Its fans would probably argue that it was their generation’s version of punk; something to sweep away both the preceding house and techno based rave culture and the American grunge scene with its sludgy guitars and angst-ridden lyrics.
Its detractors may argue that it was nothing more than a London-centric (or even more specifically a Camden-centric) exercise in British self-promotion best characterised by that Select magazine cover featuring Suede’s Brett Anderson with the Union Flag and the headline ‘Yanks go home!’
At the time I was in my early twenties and had stopped listening to ‘popular’ music. The ‘Madchester’ scene a few years earlier had self imploded, the Stone Roses still hadn’t come up with a follow up to their cracking first album and the charts were full of dross. The grunge scene had some good bands but you couldn’t listen to a full album without slitting your jugular.
The good thing about the Britpop (I still hate the word itself…) bands is that there was suddenly a deluge of great sounding guitar-based bands singing intelligent lyrics about stuff you could relate to (as opposed to songs whining on about hating yourself and drinking a bottle of bleach, all over muddy minor chords with the distortion knob set to 11…)
So, here (once again, in no particular order) are 5 of my Britpop (sound of teeth gnashing) picks.
Slight Return – The Bluetones
‘Where did you go?’ Mark Morriss emplores as the guitar wistfully changes from a major to a major 7th chord. The rest of the band then kick in with Adam Devlin’s Rickenbacker jangling away like The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn transported to the 90’s, pausing only for Morriss to enquire further of his subject. Classic guitar pop.
You’ve Got A Lot To Answer For – Catatonia
Another lovely guitar intro (there may be a theme emerging here…) and we’re straight into the insanely catchy chorus. Things quieten down for the verses with Cerys exploring the options whilst waiting for the results from a pregnancy test. A clever instrumental middle eight lifts things to the next level with the song ending with an impromptu two bars of waltz.
On Standby – Shed Seven
Shed Seven, I think, are one of the most underrated bands ever. They have some quite brilliant songs (Going for Gold, Getting Better, Chasing Rainbows, Ocean Pie to name but a few). Get the Best Of. ‘Nuff Said.
Suede – Animal Nitrate
For many people Suede were Britpop. Just listen to Bernard Butler’s agressive ‘wasp in a jam jar’ guitar lines and swoon as you watch Brett Anderson flick his hair about. The florid mix of drugs and hedonism gives an insight into the Camden scene dubbed ‘the scene that celebrates itself’.
Dark Therapy – Echobelly
A slow starter with Sonya Madan’s dreamy vocals pulled along in the undertow of Glenn Johansson’s guitar. The rest of the band kick in at the chorus with a double layered vocal weaving and intertwining. The guitars stack up towards the end with the bottleneck slide sending things into the stratosphere.
So, forget all the cultural posturing and the media driven hype and just celebrate the fact that we got to hear some great bands with great songs playing guitars again.