It happened by accident,
but was inevitable nonetheless. An unconscious reaction to grunge, and the
US musical invasion of the early 90s, Britpop was born, and for the briefest
of eyeblinks it was cool to British again. Of course, contrary to popular
opinion it hadn’t happened overnight. Blur – the unwitting architects of
the Britpop phenomenon – had released the first proper Britpop album,
Modern Life Is Rubbish, into a vacuum. The hallmarks of the Britpop sound
were there – namely, a distinct Englishness to the lyrics, and a firm
musical nod to The Kinks – only, it didn’t sell.
wasn’t until the chart success of their more focused follow-up, Parklife,
bolstered by the single release of the novelty Mockney title track, that the
press began to pick up on it. Simultaneously, Oasis released their first
album, influenced by – nay, ripped off of – The Beatles, Status Quo and
Slade, and somehow garnered “Best Band In Britain” front pages.
Consequently a non-existent musical movement was given life, and someone,
somewhere, called it “Britpop”.
spin-doctored rivalry was orchestrated between the Blur and Oasis camps,
with Oasis leader Noel Gallagher wishing death by AIDS upon members of Blur,
and Blur in return decrying their rivals as “Quoasis”. Blur were
declared temporary winners of the war, when their dire, sub-Tommy Steele
single Country House beat the decidedly average pub-rocker Roll With It to
number one. Nevertheless, it was latterly Oasis who became the Biggest Band
In Britain, with Blur having become embarrassed by their thematic,
mistakenly patriotic, offspring. Indeed, the catalyst may have come when a
noticeably uncomfortable Damon Albarn was misguidedly hired by the BBC to
present a Britpop showcase special. The singer monotoned his way through the
proceedings, reading dryly from an autocue as if partially sedated.
Nevertheless, his discomfort was readily apparent.
As a result Blur, the
originators of the so-called “Britpop sound”, were also the ones to kill
it, throttling their mutant spawn with their American-influenced, defiantly
“challenging”, eponymously-titled fifth album.
And then Oasis went shit, started going for drinks with Prime
Minister Tony “Blur”, and it was all over bar the shouting. Of course it
had to end when the Prime Minister claimed to be partial to a spot of
Britpop… where else was there for it to go? It had become tainted by
Of course, as fun as it
was to observe, the downside of Britpop was every record publisher in the
land signing up any band in an anorak, on short-lived deals. We were forced
to listen while the Style Police – blind as ever to reality – hailed
limited shelf-life fare like Menswear, Gene, Shed 7, The Seahorses and Cast
as the future of music.
There are survivors, of
course. Though never really “Britpop”, Pulp were nevertheless lumped in
among the pack, and still crawl the outer highways of the charts, albeit
with a bruised and bloody arse. Likewise Supergrass, Cast, and, to an
extent, the still tabloid-friendly Oasis brothers. Suede somehow
circumnavigated the craze, releasing the dark Dog Man Star and radio
friendly Coming Up as bookends to Britpop. Likewise, Travis and
Stereophonics, who came late to the party, also outlive the tag, peddling
their brand of generic soft-rock to young audiences unaware that there’s
forty years worth of better music preceeding it. The Manic Street Preachers,
though not as good – nor as desperately angry – as they used to be,
benefited from the Britpop boom, likewise reborn as middle-of-the-road soft
rockers (pretentiousness of their lyrics aside: “Marxist Lenin motorcycle
engine component/Library Socialist Workers Party disco horror/I wear the
scars of a neopolitical system of anarchy”, or something).
Indeed, what was Britpop
if not just rock music in anoraks? The poodle perms were absent, replaced
with stupid Kangol hats, and the codpieces had become Fred Perry t-shirts.
There were songs about sex and drinking and drugs and rock n’ roll –
just the same as the songs by bands that featured in Kerrang! throughout the
1980s. But Britpop was packaged in cool boxes, with “Approved By The NME”
stamped across them, and so it was OK to listen without fear of being spat
at by your peers.
Music is just
music, whether you call it Britpop, Madchester or Merseybeat. You can say
it’s as cool as you want, but it won’t change what it sounds like, man.