Fresh from a weekend of football and disappointment in north London, I’d like to retreat to the warmth of an album that I first heard some 17 years ago- the third album from the Essex boys known as Blur- the album called Parklife.
In case you’re wondering why my weekend was full of disappointment, by the way, there’s the sorry tale of Arsenal’s robotic and uninspiring performance at home to Blackburn which resulted in a 0-0 draw and then my once local side Brentford losing the JPT Final at Wembley in a poor match against Carlisle yesterday afternoon. The beers after were good though. Anyway, that’s a tale for my next Arsenal-Mania blog..
So, Parklife. I can’t remember how it happened, perhaps it began in 1994with Channel 4’s Friday night show, The Word. Me and my mate Chris used to watch it religiously in the (misguided) hope that Dani Behr would, one day, expose her breasts to the masses. I realise now that a presenter going topless is unthinkable, but back then- the naivety of youth- The Word seemed like the kind of show where it could happen- don’t believe me? Check it on YouTube, pint glasses full of vomit, toenail sandwiches.. and that’s just the stuff I remember.
Anyway, one day, a band appeared, a lead singer full of energy, a bouncy riff and lyrics that Chris and I probably didn’t quite grasp as they were meant to be grasped. The song was Girls and Boys, the band was Blur and an attachment to this band was formed that has lasted to this very day. I was at Hyde Park for the second of their shows in 2009- the first show they announced and their last one in the country and, despite the constant rain of beer bottles hammering down from those (idiots) behind me, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Back in 1994, the album Parklife, well, I wouldn’t say it was a constant on the 6th form common room stereo- competing as it was with all manner of unspeakable music, but it was there. Chris got himself a copy and provided me with one- I probably still have it somewhere. I remember that, on my tape, the album’s final track, Lot 105, gives way to some kind of rant from LBC’s Caesar the Geezer. Him, or Robbie Vincent anyway. I’ve always regarded Lot 105 as something of a throwaway track, perhaps that was the intention, coming as it does after the epic This Is A Low- still my favourite Blur song all these years later. Did I know it was about heroin 17 years (and half my life) ago? I probably barely knew what heroin was then, but I know a great track when I hear it. Two Graham Coxon guitar solos, the shipping forecast and the Queen going round the bend and jumping off Land’s End? Magic.
It’s interesting to read articles on Blur now and see how their strain of melancholy is regarded as being at the heart of what makes them great; it’s what has always touched my heart about them (especially when I was an angsty 17 year old) and is what separated them in my mind from the brashness of Oasis. For the tracks like Parklife and Girls and Boys, there’s also To The End (at the 2009 gig, one of the moments when you could almost feel as if it was just you and the band), End of A Century and, of course, This Is A Low. Damon Albarn is an intelligent guy, though, and I’m sure he realised that he couldn’t get away with 16 tracks of melancholy- lovely though that would have been. And so, aside from the singles, you also got tracks like Jubilee and Trouble In The Message Centre, which- as far as I’m concerned- rock. Trouble… in particular is still a favourite of mine, my only regret is that I’ve never heard a live rendition.
Aside from the melancholy and the rocking, there is also wit: witness, London Loves. A wry comment on what our capital city can do to you if you’re not careful. There are reference to a Britain past. Quadrophenia comes to mind not just in the appearance of Phil Daniels on the album’s title track, but in the song Clover Over Dover. Which, for me anyway, could easily be about the character Daniels played in Quadrophenia, Jimmy, as he speeds towards the cliffs on his scooter at the film’s climax.
I don’t want to go on and on about this one. I think what I love about it, what always finds me coming back to it is the sheer scope of it. Musically, it may not reach the heights they would climb between 1997-99, but that doesn’t matter to me. If 1995 was the year that I got properly clued up, then ’94 was the beginning of my awakening, this album is part of that, so it’s not a major shock that this album- an album which replaced the dinosaur rock of Pink Floyd’s Division Bell at the top of the charts- is so important to me.
Girls and Boys- The Word
This Is A Low- Hyde Park 2009