Published Feb 01, 2000Britpop is regarded as a dirty word in the British music press these days, not surprising considering the fickle, Frankenstein monster logic favoured by the likes of taste-makers like NME (hate what you create). In North America, Britpop is more often a wrong word, used to describe bands ranging from Portishead to the Beatles, rather than the specific spate of mid 90s British bands that never quite broke America.
To avoid listing half the bands in the UK's rock'n'roll history, let's confine proto-Britpop to jangly guitar pop bands from the 80s and early 90s who both anticipated and amalgamated with the Britpop movement. A good sense of classic 60s pop, early glam rock and the spirit of punk are the key characteristics of proto Britpop. The most obvious and important example is the Smiths, but bands like James, the Primitives and the Stone Roses (in their less "Madchester" moments) also fit the mould.
Key albums: Smiths The Queen Is Dead, Louder Than Bombs, (Sire/Warner, 1986, 87); Primitives Lovely (BMG, 1988); Stone Roses The Stone Roses (Silvertone/BMG, 1989)
While it never merited a proper nickname in the music press, this first wave of Britpop gave new life to England's sagging music scene in 1993. Feeding off early 70s glam rock along with all variety of non-grunge alternative rock Pulp, Suede, and the Auteurs led the pack of smart, melodic guitar acts in thrift shop clothes. Sexual imagery and gender-blurring abounded (particularly with Suede), paving the way for bands like Placebo, Mansun and Gay Dad years later.
Key albums: Suede Suede (Columbia/Sony, 1993); Pulp His n' Hers (Island, 1993); Auteurs Now I'm a Cowboy (Hut/Virgin, 1994); Mansun Attack of the Grey Lantern (Epic, 1997); Placebo Without You I'm Nothing (Virgin, 1998); Gay Dad Leisure Noise (London/Warner, 1999)
New Wave of New Wave
At the start of 1994, bands like Elastica, Supergrass, Menswear, Marion and These Animal Men kick-started Britpop's more adrenal second wave. Hedonistic, sharply dressed and coiffed boys and girls with guitars were suddenly the new cool, a reaction against the scruffy, meandering ways of grunge. Although some of the hooks and riffs were blatantly borrowed from punk and post-punk acts like the Buzzcocks, Wire and the Stranglers, the "NWONW" sound was fresh, invigorating and attractive.
Key albums: Echobelly Everyone's Got One (Sony, 1994); Elastica Elastica (Geffen/MCA, 1995); Supergrass I Should Coco (EMI, 1995); Marion This World and Body (London/Polygram1995)
The term "Britpop" was born in the UK press around the time Blur's Parklife was released, the same month Kurt Cobain died, incidentally. Although Blur's upbeat, mod-inspired, UK-centric pop is sometimes identified as the true Britpop sound, the term grouped together the whole pack of new guitar bands who were both credible and on the charts (including those in previous categories, many of whom rushed to make proper Britpop albums). The bands varied in sound, but whether they were inspired by punk, new wave, glam, mod, or any combination of these, they all had glamour, a pop flavour, a typically British cleverness and a love of Britain's rich rock n' roll past. Britpop became less common after 1997, with many of its key figures fading away or changing paths, but bands like Catatonia and Rialto have since picked up the torch.
Key albums: Blur Parklife (EMI, 1994); Pulp Different Class (Island, 1995); Charlatans UK The Charlatans (Polygram, 1995); Lush Lovelife (4AD/Reprise, 1996); Super Furry Animals Radiator (Flydaddy, 1997)
Originally lumped in with the Britpop pack, their much-hyped rivalry with Blur distinguished Oasis as its own beast, inspiring the trend towards "Noel Rock," aka "lad rock" or "dad rock." The image combined a good dose of Britpop's hedonism with a "hard" attitude and baggy clothing, while the music heavily referenced classic rock, all big hooks and anthems. Bands like Northern Uproar, the Seahorses, Ocean Colour Scene and Cast followed the Gallagher's act, but the Lennon-loving uni-brow brothers continue to inspire like-minded British indie acts.
Key albums: Oasis Definitely Maybe ,(What's the Story) Morning Glory (Epic, 1994, 95); Cast All Change (Polygram, 1995); Embrace The Good Will Out (Geffen, 1998); Stereophonics Performance and Cocktails (BMG, 1999)