Britpop: 20 Years since Parklife Escaped the Traps (With Lyrics!)

Parklife and lone greyhound of Britpop

It was 20 years ago today… That Blur taught Food they could pick their own songs.  Not that the label thought so at the time.

PARKLIFE.  WHILE IT MAY NOT BE DEFINITIVE, OR BY ANY MEANS THE BEST OF BLUR, IT WAS THE ALBUM THAT KICKED EVERYTHING OFF 20 YEARS AGO TODAY.  Sure, the four month head-start on Oasis maybe definitely helped, but even then, the modern classic wouldn’t have been easily hidden.

Not as melancholy as Modern Life is Rubbish or gratuitous and premonitory as The Great Escape it was the album that made Blur the band to beat, linking their brand of what would soon be Britpop inextricably to the capital city while other big hitters kept it vague. Pulp was a different class, Oasis an unstoppable cannonball heading down the M6. While every other facet of the movement from Menswear to Mansun, Suede to Supergrass, Elastica to Embrace managed to start as many incestuous fights as class, societal and musical crusades as they could, none went the dangerously specific route of Blur.

It would be the end of the art-school charge for some time, with little tangible substance. Typically it caught up some others, from Bowie to Bassey and politics knocked out some contenders (Kula Shaker).  The collateral damage of sign-ups, try-hards and casualties from the era is remarkable.  Now 20 years on, as band members sit in their middle-ages, often far removed from the industry, it’s an anniversary that will be more reflective and melancholy than celebratory.  Just as music journalists like it.  It seems strange given the perceived nature of Britpop, through the throwback tinted glasses – but there was always an inherent amount of dark in the era.  That wasn’t all about the faddishness either, or the odd catch-all nature of something that unified every region of Britain (however Anglo-centric the majority of it was).  There was real talent and real substance int here, although not every album of the era stands up like Parklife. Fresh, sharp and ambitious it’s saved by its links to the past if not relevance to today.

At the time, the airwaves were awash with ‘British pop’.  But before R n’B, hip hop and post-post-post-MOR ruled the airwaves, it was the phenomenon (copyright, NME) that could only burn bright and brief before it collapsed into a rather disliked red dwarf.  Few bands managed more than two albums in the era and it was rare that the follow-up built consistently on the first – no matter if you’re Dodgy, Oasis or Pulp. Ambition was built into Britpop, aspiration definitely, but even if it rose above the zeitgeist, there weren’t many bands that could escape the cynicism that came hand in hand with label exploitation.

By 1998 Britain was almost unrecognisable.  And for all the cyclical Sixties pomp that fuelled Britpop (as much as the entropy that came with the Conservative party‘s final throes or Euro ‘96), no band could ape the career longevity of many of their inspirations.

Even Walthamstow Stadium could only struggled on another 13 years after making an appearance on Parklife’s album cover.

As I hope whoever nicked my Parklife T-Shirt in ‘97 knows only too well…

And Blur.  Well, from a career that always kept Trellis Towers and the Westway in sight, that album cover said it all.  It was wise to not call the album London, as much as Martin Amis’ London Fields fuelled it and Noel Gallagher saw it as “Southern England personified”.  With traces of prog, electronic, synth, waltz, vaudeville, punk, New Wave it was an album that looked to the past far more than its rather magnificent but underperforming predecessor. With the next two albums, Britpop peak The Great Escape would look to a bleak future and 1997’s post-Britpop Blur would look across the Atlantic.  But for that short time, Britpop, ushered in by Parklife as Heimdall will one day signal Ragnarok, was something special.

All together now: Cool Britannia…

Doggy

BRITPOP

(to the tune of Parklife)

A short career is a preference for the habitual nostalgia of what was known as (BRITPOP)

As boy and girl groups could be avoided if you took a route straight through what was known as (BRITPOP)

Indie got brewers droop, they got intimidated by the dirty labels

They loved a bit of it (BRITPOP)

Who’s that Mad lord marching… you should cut down on your maracas mate… get down to

Camden

[Chorus]

ALL THE LYRICS

JUST NONSENSE LYRICS

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

HAND IN HAND WITH EYE-LINER

Know what I mean?

I listened to what I wanted even on school days when I got rudely awakened by Chris Evans (STEVE WRIGHT)

I put the radio on, heard Boys & Girls and I didn’t need to think about leaving out House (BRITPOP)

I heard the southerners I sometimes heard the northerners too it gave me a sense of enormous well being (BRITPOP)

And then I was happy for the rest of the scene safe in the knowledge there would always be a bit

Of my heart devoted to it (BRITPOP)

[Chorus]

ALL THE TRY-HARDS

BEFORE THEY WERE WANNABES

THEY ALL WENT HAND IN HAND,

BAND BY BAND THROUGH THEIR RECORD DEALS

It’s had nothing to do with their “progress through technology” you know?

It was all about cycles that went round and round and round

Britpop

[Chorus]

ALL THE CLASSES

IN THATCHER’S POST-SOCIETY

ALL CHANNELLING THE SIXTIES UNTIL

‘97 CHANGED EVERYTHING.

[REPEAT

… Please]

 

This September: That bizarre notion that The Great Escape was premonitory gets sent to the Dogs…   

 

Game of Thrones: The Dog and the Wolf – A Clash of Comfort

GoT

Unlike the famous Iron Throne itself, Game of Thrones has consolidated its position as pure comfort storytelling, as the first episode of Season Four showed.  *Only televisual story spoilers here up to 4.1, but by the dragon load. 

THE MUCH ANTICIPATED FOURTH SERIES OF GAME OF THRONES KICKED OFF LAST WEEK, ITS ARRIVAL SLOWER THAN DANERYS TARGARYEN’S CONSCRIPTION RATE. The series premiere was a typical opener; reintroducing characters in its own time and effortlessly refreshing and advancing the plot in a methodical but luxurious way.  The random, yet appropriate appearance of Janos Slynt half way through showed how important that approach is. While in many other show’s in any other show, his protestations as former Commander of the King’s Landing City Watch may look forced,  in Game of Thrones’ measured structure it works in the midst of Jon Snow’s great Black Watch dissolution and crucially, Aemon Targaryen’s withering parting shot.

Underlying Script

It’s easy to think that little happens…

On the small screen, Game of Thrones has always used its weaknesses as a great strength. It’s easy to look on any one season and think that little happens– see particularly Season Two, when very little happens.  Westeros way, plot points that may sustain other series or provide season climaxes are often brushed over. A great example is Ned Stark’s reveal of Robert Baratheon’s bastard son in the first season.  It’s a major catalyst for the oncoming war but given little space in the episode and little prominence in the episode’s ‘acts’, especially in comparison to the later Lannister-Stark stand-off. Instead, amid the battles and more usually the hanging suspense of battle and receipt of field reports, Game of Thrones sinks back to the characters and their scripting.  A stinging barb or one line reference is often far more powerful within the storyline than any action the audience sees.

Sketches

A streamlined conflama that constantly pleases the majority

Of course, that’s also a rather good get out, especially in a densely populated story where the high body count can’t quite compete with constant new arrivals.  Any time there may be some trouble in the structure, pace or plot development Thrones falls back on its sketch-based set-up, nipping between geographies and respective characters. And who better in the opening episode to wield the directing rapier so skilfully than the core writing team themselves?

The show’s helped by its novel root of course – as well as coming a good few volumes in.  That source material is being used well and it needs to be. The necessity to refresh and build is as evident as the disconcerting failure of a recasting like Daario Naharis’ in Season Four.  But far from little happening, the sketch structure gives the show an underlying level of satisfaction; reassuring in spite of the bloodshed and trauma and also leaving a rather pleasing amount to the imagination.  This isn’t the reaching cluster of mystery seen in the show’s most famous forerunners, The X-Files, Lost or Heroes but a rather streamlined conflama that constantly pleases the majority.

The final section of Season Four’s premiere illustrated that almost perfectly.

The Final Hunt

The young wolf adds to her kills…

WOLFAlthough the season kicked off with the symbolic (or better put, vengeful and snide) melting of the House’s great sword Ice, there was little Stark to be found in the opener. That sword made a weapon for Jaime Lannister and an as yet unknown, reminding of the hidden dysfunction of the Lannister family nicely.  Later, Sansa Stark’s grief was far more important for Tyrion’s character development than her family travails.

It took the switch to the Riverlands in the final section to add anything to the series’ original House.  A combination of choice dialogue, suspense, contrivance and a peak of rewarding violence showed Thrones at its best.  And all involving two of the story’s so far undernourished but pivotal characters.

Some light banter about horses between Sandor Clegane and Arya Stark refreshed the characters’ motives and story.  Nominally this is money and vengeance – the intention of both to rid one of the other – but as always in Thrones those motivations can be dispensed with immediately.

The chance encounter at the end should also be quickly dismissed.  Such things add a little too much balance compared to the many historic struggles that Thrones apes, but this is all about the impact on character.  Each of the major players can be boiled down to facets of their sigil. And here the wolf was in the ascendance.

First came a mildy laboured and distasteful build-up of tension – though one that encapsulated the state of the land during Joffrey’s reign.  And then, after the niggling, downing and an incredible misreading by the King’s men, an obligatory fight.  While the Dog Clegane was unusually incompetent, the young wolf added to her kills.

Arya’s slaying was shot in a woozy, seedy style, relishing the sound and horrible control – reflecting her satisfaction in such a complete act of revenge.  There’s no doubt who or what she’s becoming.  And sure enough, the final scene with the familiar score rising about it showed that she’d earned the horse so neatly referenced at the beginning.  Also that Stark and Clegane had become that little more similar.  An unlikely duo, an uneasy alliance, but a relationship reset and remoulded yet again with few words.

It’s immensely satisfying watching that kind of development done well: atavistic, minimally verbal and thematically complete.  Thrones never leaves you in any doubt that you are watching the placement of rungs on a ladder just as much as movement of chess pieces on a board.

The inevitable clash of the Cleganes…DOG

Clegane is perhaps, language aside, one of the more Gormenghast characters in the story, and an unknown quantity outside similar walls.  But
the closing scene sets up his story as much as Arya’s.  As the familiar score rose behind, as the young Stark had earned her new steed, the fires of the Riverland set the inevitable clash of the Cleganes as the Dog wandered into the territory of his brother The Mountain (recast… For the third time).  As family, or lack of it, becomes more important to Clegane so Arya’s maturity is fuelled by blood.  These two will soon be inseparable.  By the end, the Dog had become that little more wolf and the wolf so much more dog.  But with the Riverland alight, in a masterless land, what is a Dog but a Wolf?

Now, time to press play on the Purple wedding…

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