Parklife is widely regarded as Blur’s best album by a lot of different magazine, lists, etc. It easily becomes their most popular album to date, upon its release in April of 1994. It’s also where I started listening to this band. I would have been a sophomore in high school when I heard “Girls & Boys” and loved it and most likely ordered this cd through Columbia House.

A quick aside, people who loved music my age initially started buying tapes, but cd’s ultimately made tapes obsolete. So there was a breaking point where you’d already made a large financial investment in tapes but ultimately had to make the switch to cd’s. I think this happened in 93 or 94 for me and Columbia House was a great way to kick off the transition.

So this album is special cause it introduced me to the band that ultimately became my all-time favorite. This is also the second straight album in their miraculous 6 consecutive strong album run that they go on. To the songs!

Track 1: “Girls & Boys”: What a way to kick off the album! The first single from the album as well released about a month and a half before the album. Just a totally weird instrumental opening that works great especially when the drums kick in. Great bass work by Alex James in this song. This is an extremely transgressive song for the 90’s. They be talking about bi-sexuality which was still really taboo back then. They just someone manage to throw tons of disparate parts into songs and it just comes together perfectly. The chorus is also amazing and it’s a great way to end the song with them constantly repeating it as they sonically pour the kitchen sink in behind it. I can’t think of many songs that sounded like this back then or now. The chorus makes it a good single but there is so much more going on musically than a by the numbers single, it’s a bit of a magic trick.

Track 2: “Tracy Jacks”: Nice musical intro to this song as well. I argued that their second album “Modern Life Is Rubbish” got tagged with the Brit-pop moniker cause people were just lazy and Blur were from Britain. I do think they lean into the Brit pop sound here more than on any other record. This song is a great example, it sounds English I guess, but to me there’s more going on than just Brit pop. Blur are totally in control musically. The rhythm section is great, the strings make sense, the musical change-ups work, the chorus consisting of Damon saying “Tracy Jacks” and whoooooing works, the like Beatlesque break-down works and it leads into great Coxon guitar work. They are just super comfortable in their own skin. Also, a great outro on this song that leads to some more serious sounding strings and maybe a UFO. Again it all somehow works together.

Track 3: “End of a Century”: Another single, some acoustic guitar to kick things off. A nice organ working in the back. This is a quick song and it makes sense as a single, a bit more Beatlesque than they typically go, but it works. It’s a good song.

Track 4: “Parklife”: There’s a bit of spoken word to kick this song off and I always thought it was just Damon doing an extra cockney accent, but no it is an English musician/actor Phil Daniels who started in the film Quadrophenia. It’s a nice touch. This song sounds pretty English lol. I love the horn in it. It’s a pretty loose sounding song, and the production is top notch. Definitely get more out of this with headphones, nicely panned etc. Great song, again just a confident song.

Track 5: “Bank Holiday”: A punk song, just a 1:40 long. They have a great ability to go punk as we saw on the last album. A nice change of pace here and good placement. It’s of course not a totally forward punk song either, they throw some other stuff in that works.

Track 6: “Bedhead”: Another change up, Damon sounds a bit morose here but the the tempo is actually fairly quick and betrays the narrator on the song. Again, they just sound really tight. They do some more Beatles type stuff but it sounds like Blur more than the Beatles which is a good thing. This is a bit of a classic type of Blur song. You think it should be one thing, Damon sounds sad, but it’s quite another musically. Great song.

Track 7: “The Debt Collector”: Just a baroque sounding instrumental song. Not playing it safe if you ask me. They are a super tight band and like to explore things musically, this could be considered a toss off, but it’s actually really great. So this is 4 straight songs that explore totally different musical styles but sound distinctly like Blur. Only great bands can manage tricks like this.

Track 8: “Far Out”: Only 1:37 long, another oddity done with confidence and swagger. I’m sort of changing my view from the beginning of the post. I guess it’s Brit Pop? It sounds less Brit Pop to me and just Blur like the more I go on.

Track 9: “To the End”: Musically this sounds a bit like 60’s lounge music, which I like, but I don’t love Damon’s vocal here, it’s too earnest, but is it mock earnest? I can’t tell. Again a bit of a mixed bag. The woman saying things in French is a French member of Stereolab. This one misses for me.

Track 10: “London Loves”: Just musically it doesn’t seem like all of these elements should work, but they totally do. This is Brit Poppish I think, but just done excellently. I love the high keyed organ bit. Coxon, who’s been a bit quieter on this release than the last one really does some great work on this song as well. Great outro.

Track 11: “Trouble in the Message Centre”: A top 3 song on the album. 5 Stars (along with Boys & Girls and This is a Low). Just a banger. This song is just over 4 minutes long but I feel like they could have easily jammed a bit more out and successfully made this a 6 or 7 minute jam, no matter, fantastic song. I got the musical goose bumps (again) just listening now.

Track 12: “Clover Over Dover”: Again it sounds really British, Brit-pop, but done well. I think it’s subject matter but sound also. As they tend to do though I feel like they just transcend the Brit-Pop moniker even on their songs that skew that way. They sound like Blur, not like some generic musical genre. Fantastic song, almost a 5 star, very close.

Track 13: “Magic America”: They hate America, it happened during their US tour for Leisure. So they are being super snarky when they say “all those magic people”. Whatever, good song. Again, not as straightforward as you’d think. Just under 4 stars though, only the fourth song so far.

Track 14: “Jubilee”: A very energetic song, with a manic performance by Albarn the really works. Punkish sounding as well, but not straightforward punk. Love the sampling of the video game, The Clash also did this on “Rock the Casbah” a possible homage? Great last minute of the song.

Track 15: “This is a Low”: Just a fantastic mature song. I think this really is another epic song that shows the confidence of the band and is a bit of a road map to what some of the future songs will sound like. Goose bump city just now. 5 Stars.

Track 16: “Lot 105”: Another musical song that starts off like it could be theme music to a Benny Hill skit and ends up as a punk song. I love when they do stuff like this.

So another fantastic album. I confirmed my priors though, I do like Modern Life Is Rubbish a bit more personally but this is a super confident album with a ton of great music. As I mentioned it does sound a bit more Brit-Pop to me, but I think Blur shouldn’t be labeled with that title. They have much more musically happening in their songs than standard Brit pop. They sound like Blur, no one before or after sounded like them. That’s my take.

5 star banger songs (5 stars): “Girls & Boys”, “Trouble in the Message Centre”, “This is a Low”

Great songs (4 stars): “Tracy Jacks”, “End of a Century”, “Bedhead”, “The Debt Collector”, “Far Out”, “London Loves”, “Clover Over Dover”, “Jubilee”. “Lot 105”

Allmusic review of Parklife 4.5/5 stars