Thursday 25 April 2019

Blur - Parklife

Very probably the album that heralded the arrival of Britpop to a mass audience, 'Parklife' was released 25 years ago.
And despite the overplaying of the title track, how does the album stand up now?
Debut album 'Leisure' was a relative disappointment, and whilst the theme's of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' were an attempt to regain lost ground, it perhaps came a couple of years to early.
In truth, neither the band or the public were prepared for the accomplishment or acclaim for this album.

The opener "Girls & Boys" (the single that preceded the album's release) always sounds like it's on the wrong album to me - a story of Club18-30-esque hedonism.  It initially sounds like a sop to the record company for a hit, and doesn't have that Britpoppy-Geezerish tone of the rest of the album.
But .. if we pretend we are psuedo-intellectuals and look for meaning, or consider 'Parklife' as a concept album (as if anyone would?), the lagered-up partying sort of "fits" such a concept.

And yet within 3 minutes we move onto a darkly comic tale of a cross-dresser who takes his own life (or does he?) - "Tracy Jacks" is more of an opener, a scene-setter for what follows, and it's tone is not a million miles from the character-based songs of Ray Davies or Paul Weller.

From that moment on, the album continues to deliver and develops the Britishness of 'Modern Life Is Rubbish'.  Blur hit their stride with every track (yes, even "Trouble In The Message Centre") being a complete whole - a case of "all killer, no filler".  There is a danger of over-exposure and over-familiarity and this is certainly true of the title track, but the album remains a truly wonderous slab of vinyl (or shiny metal, depending on your choice of format).

4 singles were culled from the album ("Girls & Boys", "Parklife", "End Of The Century" and "To The End") and all show different facets of Blur's developing songcraft.
Alongside these (fairly) well known tracks nestles:
 - all-out punky thrash ("Bank Holiday", "Jubilee")
 - a Syd Barrett knock-off ("Far Out" - Alex James' sole songwriting contribution to the album)
 - a rumination of separation and/or a life in a rut ("Badhead")
I'm wondering (although this cannot be confirmed) if this song has anything to do with Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann's relationship? It could certainly be read that way
 - an almost 80s Funk throwback - musically if not lyrically ("London Loves")
 - a throwaway (not disposable) Franco-German oompah accordian-based instrumental ("Debt Collector")
 - and a mad piece of Music Hall which almost veers into The Beatles "Eight Days A Week" ("Lot 105")

And if it wasn't for "Lot 105" then surely "This Is A Low" would be vying for inclusion in a list of "Best Album Closing Tracks"
If I'm honest, this is another track which didn't endear itself immediately, and it took a few listens to understand the ambition it was showing compared to the general good feeling, celebratory nature of the album.  Performed Live is the moment I "got it" - it has that feeling of Epic-ness about it, and gives a definite pointer to the development and growth the band would go through on subsequent albums.
If this album is Bripop personified, "This Is  A Low" is the point Blur show they want more, and are no longer content to plough the formulaic furrows.

Tracy Jacks

This Is A Low

Monday 8 April 2019

Where did the obsession start ...

Yup, it's definitely an obsession.
If I'm not listening to music, I'm talking about it, writing about or buying it.
It's only at work that there is generally no soundtrack of my choice banging out in the background (open office environments tend to frown on that sort of thing (and they would frown even more if I was left in charge of the music choices))

So how did it happen?  Where, and why, did it all begin?

Most Talent Show contestants claim to have been brought up in his always full of music - Beatles, Stones, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beaky - but I wasn't.
My home was permanently fixed to Radio 2 (I remember staring at the stereo wondering why a miniature Jimmy Young wasn't sitting there interviewing some politician - 28 years old I was).
My parents had grown up in the 60s, so they must've been touched by Beatlemania, Stonesmania, Whomaina or any other"...mania" doing the rounds.  My mum even told the story how someone who worked at the EMI Pressing Plant (the one in Hayes I'm assuming) lived across the road from here, and she had a complete set of Beatles singles on the day of release
Maybe they were affected by that early 70s thing where they'd now got married, bought a house and had children so it was time to "put away childish things"
There was a record player and a tape deck, I rarely saw a cassette tape until my dad starting recording albums for the car, and then saw the record collection was a couple of albums each by Abba and The Carpenters, a Booby Crush album, a recording of the 1812 Overture and The Beatles Red album (1962-66).

A house full of music?  Not me.

I got my first tape player around 1979 and began dutifully listening to, and recording, the Radio 1 Top 40 countdown.
I can the recall two (possibly three) other events that occurred in 1979 which may be a pointer.
  1. A visit to my cousins who had their own record player - I became enamoured by these little black circles, and the fact that you could play what you want, when you want without relying on Tony Blackburn to play it on a Sunday evening
    (I think it was Tony Blackburn at the time - might've been Simon Bates?)
  2. A copy of either Smash Hits or Look-In being passed around at school and the contents being discussed
    ("What?  You've never heard of "Heart Of Glass" by Blondie?")
  3. The video for Dave Edmunds "Girls Talk" on Top Of The Pops
    ("I don't want to be a footballer anymore.  I want to be in a band and do music")
Now, I should have been ritually viewing Top Of The Pops every Thursday, but as a diligent Cub Scout I was unable to see it unless it was School Holidays, or I was too ill to attend to my duties as a Seconder (and later a Sixer) of White Six.
I have watched the re-runs on BBC4 and don't believe I missed any truly earth shattering performances - and missing the Tottenham Hotspur 1981 FA Cup Squad performing "Ossie's Dream" is not going to make my rue my past

A little later, a succession of Paper Rounds and any other income was thrown over the counter at second hand record shops, Our Price, even Woolworths and Boots sold me records.  I was amassing quite a little collection - which was stored in a chest of drawers (if I'm honest, just one drawer).
And then as a present, I received a copy of The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles - I now had the means to listen, the means to purchase, and now the means to read every word of those lists and analysis, learn it and talk about it like some sort of authority.

And it is those three events above, and that book which dropped me hook, line and sinker into a world of musical obsession from which I will never escape (and don't actually want to anyway)

Full time employment, and no real responsibilities, meant that the purchasing power, and frequency, increased as did the need for additional storage.
And the increased purchasing was supplemented by regular attendance at Live gigs, and the emptying of the wallet at the Merchandise stand - programmes, T-Shirts, other sundry memorabilia, and special release CDs and albums (this is where I note that the CD is a preferable format to the 12" album - they're much easier to stuff in your pocket and tend to remain unharmed when caught in the rush of the crowd for the last tube train.

The rise of the Internet has been something of a double-edged sword.
An oversize music collection can be reduced to a succession of 1s and 0s and carried round in your pocket.  And if you visit the "right places" you can pretty much replace your entire collection.
However, when it comes to digital music I own very little sticking steadfastly to the physical product (and using up every bit of spare storage space into the bargain).
The Internet may have expanded my musical horizons, offering a "try before you buy" principle, but discoveries will usually result in a 5" disc of metal arriving in the post (or more slabs of vinyl being forced into overladen shelving)

In pre-Internet days, if you heard a new song on the radio you has to wait for the back announcement and then scour the local record shops in the hope of finding a copy. If none were to be found, you placed a special order from the Big Book, took your receipt and waited a fortnight for it to be delivered to the store.
Now, you can hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Or in the case of The Humdrum Express – hear a song on the radio, wait for the back announcement, forget to do anything about it, hear it again 6 months later, get home, fire up the computer and place your order direct with the artist.

Next week is Record Store Day, and whilst some of the special releases (granted, fewer than in previous years) do appeal, - I will be avoiding that one.  For me, every visit to a town involves a visit to the record store, therefore every day is Record Store Day to me.
So I'll be avoiding the queues of chancers buying up everything in sight, watching the prices on ebay go through the roof 20 minutes after the shops have opened, and generally being grumpy about the whole thing.  But I guarantee there will be music playing at the time (probably the debut album by Them Crooked Vultures which I forgot I owned and found down the back of the cabinet the stereo stands in in my Dining Room)

My fear is when I die my wife and kids will sell it for what I TOLD them I paid for it

John Miles - Music

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk

Humdrum Express - Leopard Print Onesie