BLUR – PARKLIFE
Released April 25, 1994 – 22 years ago
Blur’s third studio album runs the gamut of late 60s-mid 80s British musical styles, including psychedelia, synth pop, early punk, garage rock, new wave and indie pop. Hugely successful in the UK upon release, it was initially only a modest underground sensation in the US. Since then, Parklife has grown into an iconic, era-defining masterwork cited by critics and musicians alike for its massive influence.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4pm Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3FM and kxci.org.
Blur formed in London, England, in 1988. The group consists of Damon Albarn (primary songwriter, vox, keybords, guitar), Graham Coxon (vox, guitar), Alex James (bass), and Dave Rowntree (drums). Their debut Leisure (1991) can best be described as a shoegaze release, but with their sophomore release, Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), and Parklife, Blur helped to establish Britpop as a genre along with their contemporaries Oasis. The rivalry between Blur and Oasis was dubbed “The Battle of Britpop” in 1995.
Upon its release, Parklife debuted at number one on the UK Album Chart and stayed on the chart for 90 weeks, and is certified platinum x4 in the UK. However the album was more of an underground sensation in the US, never faring any better than number six on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, a college music/indie music chart.
Critics loved Parklife from the onset and continue to heap praises on the album. Rolling Stone named it one of the year’s best albums in 1994. Pitchfork places the album at 54 on their 100 best albums of the 1990s. A 2006 NME (British music magazine) reader’s poll places the Parklife at one of the 100 best albums ever. In 2014, Spin placed the release at number 171 on their “300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years” list. Parklife has sold over 5 million copies worldwide.
Parklife was a quasi-concept album intended as a series of sketches of every-day British life in the mid-90s. Maybe that is why it resonated so much more in the UK than it did in the US, where some US critics initially believed the album was “too British.” It along with Oasis’ debut, Definitely Maybe (1994), formed the backbone of the modern Britpop, or neo-British invasion movement of the 1990s. These and other bands were part of a larger social movement, sometimes described as the “Cool Britannia Movement.” Cool Britannia typically refers to a period of optimism and pride in United Kingdom culture following the economic and politically tumultuous 1970s and 80s.
Steven Street takes the lion’s share of production credit for Parklife, with all tracks but “To The End” being recorded under his creative control (“To The End” was co-produced by Blur, Stephen Hague & John Smith). Street was already known for his work with The Smiths, who engineered Meat Is Murder(1985) and The Queen Is Dead(1986). He later produced Strangeways, Here We Come(1987) and Morressey’s debut, Viva Hate(1988), often considered one of his best solo albums. In addition to Parklife, Street also produced Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), The Great Escape (1995), and their 1997 self-titled release. Street also did production and engineering work for The Cranberries, Black Uhuru, and The Kaiser Chiefs, among others.
Parklife was recorded in various London studios: Maison Rouge, Fulham RAK Studios, and St. John’s Wood.
Blur’s label at the time, Food Records, didn’t like the recording and didn’t want to release the album, telling the band’s management that it was a “mistake.” Food Records begrudgingly released the album, just prior to being acquired by EMI later in 1994.
Parklife was originally going to be entitled London, and the album cover shot was going to be a fruit & vegetable stand, however the band soon came up with the final title as a reference to greyhound racing. The current cover with the racing greyhounds was released as a UK postage stamp in 2010.
Damon Albarn is also the lead vocalist and co-founding member of the alternative rap group Gorillaz, a super group that also included Cibo Matto’s Miho Hatori, Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Dan Nakamura. The Gorillaz were dreamed up to be a “virtual” group, with them only appearing as cartoons.
Blur became eligible for induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame this year. Some think they don’t have a big enough footprint with in American music to be inducted, but with their influence growing they may end up being inducted at some point.