In the mid and late 90s, there was a battle for British rock supremacy between Oasis and Blur. Apparently. I’ve only heard about in the years since. At the time, in Australia, I knew both bands and their hit singles, but never categorised them together in any way. Oasis was the rock band with big, easily digestible singles that I really hated at the time. Blur was the silly, novelty band that made quirky little songs.
In the years since, I’ve softened on my hatred of Oasis and come to know that Blur were revolutionary, influential and anything but a novelty. But I only know that in theory, because so many music fans and critics I like have told me that. I’ve never actually bothered to experience Blur for myself. Which is why it was high time I finally listened to their chart topping breakthrough, Parklife.
My teenaged 90s self found the falsetto vocals and electronica of Girls and Boys kind of gimmicky. These days, I can recognise it as a tight as shit pop song. I can also recognise how intricate its production is, seamlessly combining the dance and disco rhythm section, with then modern dance sounds, and rock guitars.
Things get more guitar based and the rivalry with Oasis becomes a little more understandable with Tracy Jacks. It still has a Blur playfulness to it, but it’s definitely more of a rock song than genre bending pop, rock, dance fusion. Then there’s the titular Parklife. 100% a gimmick that’s all show and flashy style with its cockney spoken word verses courtesy of actor Phil Daniels. But none of that stops Parklife from being an insanely infectious piece of pop fluff that is pretty much guaranteed to make you smile.
I had some idea of what to expect from a Blur record, but I never expected the stripped back, jangled punk rock of Bank Holiday. It still has that Blur cheek to it and is in no way trying to be angsty or too serious. But it still sounds like 80s Californian punk rock from bands like Bad Religion before they got good at their instruments or had budgets to spend on high end studio or producer.
The accordion fuelled polka instrumental of The Debt Collector is so inessential that I’ve already written too much about it just by mentioning its existence. But it feels like an opus compared to the tossed off fuck around that is Far Out. Was Blur worried about releasing this on vinyl and cassette, and felt like that had to pad out Side A to make it the same length as Side B? That’s the only reason I can think of for the inclusion of these two songs. But at least they had the decency to clock it at around two minutes. To the End has the audacity to be both pointless, and over four minutes long.
But they’re back to their Blur-ingest best on London Loves. Quirky, jaunty and filled with delightful Damon Albarn turns of phrase. Trouble in the Message Centre and Clover Over Dover make a great one/two punch. The former mixing robotic vocals with grinding guitars, while the latter dances around a harpsichord centre and light as feather backing vocals. These songs couldn’t be more different, but that Blur attitude and energy none the less binds them together.
Jubilee is the most straight forward rock and roll on Parklife, and it might also be my favourite track on the album. I’m a simple man with simple needs, and this song meets them in the simplest way.
Now that I’ve listened to an entire Blur album, the Oasis/Blur rivalry makes even less sense than it did to me at the time. It’s like a rivalry between a cricket and footy team. They play different games, on different fields, at different times of year. They never even cross paths, so why would one ever be compared to, or care about, the other? Both bands are pretty great, and as soon as I figure out a way to phone the mid 90s, I’ll call someone who didn’t know this already. Because I’m pretty sure I’m the last bloke to find out.