Certified four times platinum in the United Kingdom, in the year following its release the album came to define the emerging Britpop scene, along with the album Definitely Maybe by rivals Oasis. Britpop in turn would form the backbone of the broader Cool Britannia movement. Parklife therefore has attained a cultural significance above and beyond its considerable sales and critical acclaim, cementing its status as a landmark in British rock music. It has sold over five million copies worldwide.
After the completion of recording sessions for Blur's previous album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, Damon Albarn, the band's vocalist, began to write prolifically. Blur demoed Albarn's new songs in groups of twos and threes. Due to their precarious financial position at the time, Blur quickly went back into the studio with producer Stephen Street to record their third album. Blur met at the Maison Rouge recording studio in August 1993 to record their next album. The recording was a relatively fast process, apart from the song "This Is a Low".
While the members of Blur were pleased with the final result, Food Records owner David Balfe was not pleased with the record, telling the band's management "This is a mistake". Soon afterwards, Balfe sold Food to EMI.
Blur frontman Damon Albarn told NME in 1994, "For me, Parklife is like a loosely linked concept album involving all these different stories. It's the travels of the mystical lager-eater, seeing what's going on in the world and commenting on it." Albarn cited the Martin Amis novel London Fields as a major influence on the album. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher was once quoted saying that Parklife was, "Like Southern England personified". The songs themselves span many genres, such as the synthpop-influenced hit single "Girls & Boys", the instrumental waltz interlude of "The Debt Collector", the punk rock-influenced "Bank Holiday", the spacey, Syd Barrett-esque "Far Out", and the fairly new wave-influenced "Trouble in the Message Centre". Journalist John Harris commented that while many of the album's songs "reflected Albarn's claims to a bittersweet take on the UK's human patchwork", he stated that several songs, including "To the End" (featuring Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab) and "Badhead" "lay in a much more personal space".
The album was originally going to be entitled London and the album cover shot was going to be of a fruit-and-vegetable cart. Albarn stated tongue-in-cheek, "That was the last time that Dave Balfe was, sort of, privy to any decision or creative process with us, and that was his final contribution: to call it London". The cover refers to the British pastime of greyhound racing. Most of the pictures in the CD booklet are of the band in the greyhound racing venue Walthamstow Stadium, although the actual cover was not shot there. The album cover for Parklife was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010.
Parklife remains one of the most acclaimed albums of the 1990s, released in April 1994, debuted at number one on the UK Album Charts. The album stayed on the chart for 90 weeks. However, the album only charted at number 6 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers album chart in the United States. Johnny Dee, reviewing Parklife for NME, called it "a great pop record", adding "On paper it sounds like hell, in practice it's joyous." Paul Evans of Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars. Reviewer Paul Evans wrote, "With one of this year's best albums, [Blur] realize their cheeky ambition: to reassert all the style and wit, boy bonding and stardom aspiration that originally made British rock so dazzling."AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine commented: "By tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record." Conversely, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice indicated that the only good song on the album was "Girls & Boys".
In July 2014, Guitar World placed Parklife in its "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list. The album was ranked at number 171 on Spin's "The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years (1985–2014)" list.