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.

park lifeIt 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”.

oasisA 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 squares.

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.  

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1.   Which former Labour politician is “Ernold Same” on Blur’s The Great Escape album?

2.  Which of these children’s favourites is credited on Oasis’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory album?

3.  Who played lead guitar on Oasis’s Champagne Supernova?

4. What were Blur originally known as?

5. What happens to Damon Albarn at the end of the Parklife video?


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