Anyone who has been tuned into a BBC radio station recently will have noticed that Britpop, arguably the most undefinable ‘genre’ in the history of music, is celebrating more or less twenty years since its emergence as the excitable British answer to the dark grunge sounds coming from across the Atlantic.
All this reminiscing is making a lot of people feel very old, but for many of us younger folk Britpop is an alien phrase, survived merely by the predictable playing of Wonderwall and Song 2 at older cousins’ weddings or uncles’ fortieths. So for those trying to figure out just what all the fuss is about, here are five essential albums from the genre that would define ‘Cool Britannia’ throughout the 1990s.
1. Suede – Suede (1993)
Though it was released a year before the movement known as Britpop would fully come into its own, all the ingredients can be found in this London band’s swish and sexy debut. Frontman Brett Anderson’s emotive wailing vocals echo the seductiveness of Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker whilst the distorted riffs and unapologetically indulgent solos would fit into any Oasis record. Audacious and glamorous, yet haunted by a hidden darkness both personal and social, Suede was arguably the first album to find the winning formula that would characterise British rock music for the next few years.
Key Tracks: ‘So Young’, ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘Metal Mickey’, ‘Animal Lover’
2. Parklife – Blur (1994)
The third LP from Damon Albarn and co. is a master class in how to make a joyous pop record. Catchy, chirpy, punky and full of bravado, Parklife never fails to send its listener on an emotional journey, whether it’s yelling “You should cut down on your pork pies mate!” on the unforgettable title track or lamenting the monotony of life on the resigned Badhead. The flair of the Sex Pistols fused with the care-free tunefulness of the Small Faces and the intelligence of the Velvet Underground make this an all-time pop classic.
Key Tracks: ‘Girls and Boys’, ‘End of a Century’, ‘Parklife’, ‘This Is a Low’
3. Definitely Maybe – Oasis (1994)
Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, you can’t deny that the Gallagher brothers had an immeasurable influence on the shape of modern rock music. Though 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Is probably Oasis’s finest work, it’s their full throttle belter of a debut that played a crucial part in crafting the identity of Britpop as a movement. Perhaps lacking the insight of Blur or Suede but with a range of unforgettable riffs and classic anthemic choruses, Definitely Maybe brought big dumb working class rock ‘n’ roll back into the mainstream, where it would stay for years to come.
Key Tracks: ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’, ‘Live Forever’, ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’, ‘Married With Children’
4. Different Class – Pulp (1995)
He is remembered as one of the clinical voices in the Britpop era, yet Jarvis Cocker had been doing his thing with a variety of musicians under the name of Pulp for over fifteen years before their breakthrough album, 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers, arrived. Over that time the group honed their skills as the educated voice of the working class in mainstream popular culture, a thinking man’s Oasis that would celebrate misfits, drugs and childhood romance on the phenomenal Different Class. From the angry rebellion of opener Mis-Shapes to the witty social commentary of the legendary Common People, Different Class is an album rich in nostalgia, a snapshot of working class life in the 1990s and an instrumentally thrilling record to boot.
Key Tracks: ‘Mis-Shapes’, ‘Common People’, ‘Disco 2000’, ‘Underwear’
5. Urban Hymns – The Verve (1997)
It was 1997 that saw the beginning of Britpop’s demise. As the likes of Oasis and Blur began to lose their way (the former) or move on to new sounds (the latter), this third LP from Richard Ashcroft’s The Verve stood as the movement’s last great record. The bulk of the album showcases the atmospheric groove-driven rock that very much characterised indie music in the ‘90s, whilst its hit singles provided an emotive last stand for a fading generation of rock stars. Some tracks mightn’t have aged as well as the band’s peers, but if anything they serve as a chance to celebrate the era’s unique and unforgettable sound.
Key Tracks: ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘Lucky Man’, ‘This Time’