All the people. All of them? A fair amount then, if all the people in question are those who have heard Parklife not in its entirety, but in the Phil Daniels single variety. Clubs, pubs and bars across the world are belting out that tune as this is being written, as it is being read. What a horrifying yet wonderful thought. Somewhere, somehow, someone is enjoying the efforts of Blur at their commercial peak but creative ebb. Which brings listeners to Parklife. Right after Modern Life is Rubbish, the band decided adapting the final word of their sophomore album was ripe for the third. Parklife is no bad album, it has some of Blur’s best tracks and singles, but it is how they are demonstrated, the dog track racing, Brit-loving pop variety, which lands a little sickly now.
One of the great difficulties Blur has in this period is, with sixteen tracks to boast of, quality control is all over the place. While the immense single Girls and Boys kicks it all off nicely, it is the strengths of these singles which hold Parklife together. Tracy Jacks, a fine track which feels punchier and harsher in its live form, is stripped of its lighter string sections. Dark arts violins are. Even End Of A Century finds itself quieter, reliant on brass. It is the new phase for the band. Cheeky British charm played up with a bit of regret from Graham Coxon and company. Still, it sounds good and catchy, Parklife the track cemented in the cultural annals for good through generational osmosis and convincing live performance. Slap five stars on it, and move on. Defining, but not Blur’s best of course.
But Bank Holiday takes it too far. An awkward rehash of Sunday Sunday, held together by some staple Coxon guitar work, and much of Parklife comes to pieces when this realisation is made. Badhead follows the expected hangover of Bank Holiday, nicely maintained by Damon Albarn’s approach to shorter tracks. Fumbled carnival ride music for The Debt Collector winds its way into Far Out, two breaks before the powerful, Last Year at Marienbad-inspired To The End. This is where they get their Kinks kicks, and for Blur this does separate them from the tensions of their first two records. A shame to see it go considering how great it was while it lasted, but as the gang extend into new forms, they lose a bit of the intensity they were starting to slacken on with Modern Life is Rubbish.
At least the album material which drags everyone to the end is worth sitting around for. Finer qualities and repetitive charms for London Loves gives some insight into the fear of never standing a chance but little more than that. Parklife begins to wilt and lose its way a little. It is, as Trouble in the Message Centre reveals, a panic in the operating room. Pulling apart and finding themselves stuck with this Albarn-heavy project, Parklife wanders through the backstreets of Brit culture and finds little to love. Heavier work from Dave Rowntree on drums is the saving grace, with some fluid electronics surrounding the four-piece. They get bigger, they get better, but it all comes back to their roots, which are dug up and stuffed full of appealing to others, not others finding their style and chemistry interesting. They still long for America, and still had no chance of breaking it.