklife’ is an infuriating song. I used to love this track, but a combination of being overplayed, and reminding me too much of Eastenders, has meant that I can’t stand listening to it. ‘Badhead’ is another excellent song, one of the most stripped-down on the album, and is just a great piece of song-writing. ‘Far Out’ is a strange little song with a reverb-soaked organ and Graham Coxon singing about space. I originally thought that this was a song about the space-trader simulator Elite II: Frontier, as the song referenced many of the familiar locations in the game such as Barnard’s Star, Wolf 359 and Betelgeuse – little did I know that these were actually the names of real stars. Coxon’s guitar work on ‘Clover Over Dover’ might be my favourite on the album, at points reminiscent of Johnny Marr’s guitar work on the Smiths final album Strangeways Here We Come. ‘Jubilee’ represents the side of Blur that I went on to hate and became the mould for songs like ‘Charmless Man’ and ‘Stereotypes’. Album-closer ‘This is a Low’ shows exactly why Blur were a force to be reckoned with: the song is massive; it’s sensitive; and shows Blur’s song-writing at its peak. This is not only the best track on the album, but is probably one of the best pieces of indie music to be produced that decade. The less said about the actual closing track ‘Lot 105’, the better.

Before listening again to Parklife I had concluded that it was going to be one for the charity shop, but this is not so. The album is not without its flaws; a lot of Parklife sounds incredibly dated as it is bound to, being synonymous with the mid-90s. Also, Albarn’s vocals sound about as cockney as Dick van Dyke’s efforts in Mary Poppins: they sound as if constantly on the verge of breaking out into a rendition of ‘Shteppin Toym’. In spite of this, Parklife is still a classic album, and one that I am glad to have revisited and decided to keep.

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