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…
(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
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)
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
ALL THE CLASSES
IN THATCHER’S POST-SOCIETY
ALL CHANNELLING THE SIXTIES UNTIL
‘97 CHANGED EVERYTHING.
This September: That bizarre notion that The Great Escape was premonitory gets sent to the Dogs…