ROCK / Blurry shades of Sgt Pepper

AT ABOUT seven o'clock this evening, if the midweek sales pointers are correct, Blur's third album Parklife will enter the chart at No 1, outselling Pink Floyd's The Division Bell by a country mile. It will have been a long time since the top spot has been attained by a record of such wit, intelligence and fun.

Blur's hits of 1991 showed a band with a promising psychedelic style. It was the subsequent tours of America that cemented their obsession with English pop. Depressed by mall culture, unimpressed by grunge, Blur's singer-songwriter Damon Albarn fell in love with the timeless music of the Kinks and vowed that Blur would be the quintessential English group of their era.

But whereas Ray Davies wrote gentle satires and send- ups, Blur's instinct was to put the boot in. Their second album, Modern Life is Rubbish, which arrived in 1993, was a brash, unashamedly funny record. It wore its Kinks influences with some pride: characters popped up, washed the car, went for walks in Primrose Hill and desperately tried to avoid the horrors of the nine o'clock news. But the tone was possibly too biting. Albarn's affected cockney voice stripped the characters of what little dignity they had. If Parklife had been Modern Life Is Rubbish II - a few new characters, a change of street name here and there - Blur would have been set fair for a profitable career as a kind of malevolent Madness. But Parklife looks far beyond that. Its view of England is curdled, for sure, but expressed in probably the most diverse set of pop songs since Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And as with Sgt Pepper, it's easy to lose yourself in Parklife's world.

There is a sort of concept to the album. Parklife is delivered in ingenious fashion: as a day in the life of the English and their radio stations. The songs contain speech, jokes, references to the weather, traffic news, even a shipping forecast. Britain's coastline appears several times as a forbidding cut- off point, just as it did in The Who's Quadrophenia.

Set in this wider context, the music leaps from style to style to give the impression of a radio playlist. Parklife channel- hops from pop to punk to disco; from the elegant to the vulgar to the plastic - all these elements seizing their three minutes inside the greater vision of a nation governed by its fast-forward button. Albarn has called the album 'radioscopic'. Put simply, it means that Parklife is much more than a bunch of songs. Even 'Girls & Boys', a fairly cheesy hit single, makes an important contribution. As a musical throwback to the Duran Duran era, it earns its place on the playlist.

No song is like another. 'To the End' is a lush ballad reminiscent of the Bond theme 'You Only Live Twice', sung in English and in French. 'Jubilee' is glam rock. 'London Loves' is clattery and synth-led, very mid-Eighties. 'End of a Century', about a shell-suit family in the suburbs, has one of the warmest trumpet melodies since 'Penny Lane'. 'Bank Holiday' is a 90-second yobbo version of the conga. 'The Debt Collector' is a queasy brass band instrumental that could conceivably turn up on Alan Dell's show on Radio 2. The title track, narrated enthusiastically by the actor Phil Daniels, is an account of an unemployed lad's day, made semi-heroic by the irrepressible urchin backing music. And so on.

To do all this, you must have excellent musicians. Blur do. The guitarist, Graham Coxon, dominates the album with a stylistic range rarely attempted on a British pop record, while Albarn, on keyboards, can make an organ beautiful and emotional on one song ('This Is a Low', for example), like a Blackpool fleapit gizmo on the next. Almost all the songs are rich with comedy.

The finale is the intensely moving 'This Is a Low'. In the verses, the world goes slowly, sadly mad ('And into the sea go pretty England and me / Around the Bay of Biscay and back for tea'), with digs at English pop-whimsy and psychedelia. But in the chorus, as the radio keeps insisting that there is no cause for alarm ('This is a low . . . but it won't hurt you'), a huge swell of emotion takes over. Albarn, practically sobbing, cues in Coxon's squealing, layered guitars, and the album veers off into craziness and discord.

Exactly how good is it? Well, consider this. In the end- of-the-decade polls, the Smiths' The Queen is Dead was widely voted best album of the 1980s. The Queen is Dead had approximately one fifth of the musical scope of Parklife. It's time to get very excited about Blur.

'Parklife' is out now on Food Records (LP/CD/tape).

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend