Missing Britpop

I realized yesterday it has been over 10 years since I heard my first Oasis song in a pub in Limerick. And no, it wasn’t “Wonderwall.” It was “She’s Electric” and I sang along with the crowd even though I had never heard the song before. It was just that infectious. “Who is this?” I asked the guy from New Zealand I was standing beside. He looked at me like I was from another planet. “Oasis!” he shouted over the din. The next day, I was at a record store buying the album, along with albums from Pulp and Blur and Elastica. I was hooked. This was the antidote to the bad grunge and nu-metal crap that was taking over the airwaves in America.

Since then, Oasis has fallen on hard times and the Britpop movement they rode the crest of the wave on has long since crashed on the rocky shores of public tastes. Almost all of the Britpop bands are either disbanded or are just shadows of their former selves. And in America, the alternative radio stations seem to be flailing about, looking for something worthwhile to play or simply killing time until they turn into Classic Rock stations or something. It’s no wonder a whole generation of listeners gave up on alternative music here in the US, instead turning to hip hop or simply listening to mainstream pop. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, of course, but it has been a long time since I have heard a new alternative movement that arose like the British bands of 1992-1999.

I miss them.

And lest you think I’m just an old fart complaining about how the music of today is not as good as it used to be, there are signs of hope like distant stars out there, coming from the edges, where the best alternative music almost always comes from. Arcade Fire from Montreal. The Weakerthans from Winnipeg. Bishop Allen. The Fratellis. Arctic Monkeys. Bands that should, collectively, be dominating the alternative airways. But there is no movement, no banner to wrap around them, no overall marketing. No catchy name. So they live in the shadow of older musical movements, the same way the great bands of the late 1980s like The Pixies lived in the shadow of New Wave. I’m hopeful that, if my theory is true and this period is much like the late-1980s, our early 1990s are right around the corner, musically. The 20teens, with another Nirvana or Blur just waiting to break through.

In the meantime, I’m blowing the dust off my Britpop albums and playing them without shame. They’ve aged better than one would think. Pulp’s Different Class is still one for the ages. Elastica’s self-titled debut still throbs with sex and snarl. Blur’s Parklife might be the “Sgt. Pepper’s” of the 1990s. And, yes, even dear, squabbling, unibrowed Oasis is better than you remember. Be Here Now is a hell of an album, and if you wouldn’t sing along with “She’s Electric” in an Irish pub, well, you’re no friend of mine.

2 thoughts on “Missing Britpop

  1. Well the Spice Girls, the female contribution to the Britpop era, have managed to get back together for a last world tour. Any consolation, Dan?

  2. Hi Dan – what a thoroughly depressing argument.
    I think this is the nub of it:
    “there are signs of hope like distant stars out there, coming from the edges, where the best alternative music almost always comes from…[but] there is no movement, no banner to wrap around them, no overall marketing”
    You can’t be suggesting that music only becomes truly great and important if it’s part of a big marketing push, and comes in a convenient wrapper?
    I agree it might be true that certain bands only become *popular* when they’re part of a marketing juggernaut with a catchy banner.
    But as you suggest, some of the best bands around are still working away at the edges, making truly astonishing music. Who cares if they’re popular? Why is that important to you the listener or you the gig go-er? Does it make your enjoyment of the band any less?
    Infact, since britpop ran out of steam – precisely because there’s been no marketing tape trying to constrain it – music has become exciting again. The last 8 years has been the most fertile and exciting period of music I’ve ever experienced (in my 35 or so years).
    So don’t fall into a lazy nostalgia trap – get stuck into those mp3 blogs, do a bit of a discovery and winkle out the shining gems of musical genius that deserve our attention – irrespective of whether there’s a glossy marketing campaign to snare us.

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