Music Features

Happy Anniversary... Parklife

Every movement in music has a seminal album that leads the way. Psychedelia has Sgt. Pepper's, grunge has Nevermind, and Britpop has Parklife. While there were many, many fantastic albums from legendary bands from the 90s subgenre, Parklife is the best.

Blur's third album is one of those magical moments where the stars all seemed to align. After the relative cult success of Modern Life Is Rubbish, the band looked poised for a breakthrough. They rushed back into the studio with producer Stephen Street and soon enough, they had the sixteen tracks that would make up Parklife. Each of those songs in unique, fantastic and joyous in their own way. A band making a statement with a capital S and a period at the end.

It's nearly impossible to not be drawn in from the first bouncy note of synth-pop hit Girls & Boys. "Love in the 90s is paranoid" sings Damon Albarn as the guitar kicks and rides the song straight into the nearly nonsensical chorus that you can't help but jump along to. The same buoyancy can be found in Alex James' bass in London Loves and the punk rock of Bank Holiday that goes by almost as quickly as a day off from work does.

Of course, even though calling Parklife a landmark album of Britpop seems to suggest a limitation on its sound, Blur finds many ways to shimmer and stretch out of any type of comfort zone. To The End is lovingly string-swept, with snatches of French lyrics, courtesy of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, adding to the romantic feel. Clover Over Dover is built around a classically-tinged harpsichord that sounds more at home in a period piece than it does on a rock record. The Debt Collector is basically fairground music. Far Out is... just weird in the best way that something can be weird.

Many of Albarn's best characters can be found strewn across Parklife's landscape. There's Tracy Jacks, who has a midlife crisis and bulldozes the house he lives in, realizing that normal is "just so overrated." You also have Jubilee's laggard who feels like doing nothing but "watching 24 hours of rubbish," even as Blur blasts through one of their most high-octane songs. And of course, there's Phil Daniels from Parklife itself, who speaks over the instantly recognizable, choppy riff from Graham Coxon about getting "rudely awakened by the dustmen" on Wednesdays, having a cup of tea and feeding the pigeons.

Looking back from the perspective of twenty years hindsight, many of Albarn's lyrics fit perfectly into today's chaotic world. The end of a century really was "nothing special." "Avoiding all work / ‘Cause there's none available," he sings on Girls & Boys. As for those who do have jobs, their "thoughts are just pissing away" in Trouble In The Message Centre.

But when the album reaches its spiritual end with penultimate track This Is A Low, the moment is a triumphant shout of catharsis, because "it won't hurt you." At the end of the day, Parklife is celebratory, despite all the characters and craziness life throws at you. Maybe that's why it's still a favorite two decades later. It's certainly why I love it.