It was twenty years ago today that Damon Albarn taught the world that all you really needed to create a social spectrum-spanning anthem of the people was "girls", "boys," and "love." "It's quite a universal message really, isn't it?" winked the Colchester lad turned Cockney commentator at the time. Clever fucker.
For those not up to speed on the ins and outs of the South's premier Britpop quartet (shame on you), then "Girls & Boys"—released March 7, 1994—was the lead single from Blur's third album Parklife. Following an early foray into the baggy, Stone Roses-indebted landscape of the early 90s on debut Leisure, Blur decamped to the US for a largely unsuccessful and soul-destroying tour and emerged the other side dreaming of Sunday roasts, shipping forecasts, and taking the train to Walton.
Modern Life Is Rubbish followed in May 93—the first LP in the "Life" trilogy (completed by Parklife and The Great Escape) and an album so rooted in suburban British culture it may as well have come with a free ham sandwich and a guide to how to sell your two up/two down maisonette when the imminent divorce papers came through. But, while Modern Life… was providing a wry commentary on the Colins and Julians of England going about their daily drudge, the rest of the country was more bothered about bleaching their hair, wearing plaid and worshipping at the altar of Cobain. Blur were very English and very knowing at a time when the order of the day was America and angsty #feelings.
With Parklife, Blur didn't so much change tack as throw themselves full on into the scrum of warts'n'all England, trawling through the lows like a blooper reel on 90s Britain's Got Talent. Instead of standing smug and arms folded from the outside, Albarn set himself up as a lad of the people (FYI Parklife the album was nearly called either Sport or Soft Porn). Blur were one of us and nothing could have introduced this new phase as brilliantly as "Girls & Boys" —a mildly horrified ode to Club 18-30 holidays, sunning it up in Greece and getting your leg over, set to a gaudy keyboard lollop with a chorus so memorable you could even slur it after 20 Eggermeisters (that's a shot of Jager with a pickled egg in it, obvs).
"Girls & Boys" embodied the indie lads anthem, whereby it didn't matter what the lyrics really meant, what the band were really about or what the music was really doing, so long as there was a decent portion of the track that sounded sufficiently like a football chant to sing it while getting your cock out and windmilling all the way down the Ibiza central strip.
It didn't really matter that, underneath Albarn's beer-swilling delivery, the lyrics suggested he was a bit wary of what happened when you followed the herd down to Greece. It didn't matter that underneath the "Uh uh oh, uh uh ohs" there was Graham Coxon—vehement feminist and riot grrl enthusiast—trying to squeeze in as many squalling guitar parts to fuck up the balance as possible. It certainly didn't matter that, far from football bants and pantsing of the crowd that identified with the track, bassist and future cheese-making ponce Alex James was swanning around (private members club) the Groucho, quaffing two bottles of champagne a day and generally not really living the proletarian nightmare. If you sing "girls", "boys," and "love" enough, then the people will come.
It's a blessing and a curse that still pisses bands off to this day. No matter how much Kasabian bang on about Hawkwind and taking mushrooms and—deep breath—"horsemeat in the burgersm," they're always going to be followed by the kind of gig crowds who neck twelve snakebites before the first song and then throw up on their girlfriends, so long as they have songs where the main syllable is "OOSH." [A snakebite is an ungodly concoction of beer, cider, and blackcurrent cordial downed by broke college kids in the UK. It gets you wasted fast - UK-to-US translation Ed.]
I went to see Kettering psych quartet Temples a while ago and, despite the fact that they all look and sound like T Rex's illegitimate children, they still got the "Arms round your mate, slurring the riff" treatment just because Noel Gallagher once said they were decent and it's a pretty easy riff to slur.
Twenty years on and "Girls & Boys" might seem on the surface like one of Blur's dumbest crowd-pleasers, but—as the reams of PRS checks keeping Alex in plus fours and milk maids will no doubt prove—it still remains one of the band's smartest moves. Plus, it's a massive fucking banger. WAHEY LADZ.
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