#438: Parklife, Blur
An album that hits differently at 29 than it did at 23. I used to get so much shit from my music snob friends for my unabashed love of Britpop, which they decided was whiny and lame without giving it much of a chance. But guess what? I pity them! Because Britpop is a music lore consumers’ dream. There’s so much fun stuff to dig into in terms of influences and rivalries. Especially when it comes to Blur and Oasis.
One of this project’s spiritual predecessors is a book by Steven Hyden called Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life. A little dramatic of a title, but Hyden is actually a very eager, enthusiastic writer who knows a lot about music and loves talking about what he knows. He mocks himself and his own precious music tastes just as much as he mocks his most-hated bands. And one of them happened to be Blur! Hyden outlines the bitter history between the two bands in the slightly humiliating way that only an American Anglophile can do. What Hyden lands on is that there is one critical difference between Blur and Oasis: longevity. Oasis might have won with (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (sitting nearly three hundred spots above this one), but Damon Albarn has managed to stay relevant. Hell, Gorillaz is bigger in the US than Blur ever was. (Though I will say that I saw Noel Gallagher recently and was transported. So it’s not like he doesn’t still got it.)
More about Damon Albarn: he’s British, he’s brainy, and he sometimes looks like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Also, he loves yoga and heroin. I think Albarn is a little brainier than either Gallagher, mostly because I believe he’s suffered fewer concussions at the hands of his siblings. For instance: I’m not sure if Noel could ever mix harpischord with modern rock, much less name the song “Clover Over Dover.”
This isn’t my favorite Blur album — that would be their self-titled 1997 album, which is a little more grungey and dark. This was the one I tried first, of course, but I found it a little inscrutable, mostly because it was so British! “This Is a Low,” though beautiful, is about the freaking British Shipping Forecast for crying out loud. I learned that Britain gets a thrash-punk “Bank Holiday” not once but six times a year
While everything Oasis wrote can pretty much be traced back to the Beatles, you can trace Blur’s music to many diverse UK relatives. For one thing, if you can parse Albarn’s cheeky accent, you’ll realize that most of Parklife is centred around British character studies — like “Tracy Jacks” and the sarcastic “Magic America.” Remind you of anyone? How about the Kinks on their Village Green? Mostly these weren’t my favorite, though I did love “Jubilee,” which sort of reminds me of “Lump” by the Presidents of the United States of America. (Take that, England!)
The most Englandy song of all is “Parklife,” and it also happens to be the best and Blurriest song. The guitar riffs are easy and the chorus is singalong, and it features British actor Phil Daniels in the song and music video, who has talked about his feature and sounds generally bewildered but delighted about it. I love that Albarn was just like, “You can perform it whenever you want!”
Blur also puts on a Bowieesque space age face, with the sort-of superfluous “Far Out” and “Trouble in the Message Centre.” They mimic the Beatles too, most especially on the weird weird closer “Lot 105.” And doesn’t “London Loves” sound almost like a Pet Shop Boys song? Also, like many other Brit records, there’s a random music hall interlude (“The Debt Collector”). I’m telling you, Blur contains multitudes.
The song that made it big in America shouldn’t surprise you: it’s the punchy & irreverent “Girls & Boys,” about the Nineties’ radical sexual politics (ha!). But my favorite are the ballads. “End of a Century,” “To the End,” and “Badhead” are all steeped in ennui and Albarn’s on-pitch warbling, and I think they’re sweet and pessimistic. Maybe a bit more like their self-titled, in fact.
Final Note: Call me a bleeding heart, but the dog racing picture makes me sad.