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On This Day In Music… April 25, 1994: Blur Release 'Parklife', Effectively Launching Britpop

'The album was the convergence of a lot of influences,' said Graham Coxon. 'Alex wanted to be in Duran Duran, I wanted to be in Wire, and Damon wanted to be… I don't know.'

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'Parklife' would become Blur's best-selling studio album.

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In 1990, before Blur had even released an album, a cocksure Damon Albarn told Mojo: “When our third album comes out, our place as the quintessential English band of the '90s will be assured. That is a simple statement of fact. I intend to write it in 1994.”

If Albarn’s confidence was admirable, at the time – and for the next three and a bit years – it also seemed rather laughable. Although Blur had found some success with their first three singles, notably 1991’s “There’s No Other Way”, which reached No. 8 in the British charts, they were not exactly setting the world on fire.

Debut album Leisure, and its follow-up, 1993’s Modern Life is Rubbish, were well-enough received, but caught between the tail-end of Madchester, the rise of shoegaze, and the furious angst of grunge, Blur’s pop-indie Kinks-esque social commentaries seemed a little, well, twee. Parklife, released on April 25, 1994, would change all that.

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'Parklife' would be the album that kickstarted Britpop.

Parklife did not invent Britpop – but it did launch what had until then been an underground swell of oddball British indie music firmly into the mainstream. In Sheffield Pulp had been crafting their brand of peculiar, and peculiarly British, pop since 1983, Suede’s unclassifiable self-titled debut had come out in March 1993, Supergrass had got together in Oxford the same year, and in Manchester, a noisy band formed by two combative brothers were making waves under the name of Oasis.

“Before Parklife came out, the tide was starting to turn,” bassist Alex James said in the Blur documentary, No Distance Left To Run. “There was a sense that something was happening. That we were developing. Word got out that we had some good songs.”

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With 'Parklife' Damon Albarn found his voice as a lyricist.

Parklife was recorded almost immediately after the release of Modern Life is Rubbish in the summer of 1993, and, perhaps frustrated at their apparent lack of credibility in the music press, saw the band attain a new kind of “f--- you” confidence. Lyrically, Albarn found his métier: what was previously dismissed as twee would become a cohesive portrayal of suburban British life at the end of the century, a series of sketches encompassing all the joys, annoyances, losses, victories, desires and frustrations of ordinary people.

“We all say, ‘Don't want to be alone’,” he sang on “End of a Century”. “We wear the same clothes ‘cause we feel the same / We kiss with dry lips when we say goodnight / End of a century, oh, it's nothing special.”

Musically, producer Stephen Street also let the band spread their wings, introducing sound effects (dogs barking, glass smashing on “Parklife”) as well as experimenting with genres as diverse as music hall, spiky punk, and, on the lead single “Girls & Boys”, frenetically bouncy electro-disco.

“Girls & Boys” was released a month before the album on March 7, 1994, and became Blur’s first Top 5 hit. If the sound – that tinny keyboard riff offset by Alex James’ ludicrously catchy disco bassline and a guitar sound that seemed to actually battle against every other instrument – was instantly anthemic, it also set the scene perfectly for what was to follow.

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Parklife shot straight to No. 1 in the album charts in the first week of its release – and would stay in the Top 40 for a mammoth 90 weeks in total. And it was not only a commercial hit: finally it gave Blur the critical credibility they had craved.

The previously-dismissive NME gave the album 9/10, with reviewer Johnny Dee writing: “This is no ordinary LP… On paper it sounds like hell, in practice it's joyous - a band prepared to have a laugh, to forget about the pomposity that surrounds the music business.

“Musically they're leagues better than before, the ill-formed ideas have reached fruition and lyrically Blur now find themselves at the end of an inheritance that starts with The Kinks and The Small Faces and goes through to Madness and The Jam. Not just because they are blatantly inspired by all four - the comparisons are easy to make - but because they articulate the everyday world with equal potency and humour. Where Ray Davies saw beauty in the skies over Waterloo Station, Damon Albarn sees it in the mirror ball above a Mykonos dancefloor. And while contemporaries like Pulp are drawn towards the seedy glamour of sex behind the net curtains, Blur see the mundanity and ennui of suburban living.”

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If Blur had tapped into a great tradition of British pop music with Parklife (The Kinks, The Small Faces, Madness, The Jam), the album would also kickstart its next incarnation. Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers had come out the week before, Oasis’ debut single “Supersonic” a week before that. In October Supergrass would release “Caught by the Fuzz”, and by the time of 1995’s “Battle of Britpop” the charts would be full of floppy-fringed guitar bands telling their own tales of modern British life.

“Just as Damon had predicted, the mainstream of music did change,” drummer Dave Rowntree later observed. “Everything about ‘indie’ disappeared, and indie became the new pop music.”

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Blur would become a staple of the annual Q Awards.

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Speaking to the NME in 2019, Graham Coxon explained how he believed that Parklife proved to be the catalyst for much of what would be labelled “Britpop”.

“Lyrically you could see that the kitchen sink dramas with a twist had a clear influence on all of what would become Britpop,” he said. “The narrative wasn’t about vaguely digging the words if it sounded good, it was proper stories – coming from ‘Arnold Layne’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘She’s Leaving Home’.”

In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked Parklife at number 438 in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, one place above James Brown’s Sex Machine… and, somewhat ironically, one below Demon Days, the second album by Albarn’s post-blur project Gorillaz.


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