Britpop. It’s become such a dirty word I’m amazed my laptop doesn’t automatically asterisk the vowels. Think ‘punk’ and you instantly picture John Lydon snarling like a Pekingese with piles, think ‘grunge’ and you see a kohl-eyed Cobain, think ‘new rave’ and you envisage a clearly ‘refreshed’ Klaxons waving the Mercury Prize.
But think ‘Britpop’ and the Union Jack guitars, Blur/Oasis feuds and Jarvis arse-waggles are obscured by the detritus. You think of Sleeperblokes and lad mags, the Good Mixer and Chris Evans, Geri’s dress and The Girlie Show. Think ‘Britpop’ and, to the shame of an entire decade, you think “Menswe@r”.
I’m an unrepentant child of Britpop. I was in it from Blur’s ‘British Image No 1’, from ‘Popscene’ and ‘For Tomorrow’, from Suede’s ‘The Drowners’ and The Auteurs’ ‘Showgirl’:
I wore the Jarvo corduroy blazers and the Brett fringe-flop, did the slapping-your-arse-with-a-microphone shimmy across the dancefloors of Camden. In the Blur/Oasis war I was a frontline general for the Albarn Army. I revelled in the fact that, after so much ’80s miserablism, grunge, shoegazing and crusty anarchists bleating on about Thatcher (boo!) and Sainsbury’s (BOOO!), the underground was finally agreeing to enjoy some shameless, tuneful jubilance and feel awwwwwlright for a bit.
Sadly, it was just that brassy polish, brazen breeziness, lack of ‘loner’ angst and assimilation of chart-friendly ‘pop’ into guitar music that made it easy to mock in its wake. For the last decade I’ve had to endure my musical mum being called a slag. I’ve become a son of the disowned generation.
Then, just as the first clutch of Britpop club nights speckle London with their posters of a V-flicking Jarvis, this week saw the announcement of the first major three-CD Britpop compilation album, entitled ‘Common People’ (out June 8).
At last! A full and proper re-evaluation of one of the greatest scenes in pop history! Then I saw the tracklisting and my heart sank faster than the second Echobelly album. Totally eschewing the talents of the two true Britpop titans, Blur and Oasis, CD1 hints at the problem by including Britpop precursors that had little to do with the movement besides a timely overlap – Black Grape, The Stone Roses, James. By CD2 a rot is beginning to set in; between true Britpop classics such as ‘Common People’, ‘Alright’ and ‘Chasing Rainbows’, creep an army of Britpop pretenders. Northern Uproar? Kula Shaker? Ocean sodding Colour Scene?
Already the gleaming face of Britpop is being smeared in its own fetid effluence, and by CD3 it’s like Karl Marx being shown around Stalin’s Gulag or that bit in Alien: Resurrection where the perfectly cloned Sigourney Weaver alien finds all of the deformed experimental clone Sigourney/aliens in a lab begging “Please kill me…”. Gomez, The Seahorses, Hurricane #1, Stereophonics: all of the worst post-Oasis plodders are lasso’d into the Britpop corral, tainting the ’90s gene pool, feeding Britpop with its own sewage like a kind of musical French cattle farm.
Any hope I had that new listeners might too appreciate the wild pop thrill I once felt for ‘Wake Up Boo!’, ‘Slight Return’, ‘Inbetweener’ or ‘Female Of The Species’ is dashed, since there, fused like a malignant growth on the cheek of a supermodel, sit the godawful monstrosities that sprang from the loins of Noel Gallagher’s guitar and turned the end of the decade into a barren and boring retro-rock desert. Even this supposed celebration and re-evaluation of the era is ruined by the presence of its bastard offspring, dribbling and leering from the attic of the 1990s.
Britpop’s downfall was that its most successful band wasn’t also its epitome. Where Nirvana fairly defined grunge or the Pistols accurately captured punk spirit, the easily imitated rock chug of Oasis never took in the synthetic sexuality of Pulp and Suede, the jaunty jollities of Blur or Supergrass, the flagrant pop hooks of Dodgy or Space.
So Britpop: The Phenomenon must always be associated with the lobbed pint at Knebworth, the thundery stomp of a Gary Glitter steal and the dreary wailing of ‘The Riverboat Song’. None of which, as a true and pure child of Britpop, ever said anything to me about my life. It became a disgraced scene: ‘guitar pop’ a term of abuse, indie good spirits a cause for mockery, ‘Britpop’ a dirty word. So please, I entreat you to give ‘Common People’ a thorough iPod pruning of the effluvium and let Britpop die with dignity.
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