Britpop! A Beginner’s Guide

Union Jack

In reaction to American grunge’s saturation effect on the music climate in the early ’90s, a counter movement emerged in the UK that rejected the angst-filled slacker ideals of the flannel crowd.  Drawing inspiration from their nation’s rich history of great guitar-based rock and pop, British musicians provided the soundtrack to the massive cultural movement which would become collectively known as Britpop.

Blur – “Parklife”

Following in the tradition of bands like The Kinks and The Smiths, Blur were masters of wry Anglo-centric social commentary.  With their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, they detailed the banality of modern English middle class life with a little help in the vocal department from Phil Daniels, best known for his leading role in the mod classic Quadrophenia.

Oasis – “Some Might Say”

The Gallagher brothers fronted THE guitar band of the Britpop movement.  Taking cues from bands like The Happy Mondays, The Beatles, Sex Pistols and The Stone Roses, Oasis created music that was heavy on melody and even heavier on attitude.  Fortunately, they always seemed to be able to back up their self-proposed title of “Best Band In The World” with wickedly powerful epics like this one.  Even with Shaun Ryder-esque nonsensical lyrics, tracks like this make it easy to see why this band meant (and still means) so much to so many.

Suede – “Animal Nitrate”

Fronted by androgynous icon Brett Anderson, Suede was one of the very first bands to make a conscious effort to distance themselves from the American grunge sound and bring back an element of glamour and romanticism to their image.  This song seems tame enough, but the official video’s homoerotic undertones caused massive upset among conservatives.  Shock!  Horror!  (Apparently the title’s referance to inhalant amyl nitrate managed to fly under the radar…)

Elastica – “Stutter”

An original member of Suede, Justine Frischmann soon went on to front her own project, Elastica.  More so than any other Britpop band, Elastica’s sound was heavily influenced by punk bands like Wire, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks.  Their songs were catchy, witty, fun and flirty.  Elastica’s music was the edgy, intelligent feminist’s answer to The Spice Girls commercialized “girl power” movement.

Pulp – “Common People”

Speaking of witty and intelligent lyricism, “Common People” was Jarvis Cocker’s response to the growing trend of upper class youth slumming into false poverty in an effort to experience the “glamour” and “excitement” of working class living.

Supergrass – “Alright”

This is about as much sunny pop as you could ask for!  “Alright”quickly became an anthem for young people growing up during the Britpop era, leading singer Gaz Coombes to clarify that the energetic, positive tune was “meant to be light-hearted and a bit of a laugh, not at all a rebellious call to arms.”  Either way, it’s a classic!

The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”

Famously borrowing some strings from The Rolling Stones, The Verve created an international epic with “Bittersweet Symphony.”  Though the tune has been drenched in legal issues ever since its release, it remains the band’s finest work.  The line, “You’re a slave to money then you die” has to be one of the most accurately depressing summations of modern life ever made.

Check out these other Britpop classics…

Cast – “Alright”

Gene – “Be My Light, Be My Guide”

The Boo Radleys – “Wake Up Boo!”

Mansun – “Being A Girl”

Primal Scream – “Rocks”

-Shelley Peckham

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