On their third album, Parklife, Blur sounds comfortable in their own skin, while continuing to experiment from one song to the next. Their previous effort, Modern Life is Rubbish (reviewed here in the previous instalment of Dissecting the Discography), was a huge leap forward for the band; it was focused and cohesive and helped usher in the britpop era. Parklife, like its predecessor, is also a concept album of sorts. While Modern Life is Rubbish lost track of its concept toward the end of the record, Parklife delivers throughout as it tells the story of everyday life in London. It's a more complete, structured, listening experience. Which is odd, considering the preponderance of artsy, experimental tracks on the record.
Blur kicks things off with "Girls & Boys", a tongue-in-cheek dance-pop tune that takes aim at the loose club culture, as well as its critics. It's catchy and fun, if a bit shallow. Interestingly enough, this is the low point in the album. What follows is pretty brilliant. Tracks range from pop tunes with slick harmonies like "Tracy Jacks" and "End of a Century", to the punk rock inspired "Bank Holiday", the blissed out psychedelic stylings of "Far Out", acoustic jams like "This is a Low", or weird instrumentals such as "The Debt Collector". The mostly spoken word "Parklife", albeit with rad musical accompaniment, sets the stage for the record perfectly by describing characters such as John, with the "brewers droop", who is just one the many people who "all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their parklife".
While the album is diverse in its sound, it's held together by Albarn's character studies, which are both hilarious and sad. The titular character in "Tracey Jacks" is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, gets arrested for running around naked, and then proceeds to bulldoze his house. In "Clover Over Dover", one of the standout tracks, the unnamed subject is thinking of jumping off the Cliffs of Dover. Suicide, triggered by the monotony and isolation of everyday life, is a major theme on Parklife, but it's juxtaposed with predominately bright and poppy instrumentation. According to Albarn, however, you can take comfort in the isolation. In "This is a Low", arguably the best song on the album, he sings:
Parklife is more layered than Blur's previous efforts; it contains brass instruments, harpsichord, random sound effects, and intricate guitars that exist just under the surface, but it never feels overproduced or bloated. In fact, Parklife is reminiscent of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Both records are very diverse, character driven, "artsy concept albums" that are lushly produced...and absolutely brilliant.
Overall Grade = 9 out of 10
Another interesting choice for album art. The dogs at the racetrack are chasing a rabbit that they have no chance of catching, much like the modern man chasing an unrealistic concept of fulfilment or happiness...or something like that.
Next Installment = The Great Escape