I got caught up in the whole Britpop ‘movement’ of the mid ‘90’s, I can admit that now. And while said ‘movement’ produced some fine bands and some classic albums, in hindsight it produced far more drek than genius.
But what, exactly, was Britpop? The Smiths breaking up in August of 1987 brought about a period of drought. English music, great English music, just about dried up, and when grunge happened in 1990 it all but obscured anything good coming from the other side of the pond as far as most of the world was concerned. It ruled, and while I never bought into that scene I can at least recognize it for what it was. Music historians will tell you that Britpop was created by the music magazines (especially Select) to combat the dominance of grunge and to bring back a little national pride to the Isles, and it was, and it did, at least for a little while. The music rags would tout this movement’s superiority over grunge and taunt the American record buying public with headlines such as “Yanks Go Home”. It was ‘The Movement That Celebrated Itself’, and it was HUGE there. But other than Wonderwall, and Song 2, it was virtually ignored here in the States. But let’s get back to that “Yanks Go Home” thing for a minute. If the English were so adamant about keeping this scene local, then why did they always talk about the importance of ‘breaking America’ as often as they did, eh?
The sound and the scene were supposed to have harkened back to the glory days of English popular music, the ‘mid 60’s. The Beatles and The Kinks (oddly, the Stones and The Who were left out of the conversation) were the blueprint. They sung in their native accents about oddly stereotypical English things and characters (Ray Davies) and aped the sonics of the Big B’s. But they also drew from other British bands from the ‘70’s: Liam Gallagher’s voice recalled John Lydon’s and Blur fused elements of The Specials with The Kinks. It worked quite well at the beginning, but started to sound a little tired by their third and 4th albums, respectively.
History recalls that Oasis and Blur were the best things to come out of this era, but history is only partly correct. Oasis only released 1 great album (Definitely Maybe), and one fine, but overrated one in What’s The Story (Morning Glory). Blur on the other hand released one fine (Modern Life Is Rubbish) long player and 3 great to classic albums with Parklife (the classic), The Great Escape and the self titled one that contained the overplayed Song 2. Blur remains the clear winner of that particular battle.
Suede’s debut is the one that is cited as ground zero for Brit-pop, but to me Brett Anderson’s preening and androgynous ways and the bands affinity for the glam side of things stunk to high heaven of calculation. I only came aboard the Suede train when Britpop was on the decline, after that guitarist left. I don’t care what anybody says, Coming Up was a fantastic album.
The real stars of Britpop were Pulp and Supergrass, of course. Pulp had earned their fame through years and years of hard work. They got increasingly better with each successive album, finally peaking on Different Class in 1995. Supergrass came out the gates with a very impressive debut (I Should Coco), and continued to release quality albums up until their demise in 2010. They were by far the most consistently excellent band to come out of Britpop, and England period in the last 20 years. The Charlatans UK were underrated as well and are still going strong even today.
Most of the bands from this era will always remain footnotes, and rightfully so. Menswear, Sleeper, Elastica, Kula Shaker, Travis and many more all released a decent song or 2, but that’s about it. Which is a great segue for my final paragraph on the subject!
Britpop was all about the songs, in my opinion, and there were many, many excellent ones to choose from. In no particular order, here is the cream of the crop:
Common People, by Pulp
Sorted For E’s and Whizz, by Pulp
Parklife, by Blur
Boys & Girls, By Blur
Bittersweet Symphony, by The Verve
Supersonic, by Oasis
Live Forever, by Oasis
Connection, by Elastica
Laid, by James
Caught By The Fuzz, Supergrass
Alright, by Supergrass
Richard III, Supergrass
Disco 2000, by Pulp
Brimful Of Asha, by Cornershop
Tattva, by Kula Shaker
Babies, by Pulp
Neighborhood, by Space
A Design For Life, Manic Street Preachers
Post Script: I do not consider some of my favorite bands of the ‘90’s Britpop, which is why I omitted them from this list even though many released fine albums during this time. Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fan Club, Underworld, Radiohead, Paul Weller, The Boo Radleys, The ORB, Stereolab, and a bunch of others I just cannot remember at this moment.
For all of my readers from the UK: Please chime in. I wasn’t there and am basing this mini-essay on my experiences as an outsider from America, so I could have all this back-asswards.