Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Few Words on Britpop

hoo my lord

During my freshmen year of college, I was knee-deep in Britpop. Why, exactly, I don't remember. Maybe it was the era - the classification of Britpop as a reactionary "movement" in Britain - that fascinated me. Everywhere I read, I heard of this "Britpop" as a return to glory for British rock in the mid-90's, a glorious time when a new generation of Brits cast off the shackles of nihilist American grunge and became the heirs to the Kinks' and the Small Faces' throne. British "Greatest Album of All Time" polls by the NME and Q magazine backed up this notion: in between Beatles and Stones albums I would often see Blur, Oasis, and Stone Roses albums thrown into the mix, oftentimes out-ranking the likes of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's.

So to me, an 18-year-old New Englander, this was surprising. For one thing, these mid-90's revivalists of great British pop made little to no impact in America, save for Oasis's "Wonderwall" hitting the charts for a while. But HOW? The Britpop era, it seemed, was practically as big and artistically viable as the 60's British Invasion! Top-tier bands like Blur and Oasis were constantly in a race to deliver the best album of the 1990s, maybe EVER, culminating in the classic "Battle of Britpop" in '95! This convergence of Zeitgeist-hype and artistic ability hadn't been seen in years! Why did we foolish Yanks never pick up on this? WERE WE TOO BUSY LISTENING TO THE STONE TEMPLE PILOTS?!

Well... unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. Being young and naive at the time (all those two years ago) I did not realize the power of the hype machine that was (and still is) the British music press. Seriously, give those motherfuckers a few chimpanzees with loud guitars and a "brash attitude" and they'll make them out to be the Saviors of Rock 'n Roll (they're still doing it today - Arctic Monkeys, anybody?). But back then I didn't care about the hype - I just wanted to hear the music and decide for myself.

I started with Blur's Parklife, considered one of Britpop's biggest albums. The band's over-the-top British cockneyism appealed to me, and I started to grab more albums from that peak '94-'95 period: Oasis's Definitely Maybe and (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, Pulp's Different Class, Blur's The Great Escape, etc. Having wet my toes in the genre, I decided to expand my horizons a bit and check out some so-called "pioneers" of Britpop (The Jam, The Stone Roses, The Smiths, The La's, Primal Scream) as well as bands riding the last wave of the movement in the late '90s (The Verve, Radiohead, The Beta Band). At the time, I enjoyed almost all of it, but certain bands - namely The Stone Roses, Primal Scream, The Smiths, and especially Blur - really stood out.

Looking back, though, I can't drudge up the same enthusiasm I once had for good 'ol Britpop. I still like Blur, and I genuinely enjoy them a lot more than "loud guitars automatically make our music the best"-Oasis, but I can't help but think that their excessive Britishness sounds more like a gimmick to me than the bands that inspired them (the Kinks come to mind). As much as I would like to believe it, these guys were not the Beatles or the Stones or even the fucking Dave Clark 5 - they were just a bunch of pretty talented guys who were told they were the best. In retrospect, the bands that sound really good to me now are the ones less beholden to that soul-crushing "Greatest Band Ever" hype - namely, the Stone Roses (whose debut album is just glorious and doesn't sound a whit like Britpop), the La's (who sounded like Oasis without the ball-breaking egos), and Supergrass (single-handedly more enjoyable than Blur and Oasis combined). Britpop also inadvertently introduced me to XTC, who've become one of my all-time favorite bands (and who were taking a long sabbatical during the Britpop's peak years). As much as I hate to admit it, all that wonderful "Cool Britannia" stuff seems kinda silly and dated to me now.

At the same time, though, it's easy to see why Britpop enchanted me so. In the 2000's, a time where rock music is becoming more and more tepid and mellow with each passing year thanks to the likes of Coldplay and Keane, listening to this big, exciting 90's pop was a thrilling prospect. It's a prospect that will always sound exciting to me - and one that, someday, I hope some new bands will actually be able to deliver on. 'cause fuck knows the Artic Monkeys haven't done it.

Although I kinda like that "Ruby" song. Who's that? The Kaiser Chiefs? Hmm.

Sean's Recommended Britpop Listening (aka Stuff I Still Kinda Like):


Blur - "Parklife," "Advert," "Chemical World," "Girls & Boys," "Popscene"
Oasis - "Don't Look Back In Anger," "Some Might Say," "She's Electric"
Pulp - "Common People"
Stone Roses - "She Bangs The Drums," "Elephant Stone," "Song For My Sugar Spun Sister"
Supergrass - "Alright," "Caught By The Fuzz," "Time," "Sofa Of My Lethargy"
La's - "I Can't Sleep," "There She Goes," "Feelin'"
Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony"
Primal Scream - "Come Together," "Loaded"


Blur - Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife
Supergrass - I Should Coco
Stone Roses - self-titled
La's - self-titled
Primal Scream - Screamadelica

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