Today we move 26 years ahead from yesterday but stay right where we were geographically. Both the Pretty Things and today’s band, Blur, hailed from London; similarly, while the Pretty Things were to a degree part of the “British Invasion” of the ’60s, Blur was part of the second (much more modest) British Invasion, the ’90s Britpop scene. Blur got Britpop kickstarted, on the heels of the Manchester bands of the late ’80s/early ’90s, and was soon followed by Oasis, Elastica, Supergrass, and others.
Blur blended the influences of the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, the Jam, and XTC (among others) into a sound reminiscent of each of those bands but never quite sounding like mimicry of any one of them. Their first album came out in 1991, and by the time of their third album, Parklife, in 1994, their songwriting had matured to the point of being the equal in many ways to the bands that influenced them. Parklife may indeed have been their peak — there was great music that followed, but it was this album that found it all coming together to produce one of the best albums of the ’90s, period. If you count yourself among those who only know Blur for their ubiquitous “Song #2” (you know, the “Woo hoo!” song played at many a sporting event), you owe it to yourself to check out Parklife.
I consider Parklife to be very influenced in particular by XTC’s classic Black Sea album. The guitar sound and rhythms feel similar throughout, and the songs tell stories of British life in a similar fashion (and of course both albums and bands are heavily indebted to the Kinks in that regard). Andy Partridge was at one point slated to produce Blur’s second album, but there was apparently a clash of personalities that ended that possibility; the point is taken, however, that the members of Blur were fans of XTC and looked to them as a model for what they were trying to do. And in Parklife, they created an album XTC would have been proud to call their own. The title track, “Parklife,” sums the album up quite tidily, bringing it all together in one great nugget of guitar pop, narrated in a thick Cockney accent by British actor Phil Daniels, who was the star of the 1979 movie version of the Who’s Quadrophenia. In Daniels’s droll running commentary on suburban British living, the song shows up the band’s “mod” influences very directly, continuing on a path that leads directly from the Who, through the Jam. Considering it’s a song with a guest “singer” (so to speak), “Parklife” is nonetheless one of Blur’s best songs — Daniels does a superb job with it, and the juxtaposed choruses sung by usual Blur frontman Damon Albarn complement the verses perfectly.
The video that Blur produced to accompany the single is equally entertaining, featuring Phil Daniels himself: