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Blur - Parklife
Reviewed by NME, April 1994

coverTHIS WEEK of all weeks it has been easy to forget what a daft, wonderful thing pop music can be; how it can zip into your life and make the world a happier place. And in 1994 it's easy to forget what an album actually is; CDs have turned us into album surfers, skipping the fillers and forever programming in our favourites. Help is here with 'Parklife', something that will help all of us remember. Put simply, it is a Great Pop Record.

And for once it's an LP that deserves to be played from start to finish; sure there are bumps and detours along the way but somehow these are part of the appeal. The first four tracks will knock yer sideways, and by the time you hear Phil Daniels holler "Oi!" in his role as guest parky on the knockabout title track you will know this is no ordinary LP. It's a mess, all over the place, no song blends easily into the next, they all jar into each other like some home-made compilation chucked together when you were pissed. And so a buttery pop tune like 'End Of a Century' is followed by the spiky punk attack of 'Bank Holiday' and then a spot of trad German 'oompah' drinking music. ('The Debt Collector'). 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. Amid the mayhem it takes two plays before you discover the album's two true gems - the John Barry/Walker Brothers epic 'To The End' and the languid 'Bedhead' - which is kind of like discovering a fiver in a jacket you haven't worn for months.

It begins, as all pop albums should, with a hit single, 'Girls And Boys', a song that sounds as if it was designed by robots as a soundtrack to fun-fair bumper car rides - pointed, niggly, angular and persistently catchy, it's strange and magnificent that something so obtuse should have been taken to the nation's bosom. Testament to its success is the way it has inspired such ardent, nosebleeding hatred among rock puritans. Nothing like a spot of oversprung pop muzik to wind up Grandad Rock - and Blur are past masters at it.

From their beginnings, Blur have got up peoples' noses with a strike-rate that more blatantly antagonistic bands can only dream of. During baggy, when it was cool to look like Peter Beardsley's less attractive cousin, Blur were unabashed pin-ups. Later, when their contemporaries stared at their plimsolls and courted grunge attitude, they employed a brass section and looped around like space hoppers. And as we looked to Seattle for new language, Albarn name-checked Primrose Hill and sang with an accentuated Southern accent that hadn't been heard since the likes of Anthony Newley were hip.

Still Blur were accused of that most heinous of crimes - the jumping of bandwagons. Yet they re-invented themselves, it was no corporate marketing play, and what 18 months ago looked like retrograde precociousness (sticking up for Little England as US culture steamrollered into Hertfordshire) is not little short of maverick genius.

'Parklife' is 'Modern Life Is Rubbish's' older brother - bigger, bolder, narkier and funnier. 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.

Although they may affect the stance of council estate lads (the sleeve artwork pictures them down the dog track) the characters knowingly portrayed in much of 'Parklife'.

9/10 Johnny Dee

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