Britpop. It’s an odd term; maybe if we expand it we can understand it: British popular music. Still unclear? Ok, Britpop could be seen as our version of Grunge and the answer to the stuffiness that grew from the bloated music scene of the late 1980s and came to prominence in the mid nineties. It draws on what is great about Britain and being British, whether that’s being ‘Caught By The Fuzz’, indulging in ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ or recovering with ‘Coffee And TV’.
What is great about Britpop is the amalgamation of many genres into a boiling pot which the bands could sample at any time. Much of this influence comes from the 1960s with the likes of The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks being most prominent as well as the psychedelic movement of The Grateful Dead, Cream and Hendrix. With this armory it’s unsurprising that Britpop eventually exploded onto an unassuming audience.
Britpop bands write uniquely British songs which reference British culture and topics and it all kicked in 1992 when Blur release ‘Popscene’ and Suede released ‘The Drowners’. Following on their heels were the punk driven Elastica and geek-chic of Pulp. Coinciding with the ‘Cool Britannia’ movement Britpop soon found an audience and was able to take on the Grunge of America. But things really got exciting in 1994 when Blur released the genre defining ‘Parklife’, including the title track and ‘Girls And Boys’. Blur set the tone for the Britpop band: unintimidating, shabby and scrawny. Blur became one the biggest bands at this time but there was one band who had them in their cross hairs.
Many of the bands were influence by the Madchester scene of the late 1980s with the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and The Smiths. One such band was Oasis with their 1994 release of ‘Definitely Maybe’, one of the fastest selling debut albums of all time. In my view this was one of the best albums to come out Britpop including songs such as the T-Rex influenced ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’, ‘Rock and Roll Star’ and ‘Live Forever’. It had all the swagger of The Rolling Stones, the snarl of The Sex Pistols, the song writing of The Beatles and the arrogance of The Stone Roses.
With two bands vying for top spot this lead to the Blur vs Oasis chart battle of 1995 withOasis’ single ‘Roll With It’ and Blur’s ‘Country House’ being released on the same day. Blur won this round with getting the number spot with Oasis getting second spot. However, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? released in 1995 went on to become the third best selling British album of all time.
However, there’s more to Britpop than just Oasis and Blur. Ocean Colour Scene made their mark with a number of hits including ‘Travellers tune’, ‘Hundred Mile City’ and ‘The Riverboat Song’ and has the feel of a more psychedelic influence, with their stand out album Moseley Shoals. Taking this sixties influence further is Kula Shaker who build on a very India sound with songs such as ‘Tattva’ and their most famous ‘Hush’. Another Britpop Stalwart is Supergrass who have a glorious back catalogue of ‘Richard III’, ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ and ‘Alright’.
As the end of the decade approached, Britain’s extended summer love affair for Britpop began to decline. Many say Oasis’ ‘Be Here Now’ marks the end with its bloated sound, however, it still received critical acclaim and is a decent album altogether. Furthermore, Blur distanced themselves from the Britpop movement with their last few albums, calling a day in 2003, with Damon Albarn focusing on his side-project Gorillaz in 2000. Although many bands continued into the next decade they never really captured the same feeling or success as before. Nevertheless, Britpop gave Britain an answer to Grunge and spawned some great bands and anthems such as Reef’s ‘Place Your Hands’, Pulp’s ‘Common People’, Ash’s ‘Girl From Mars’ and The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ to name but a few.