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Britpop: A British Disaster
May 3, 2014 3:08 PM   Subscribe

This essay by music journalist Taylor Parkes does an extraordinarily good job of explaining why Britpop was so deeply and unremittingly horrible.

The essay contains a description of Oasis as "the most disastrous misunderstanding of The Beatles since Charles Manson."

This is by no means the best line in there.
posted by motty (87 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
In ten years he'll probably be shitting on Gorillaz too.
posted by Talez at 3:25 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I, too, blame everything that's gone wrong since 1994 on Blur's Parklife.
posted by chasing at 3:29 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


This looks like it was written by someone who's just jealous because he didn't get to spend enough time in the 90's guzzling cocaine and alcopops, sleeping with teenage girls in tennis skirts and being told he was the fucking king.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:43 PM on May 3 [23 favorites]


WOO HOO
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:44 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


Low rents and high living; devastating personal problems; out in Camden every night, tight as a boiled owl.

Oh my god, this was such a great essay. I mean, it's a jeremiad, but this guy - he's a few years older than me, and he's got it, that was the nineties.

A lot of this sudden buoyancy would have been from Ecstasy, of course – still, there was also a genuine sense of optimism in the real world, for a couple of years at least. The fall of Communism, the crumbling of apartheid, the touchingly naïve idea that governments would get to grips with impending ecological crisis... you remember, all that stuff. The End Of History. People believed it. No one would ever go hungry again in this wonderworld of peace and prosperity.

That's precisely it, I remember those very years. Those felt like good years. It really did feel like a good time. (Although frankly I always get Pulp and Blur confused.)

Meanwhile, the other side were busy consolidating all the gains of the hated 80s, privatising and deregulating, getting ready to take this shit to the next level, unopposed.

I remember this - trying desperately to convince people about the policy changes that were happening and how things were going to shit, and getting a lot of liberal blargle in response.

And that stuff about Camden? Some twelve years or so ago, I was fortunate enough to meet the charming Lu Edmonds of the Mekons, and he was telling us about all those places, Camden and Brixton and so on and how they weren't really working class any more.

Also I like that this essay paraphrases "Sad Steps", which is a Phillip Larkin poem that I actually like a lot. I don't know if one is supposed to like Larkin, but I do.


The flag-waving's for real now. And it's what it always is – a sign of insecurity – but within that is a terrible kind of strength. In the confusion of austerity a brand new Britishness is afoot, like the old one but fractionally closer to fascism. More than apolitical – actively hostile to radical thought. More than dismissive of class-consciousness – angry at the slightest suggestion that anyone's problem might not be a problem with them, but a problem with Britain.
posted by Frowner at 3:47 PM on May 3 [23 favorites]


I'm not able to detect the massive evil in these bands depicted here. He doesn't just hate them, he feels betrayed by them. The metastasized disappointment of someone who once truly believed that punk rock was going to save the world?
posted by thelonius at 3:52 PM on May 3 [13 favorites]


Thank goodness there are people who are diligently watching over us all to make sure we're not listening to the Wrong Kind Of Music by mistake. It would be terrible to find that you had mistakenly enjoyed something that you shouldn't have.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:55 PM on May 3 [40 favorites]


The question I have reading this is: "As opposed to what?". What is the author imagining these bands could have or should have done in the 90's that would have made the slightest impact on where we are now?
posted by Grimgrin at 3:58 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Well... At the time, other kinds of music were having laws made against them
posted by en forme de poire at 4:00 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Well now I am terribly ashamed that I own boatloads of Britpop albums that I still listen to. And that I had a lot of fun 20 years ago. I am not nothing. I am worse than nothing.
posted by dayintoday at 4:11 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Ooh, ooh! Now do American music in the 90's. Like, is there some way that we can blame Mark McGrath for the Clintonian triumph of the neo-liberal consensus? I think we have to, I mean, look at that guy. And what about Smashmouth? WHAT ABOUT SMASHMOUTH?

And you know, it's quite possible that no Puff Daddy, no dotcom crash. Think about it. And moving slightly onward, is there some way we can put the Strokes in the dock for the rise of Rudolph "a noun a verb and 9/11" Guiliani? We can't afford not to! Nevar again!

Also: " songs about getting bummed by a dog on UHU " - I'm not sure I know what any of those words mean in this context, but I likes 'em!
posted by hap_hazard at 4:12 PM on May 3 [26 favorites]


Each to their own. I only like/liked one song by Oasis and one song by Blur, but appreciate a lot of people, then and now, were into either (and other BritPop groups) a lot more.
posted by Wordshore at 4:32 PM on May 3


If there is any justice in the world, Smashmouth will eventually be hauled up before The Hague.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:34 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


A few days ago, one of my students said "I wish more people were making great rock like in the old days. You know, like Limp Bizkit and 311."

So, yeah, there's that.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:34 PM on May 3 [56 favorites]


Rock criticism is pretty much always a bunch of hyperbole in service of maintaining the author's delusions of "authenticity" and "relevance." It rarely if ever rises tot he level of actual criticism.

It's especially evident when, towards the end, he lists the Sex Pistols -- a manufactured band aimed at shocking the parents of middle-class kids in working-class drag -- alongside the beatles and the Smiths as his examples of good things that Britpop "suck[ed] the meaning out of." Or maybe it's the earlier bit when he mentions listening to Fleetwood Mac as his 1990s remedy for Britpop. Hell, even the early Beatles were essentially a boy band.

What I'm saying is basically this: no, *his* favorite bands suck. Because that's all the "thought" pieces like this really provoke or can provoke.
posted by kewb at 4:48 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


I always thought there were British class distinctions I didn't get, and as a result couldn't properly understand Britpop.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 4:51 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Also: remember what was on the jukebox in the early 90's? EMF? Jesus Jones? No wonder people went for Blur.
posted by thelonius at 5:09 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Everything after Grieg sucks, and you're all idiots.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:21 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


It really did feel like a good time. (Although frankly I always get Pulp and Blur confused.)

Nothing about listening to Pulp has ever made me think "this feels like a good time".
posted by asterix at 5:22 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


"Here's a wider view: Britpop was the willing soundtrack to – and yes, enabler of – the final destruction of everything Britpop ever claimed to love. All the glories of its precious 1960s; the idea of "youth culture" being something more than swank and competitive consumption."

...compared, of course, to Romo, which Taylor Parkes pushed unremittingly at Melody Maker, which released a specially archived / made up scene compilation, called "Fiddling While Romo Burns".

What? You don't remember Romo?! Well, yeah... neither does anyone else.

He should perhaps be glad that Romo wasn't blamed for destroying the glories of the '80s, or indulging in swank, over-produced, soulless consumption. Thankfully, it never had the chance.

If Britain had to lose a piece of its soul to the swirling turdfest of Blair, Brown, and Cameron, then perhaps wiser non-revisionist critics will come to the conclusion that it wasn't actually Blur's fault, which fought the good fight and went down swinging.
posted by markkraft at 5:23 PM on May 3


Perhaps if this had happened a little sooner.
posted by 4ster at 5:23 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I was about 20 when Parklife came out. A lot of what he is saying here captures the mood quite well. For example, music did become very apolitical in the mid 90s. But there were reasons for that - pop stars suggesting how people might like to vote had become a terrible cliche. Like, the idea that you could be successful in the music business while also really _caring_ about politics was pretty obviously untenable by then. As a counter-example, Chumbawumba did obviously care passionately about politics, and hence didn't get anywhere in the music business (except for one unlikely hit). The people who had strong feelings about politics in the mid 90s were organising things like Reclaim The Streets, or padlocking themselves to trees. They weren't trying to appear on Top of the Pops.

Also - it was always very obvious to everyone paying attention in the run up to the 1997 election that Tony Blair was no kind of traditional leftist. It was always very clear that he was moving Labour towards the centre and then some. Its just that a lot of people on the left seemed to be hoping beyoind hope that he was some sort of socialist trojan horse and once in power would veer back to the left. Of course he didn't, so there was a lot of unsurprised disappointment from some quarters. But Blair was about as clear as a politician can be about where he was heading.

Still, enjoyed the first half of the essay because it does capture certain feelings that were around at the time but that I couldn't quite grasp, like Parklife's strange cartoons of working class life. I havent read the second half yet.
posted by memebake at 5:34 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


All's I can tells you is, in the hellscape that was American music circa the early 90s, this stuff felt like... well, an oasis. (Not that Oasis was ever my favorite britpop band, but I just had dental work and right now I'm lazy and loopy enough to go for a mediocre pun.) Being stuck with Limp Biscuit and Kid Rock and Rage Against the Machine* made bands like Blur and Elastica seem like ambassadors from some whole other, better dimension. That stuff was new and exotic and exciting, while in the US we got grunge, which was mostly pretty OK, and years of utter swill on either side of it.

Jesus fuck, I hate 1991.



*Yes, I know you love them. Leave me alone.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:38 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Brit pop and grunge are still better than nickelback. It was basically the last moment that guitar music mattered.
posted by empath at 5:43 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


The correct answer to the question Oasis or Blur is always Pulp. Also, slagging off This is a Low? BURN THE HERETIC.

There's the kernel of a very good argument there, obscured by the ranting about Blur, who weren't really the problem, although they were the kind of tourists that Pulp talk about in Common People. The problem is this pathological nostalgia that all fortysomethings have about their youths that leads to stuff like the Britpop festival on the BBC.

Britpop was a reaction against both the previous bout of pathological nostalgia, which was our parents wanking on and on about the greatness of the sixties, and the music press's wholehearted 18-month declaration that everything British was shit in the wake of Nirvana, ignoring the fact that 95% of the American bands that Nirvana opened the door for were also absolutely terrible.

But there were some great things in Britpop. The music of Oasis was genuinely thrilling for a couple of albums there. The Manic Street Preachers made ferocious intelligence and loud guitars okay. Suede and Pulp were sublime on their day. Sleeper and Echobelly could be mocked but I'd argue that both made one great single and showed again that women were allowed to front proper rock bands. And there was heaps of interesting stuff going on before and around it -- the Bristol scene with Tricky, Portishead, Roni Size, Aphex Twin, Chemical Brothers etc...

And yes it was incestuous and silly and became allied to a government which ended up selling us all down the river to appease Bush and the bankers, but it felt good to be British for a short while there, before it all went cringeworthy and 'Cool Britannia'. It was good to feel hopeful that this was a new start, a new confidence to the country, with a new government and a new approach to solving problems, even though as memebake says, Blair was never any kind of leftwing hero. [I you can read it this FT article is an absolutely brilliant takedown]

In taking Britpop as his jumping off point, the author's trying to freight Blur and the Britpop scene with all those dashed political expectations, as if a pop band could do anything about that. As if a guitar could kill fascists.

Look at what we've got now -- The X Factor, Scottish nationalism threatening the union, David Cameron (which partly explains Scottish nationalism), the bedroom tax, awful autotuned eurohouse bollocks, the ineffectual parping of Ed Miliband, Twitter mobs, the arrest of the entirety of the 1970s for sexual misconduct, Jeremy Clarkson, Crocs, tax avoidance by companies with more money than god, and Ukip, the Waitrose BNP. No wonder we're fucking nostalgic.

And now it's time for someone to make a "Don't Look Back In Anger" joke.

:::waits expectantly:::
posted by finisterre at 5:43 PM on May 3 [33 favorites]


It's actually kind of refeshing to read an old guy ranting about how the music he used to listen to was actually kind of shit.
posted by empath at 5:53 PM on May 3 [12 favorites]


It was basically the last moment that guitar music mattered.

The Strokes would like a word with you. As would the White Stripes and the Black Keys.
posted by asterix at 6:05 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


All's I can tells you is, in the hellscape that was American music circa the early 90s, this stuff felt like... well, an oasis. (Not that Oasis was ever my favorite britpop band, but I just had dental work and right now I'm lazy and loopy enough to go for a mediocre pun.) Being stuck with Limp Biscuit and Kid Rock and Rage Against the Machine* made bands like Blur and Elastica seem like ambassadors from some whole other, better dimension. That stuff was new and exotic and exciting, while in the US we got grunge, which was mostly pretty OK, and years of utter swill on either side of it.

Hi there! Your years are maybe a little mixed up right now! None of this was really a thing in 1991! (except a little bit of Blur)
posted by furiousthought at 6:06 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


The Strokes would like a word with you. As would the White Stripes and the Black Keys.

Talk about damning with faint praise.
posted by Benjy at 6:30 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


I probably confused things by taking a swipe at 1991 in particular. 1991 was my own personal hell. To say Jesus Fuck, I hate the 90s would be painting with too broad a brush. 1994, for instance, was a vastly superior year for me than 1991.

I would say that the American music of the early 1990s was like having a hyena crap in your ear hole (seriously, just look at this garbage) and it got a bit better as the decade went on. We had some very good stuff like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, but in general it was a pretty foul decade and the little bits of Britpop that managed to make it over (pre-Internet!) really shined in comparison.

(After the week I've had, getting my dates mixed up doesn't score a ping on my give-a-fuck-ometer.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:33 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


It's actually kind of refeshing to read an old guy ranting about how the music he used to listen to was actually kind of shit.

Except he never liked this music and he just got an anniversary shot at the apple.
posted by bitdamaged at 6:34 PM on May 3


THe 90's turned their back on Jellyfish and got what they deserved.
posted by thelonius at 6:36 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Talk about damning with faint praise.

Your favorite band sucks too.
posted by asterix at 6:38 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Whatever you make of its cultural reverberations, Parklife was a great piece of music-making. Offhand I can't think of any album with so many inventive and effective facets since the White Album.

And Mr. Parkes agrees!
"'Badhead' ... unreservedly lovely...." Aha!
"'To The End' ... real ability, genuine possibilities...." Oho!
"'This Is A Low' is a very fine piece of music...." Hey ho!

(And I always imagined Magic America giving stick to Mall of America. Well-deserved stick.)

OTOH, I can no longer stomach a listen to OK Computer, which might have been commissioned by the pharmaceutical industry. It makes punk's most disaffected complaints seem like beery sunshine by comparison. If you'd like to gob that one, Taylor, ring me up.
posted by Twang at 6:38 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


(And yeah, Groove Is in the Heart and a couple of other legit classics are on that list of hits from 1991. But if you wanna tell me that that list isn't 95% crap, I'll have to assume you're really one of those They Live skull-face aliens.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:40 PM on May 3 [7 favorites]


He must have calluses after that little personal pearl clutch-fest. What twaddle.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:49 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I like to think of "Parklife" as the muzak version of "Institutionalized."
posted by Sys Rq at 6:51 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


The author doesn't claim Britpop could have stopped neoliberalism. He writes, "Britpop didn't make this happen, but it didn't do nothing. It did worse than nothing." Which seems fair enough.

I don't think it's outrageous to ask musicians to be sorta aware of the political context of the music they release, even if the content isn't explicitly political (although this is one of many reasons why hip hop was far more important than either grunge or Britpop). I enjoy Sufjan Stevens but as this n+1 article said, it was "precious, pastoral nationalism at the Bush Administration’s exact midpoint." Not exactly rightist agitprop, but still kinda gauche.
posted by gorbweaver at 6:52 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


worse than nothing, meaning, they celebrated the shallow neo-liberal culture, and let themselves be exploited as "Cool Britannia", things like that?
posted by thelonius at 6:58 PM on May 3


worse than nothing, meaning, they celebrated the shallow neo-liberal culture, and let themselves be exploited as "Cool Britannia", things like that?

Or it could be because Noel was up there trying to sweep Blair into power and then being caught in number 10 swigging champers with him.
posted by Talez at 7:02 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I don't have much of an opinion about the music, but even if he isn't one of us damn if Parkes didn't nail the anger we Reconstructionists feel about how things have turned out in the 21st century.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:06 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


What I'm saying is basically this: no, *his* favorite bands suck.
He bemoans the lack of "memorable singles" that could justifiably take their place on a "20 best" type compilation. And then suggests Velocette's 'Get Yourself Together' and 'CF Kane' by Delicatessen as overlooked classics worthy of inclusion.

So - I don't really think this is in contention.
posted by rongorongo at 7:34 PM on May 3


for those of you interested in Britpop, I suggest Phonogram, which was so incredibly inside baseball as to be almost completely inscrutable to me, but I suspect anyone more than passingly familiar with Britpop will enjoy.
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:46 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


I was just coming here to recommend Phonogram!
posted by atropos at 8:41 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


I still love Pulp and Elastica and singing "Don't Look Back In Anger" when drunk and Menswe@r's country album.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:53 PM on May 3


In 1995, I was 15 and went off to summer school in England, and Britpop changed my life. It was so much smarter and stranger than all the American crap, and I learned about zines and staying up late, and Rodney on the ROQ and all the things you had to seek and learn and do to get music from thousands of miles away — you know, back before Napster and iTunes. I met amazing people and saw amazing shows, and made friends in college cause I had Pulp stickers on my trunk. So I'm not British and I can't say I have great feelings on betrayal (being an American leftist is being in a perpetual state of betrayal and disgust), but Britpop still changed my life and this dude can go fuck himself.
posted by dame at 11:14 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


one song by Blur

Do recall that was a deliberate parody of grunge. As punishment, the world made it Blur's biggest hit.

The correct answer to the question Oasis or Blur is always Pulp.

Hear, hear.
posted by dhartung at 11:37 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


This guy sounds like the insufferable prick I once met at a house party who told several people over the course of the evening that he had "objectively better taste than them in music."

Sometimes people like to get drunk and sing along with dopey "anthems" with their mates. Some of brit-pop spoke to that, and that's ok. Not every kid with a guitar has to craft brutal takedowns of the establishment with their cutting-edge lyrics.
posted by modernnomad at 11:40 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


>Britpop still changed my life and this dude can go fuck himself.

So in 1994 I was a British 12 year old who'd just learned two things: the word "suburban" and that I didn't want to be it.

I guzzled down guitar bands and pretty terrible Britpop. It was a little embarrassing now I look back, agonising on a Saturday afternoon about whether to spend my £12.99 on a skinny Supergrass teeshirt or the new Pulp album (Different Class). I dreamed of living in London and drinking coffee at Bar Italia at 4am.

For a lot of us we knew the music was commercial, exploitative and pre-packaged. We loved it anyway. Just like very single sodding generation before us did with the latest alt-trendy music. The bands had a slight anti-establishment edge, of course, which made it more alluring.

I think the writer wanted that challenging, serious edge to be more powerful in Britpop, and wishes that Blur et al had been less hollow. Or at least that the bands had resisted the political co-opting of their images to win over the yoof.

So what if they had? They would have been marginalised like most overtly political acts (cf Chumbawumba). The writer seems to have a heavy dose of 'Everything was better before X, and X ruined everything'. The 90s were not a tainted, last gasp of British pride and home-grown musical talent. If people are more alienated now and music isn't political in the 'right' way, it's not the fault of Britpop encouraging cynical commercialism. Britpop just rode the wave.

The next time there's a big British influence in popular music, I'm sure this writer will be here to tell us it was better when the 90s did it.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 12:46 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


What a rambling idiot. He describes song after song by Blur as 'lovely' or 'fine' or similar while supposedly trashing them for eternity with breathless word salad and italics and swearing.

Blur's only responsibility to their audience is to make songs that are lovely and fine. There is no other responsibility, either then or now. If you can't understand how music achieves its effects then you can either educate yourself, or enjoy it uncritically, or... become a music journalist and write nonsense about it!
posted by colie at 2:07 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


Wow, that was tedious. Parkes is the written equivalent of an Oasis album, all bombast, bluster and repetition, with absolutely no style or substance. All those words, and nothing interesting or important to say.

Like a pub bore or someone who has had a bit too much speed, they mistake verbosity for eloquence. Tosser.
posted by epo at 2:36 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


en forme de poire - I'm convinced that the Criminal Justice Bill did more good than harm for electronic music, and in the long run will be seen as an important epoch. Several artists active around that time released protest tunes, but if you look at their work pre/post CJB you see a clear move from the acid-house/rave/happy-hardcore style to music you can actually listen to and enjoy without having to be pilled-up and gurning in a field somewhere at 4am in the morning.
posted by lawrencium at 2:51 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


For example, music did become very apolitical in the mid 90s.

Apart from all the crusty punk and other political bands clapped out NME hacks like, erm, Taylor Parkes spent most of the nineties slagging off.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:04 AM on May 4


It seems to me that maybe there was a period in history when music could be a galvanising force in politics; when a teenage statement like men growing their hair long or women shoving safety pins through their hooters was enough to make the whole system shiver with horror. That period's called "The Distant Past" and in all likelihood, any attempt to recreate it is going to be buried under a thousand pop-culture printed lunchboxes and ironic T-shirts before you can say "iTunes".
Flying Rodent's take on both Britpop nostalgia and Parkes' essay.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:13 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


If you read 1/2 way through a music essay and the writer hasn't mentioned or analyzed anything about the music once you can safely assume they have nothing of importance to say.

Britpop updated late 60s psychedelia, often combining it with dance music. Sometimes it advanced, sometimes it retreated.

I would love to read a thoughtful essay about Britpop's musical ambitions and missteps, but this is just petulant (albeit well-written) gossip, the mere reverse of panting NME nostalgic effluvia.

Music is the thing that goes in your ears. Everything else, the politics, the clothes, the magazine covers, is at most an addendum and at worst an utter distraction.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:30 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


However if he wants everyone to agree that the music made in the latter half of the 90s was a shitty, ersatz copy of the music made in the early part of the 90s, across all genres and almost without exception, I think all ethical human beings can come together for that group bludgeoning.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:34 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


It's actually kind of refreshing to read an old guy ranting about how the music he used to listen to was actually kind of shit.

Parkes was born in 1958 - the pop music around him when he was young was that of late 60s and early 70s. He was in his late teens when punk arrived in earnest. He was 36 when Parklife hit the record shops - already an old man in pop music terms. I read the essay more in terms of "I thought it was shit at the time and I haven't changed my opinion one iota".
posted by rongorongo at 5:43 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


The correct answer to the question Oasis or Blur is always Pulp.

Indeed. Common People pretty much single-handedly justified that entire half-decade or so of music in my mind.
posted by peteyjlawson at 6:25 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


Ah, gosh, I remember being young in the early 90s. Back when it seemed like good music criticism was about finding ways to connect bands you hate with politics you hate, and then paper over the cracks with one-liners. Life seemed simpler then.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:36 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


This is why Kula Shaker had to invent post-Britpop (cue Hannibal Lecter quoting
Marcus Aurelius).
posted by Chitownfats at 8:10 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Music is the thing that goes in your ears. Everything else, the politics, the clothes, the magazine covers, is at most an addendum and at worst an utter distraction.

This is kind of true, but it doesn't tell the whole story about why people buy music. The distraction stuff gets culturally baked into the music by a certain type of clueless but necessary journalism (of which this article is a prime example), and this explains why people wake up ten years later and realise they have no idea why they bought albums by Haim and Kings of Leon and similar bands that try their best but can only produce music-like objects.
posted by colie at 8:31 AM on May 4


A whole lot of anger directed at Blur for having the nerve to release an album with only a few excellent tracks...
posted by the christopher hundreds at 8:33 AM on May 4


The correct answer to the question Oasis or Blur is always Pulp.

I'd argue that the correct is answer is seriously, who gives a shit about a chart battle? Damon has repeatedly said he's embarrassed about the whole thing (namely giving a shit himself at the time), as has Noel. It was nonsense and always was, and had little do with music.

People like or dislike music for all sorts of reasons, including the lack of politics in the lyrics or too much politics in the lyrics. It's too bad the music itself is often not the primary focus of music criticism (the same thing happens in "literary" criticism, which often ignore the literary aspects of the work and concentrates on authorial criticism, Marxism, Feminism, and soon Tea Partyism, etc.) I remember reading an article that basically dismissed science fiction as nonsense because by god it wasn't romance!

This article is complete nonsense and seemingly fueled by childish outrage.
posted by juiceCake at 8:42 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


In the early 1990s Blur played the Kilburn National, supported by the reformed Wire (or the reformed deformed Wire, since drummer Robert Gotobed had recently left along with their letter 'e' so they were now named 'Wir'). It wasn't yet clear how much of a debt Blur owed to Wire, they hadn't yet released 'Song 2' as a homage to Wire's 'Song 1' and Elastica hadn't ripped off 'Three Girl Rhumba' so egregiously that m'learned friends had to get involved, but still, there was a debt. And it felt good, the young guys acknowledging the importance and influence of the previous generation on what they were doing.

Wire/Wir had just released The First Letter, an album of remarkable power and invention. They played tracks from it and their previous two albums. They did not play anything from their first three albums from the 1970s--at the time they never did.

The Blur fans booed, heckled and threw things throughout the set and didn't applaud at the end. I left before Blur came on, and that was the last time I had the slightest interest in Britpop.
posted by Hogshead at 10:06 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Oasis has, like, one song. Lord knows how they released albums.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:17 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Oh jebus. I can't read this shitty article past the opening paragraph.

Blaming "greybeards" for ruining everything and being so obviously wrong? Fucking weak sauce. Give me a break. All music sucks some of the time.

Pretending that a particular thing that happened for 5 minutes when someone was in their fucking 20s is good, bad, or indifferent is just dumb.

It's about the culture, stupid.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:25 AM on May 4


Britpop - well Blur and Oasis - celebrated and reinforced the then re-emergent reactionary lad culture, and for that it can burn in hell.
posted by Summer at 11:32 AM on May 4


[sorry, but this got fucking long ...]

While there’s some risk of a baby/bathwater situation with reactions to Taylor Parkes’ essay, in that there’s a nugget of a genuine point buried underneath all the bluster, I remember reading Parkes’ early 90s writing in the Melody Maker, when I was a young and impressionable teenager. And though on the one hand it fulfilled a genuine need – here was someone as jaded and sarcastic and dismissive as I wished I could be at the time, because I was a snotty 16 year old prick – the fact that at the time, he was the age that I am now, and that he’s still peddling the same schtick 20 years on, makes me think that he’s no less nostalgic for a perceived golden era than all those bands he spends some 10,000 words pissing and moaning about. (Though he does get points for the line that Oasis were the worst misunderstanding of The Beatles since Charlie Manson. And Sleeper were fucking terrible.)

Colie wrote above that “Blur's only responsibility to their audience is to make songs that are lovely and fine. There is no other responsibility, either then or now” which is true, as far as it goes. And I have a lot more time for Blur than Parkes does.

Parklife is a fine album in many ways but there are tracks on it which rub me the wrong way, and they’re mostly the ones which are capsule character studies which appear to be mocking the working classes’ lives as they have lived them, as seen from the point of view of Albarn, a midde class son of arty professionals. The alternately slashing and choppy guitar lines of Girls & Boys, not to mention Alex James’ rubbery, carrying-the-melody bassline – which in combination are Boosty Collins by way of Dr Feelgood and Gang of Four - are brilliant, propulsive, thrilling. Albarn’s lyrics less so; they’re all about laughing at 18-30 manual workers shagging in the sun, and how tawdry the whole thing inevitably is.

And on the same album as To The End, a lovely attempt at Jacques Brel continental sophistication which the band later recorded a French version of with Franciose Hardy, and This Is A Low, with its invocation of hushed late night Radio 4 listening, through quoting regions from the shipping forecast, you have dross which essentially treats various tropes of working class English life – going to the dogs at Walthamstow; bank holiday piss-ups – as little more than tableaux upon which the much more sophisticated Albarn can spew some comedic (honest guv, we’re just joking) bile. Everybody hates a tourist, after all, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.

Specific gripes about Parklife aside, though, I think that there’s value in looking at how particular cultural objects which, on their own, are simply a manifestation of their creators’ intents, can accrete with consequences unintended by their creators, but exploited by others, into a cultural shift, and I think that this is, imperfectly (to put it mildly) what Parkes, in his own ham-fisted and bizzarely rose-tinted way, is attempting to get at.

He pretty much ignores all the other revolutions in UK music between (to pick a couple of not quite arbitrary years) 1992 and 1998 – the transformation of British dance music which though he completely fails to mention it, occupied the upper reaches of the UK charts at least as much, if not more so than Britpop in the period he’s writing about, being the prime example.

He doesn’t even mention Massive Attack, Tricky or Portishead, all of whom were being treated as at least as significant as Blur and Oasis by the music weeklies, in terms of artistic quality if not sales. He totally ignores drum and bass, despite Goldie hitting the top 20 in 1995. House music had been a massive chart influence for years at this point, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley having had a UK number one way back in 1987 with Jack Your Body, and by the early to mid 1990s you had The Prodigy, exiting rave at warp speed with the likes of No Good (Start The Dance); Atlantic Ocean’s Waterfall, a brilliant bit of bubblegum techno which was a top ten hit in the summer of ’94, to Underworld’s Born Slippy being a Trainspotting-related hit in the summer of 1996. This is before we even get into the massive commercialisation that house underwent in the mid 1990s with the superclub era of Cream, Ministry of Sound and Gatecrasher, whose mix compilations pretty much comfortably outsold everything but Oasis and Blur in the album charts.

That said, Born Slippy fitted in with the laddish culture of the times, and this, I think, is something that though Parkes mentions it, he underplays. If Britpop as a musical movement was retrograde and with a few execptions musically moribund, the all-lads-together atmosphere that its worst aspects sprang from, which also gave birth to Loaded and the horrible idea of the new lad, are with us still, in the tits-everywhere Zoo and (RIP) Nuts magazines. Now of course, if you’d asked Damon Albarn, back in late 1993, if his ultimate aim was for a publishing magnate 20 years in the future to make a fortune from young, ambitious women getting their tits out for the lads, he’d have said no. (Though if he was being interviewed for Loaded, he might have said yes, with the get out clause that since it was for Loaded, he was being ironic.)

But various aspects of British culture which occurred at the same time as, which influenced, and were influenced by, Britpop and how it was treated by the mainstream media, are some of the reasons why we’re where we are now. This doesn’t mean Taylor Parkes was right – even back in the 1990s he was in “Old Man Yells At Cloud” territory, and that goes double for this essay – but like I said way up there, there’s a nugget of truth in his analysis. It’s just that he’s (i) too myopic and (ii) too convinced of the utter righteousness of his opinions (man) to see it.

In conclusion, Britpop is a land of contrasts but I think we can all agree that Shed Seven were shit.
posted by Len at 12:36 PM on May 4 [17 favorites]


For the record- a selection of albums released in 1991:

Gang Starr- Step In the Arena
The KLF- The White Room
R.E.M- Out of Time
Slint- Spiderland
Sepultura- Arise
The Orb- The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld
Cannibal Corpse- Butchered At Birth
Massive Attack- Blue Lines
Pearl Jam- Ten
Hole- Pretty on the Inside
Uncle Tupelo- Still Feel Gone
Primal Scream- Screamadelica
A Tribe Called Quest- Low End Theory
Nirvana- Nevermind
Soundgarden- Badmotorfinger
Black Sheep- A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Orbital- Orbital
The Magnetic Fields- Distant Plastic Trees
Bikini Kill- Revolution Girl Style Now!



On the other hand, Spin Doctors released Pocket Full Of Kryptonite that year, so I'd probably call it a wash.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:27 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


frowner: That's precisely it, I remember those very years. Those felt like good years. It really did feel like a good time.

It must have been pretty different in Britain. Up through the mid-90s, the US had a depressed job market, and I suppose there were folks over here doing a lot of coke and making a ton of bucks on music, but I don't know who they were.
posted by lodurr at 1:40 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I'm just surprised how old Taylor Parkes is. I read MM in the mid-90s, and I assumed he was some gobby 20yr old - I'm really shocked to find out he was actually in his 40s then, and not in a good way.

People defending Britpop do seem to be retrospectively sweeping loads of bands that were not part of Britpop into the scene though. I couldn't stand Britpop at the time (Cast, Shed Seven, etc were really lumpen and boring at the time, and they haven't improved with age. It was the musicical accompaniment for men who stood outside pubs in the afternoon and shouted stuff about your tits). It's weird to see people including Roni Size, Bjork, Massive Attack and Radiohead, because these were just not part of Britpop. British music was indeed exciting and creative in the 90s, but Britpop was the dull 60s guitarpop revival created specifically to push back against all of this exciting new music. People said as much in interviews: "we're a real band with real instruments playing real songs not like that electronic music where you just press a button and a song comes out" was such a cliche then that even the music press took the piss out of it.

(And yes I expect Britain was pretty different in the 90s compared to the US - we'd just invented raves and ecstasy. That's why it felt great. Nothing to do with the economy, everything to do with lots of people taking pills for the first time. It really did change the culture, even for those people who didn't take drugs themselves - the frames of reference changed.)
posted by tinkletown at 2:10 PM on May 4


Ooh, ooh! Now do American music in the 90's. Like, is there some way that we can blame Mark McGrath for the Clintonian triumph of the neo-liberal consensus? I think we have to, I mean, look at that guy. And what about Smashmouth? WHAT ABOUT SMASHMOUTH?

Pop was king throughout most of the mid to late 90's.. Spice Girls, Madonna, R&B, all the boy bands, christ remember Celine Dion? Anyway, it is a pattern repeated throughout rock history that when pop is dominating the charts, the popular rock music of that same period of time tends to suck be rather forgettable, as evidenced on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1990s (though I'd say this trend manifested itself a few years later in the US than it did in the UK). Britpop, and whatever you call its American counterpart, was lighter, poppier, disposable, populated by one hit wonders and acts whose names might pop into your head once in awhile and you're like "why who cares?". Fastball, Tonic, Gin Blossoms, Blessed Union of Souls. Bands that had a catchy single or two, but no staying power, and a sound largely dependent on its pop influences.

Rock, in its heavier incarnation, rebounded in popularity around the turn of the century, when "rap-metal" became A Thing, but I wouldn't exactly call that a step forward either.

posted by wats at 3:31 PM on May 4


For the record- a selection of albums released in 1991

In other words, pre-Internet, there was some interesting stuff going on in 1991, but even fringe-y misfit types like me didn't hear about most of it until 1992 at the soonest. If you were a young weirdo in 1991 you read about cool stuff in Ben is Dead and wished you lived in a town where anything happened. When you turned on the radio in 1991, as we still did in those days, what you heard was the astonishingly crappy stuff in my previous link. If anything interesting came along, ever, you glommed onto it and wept with gratitude.

I was there. I know.

I've heard it said before that Britpop propped up "lad" culture in the UK. I don't know about any of that really, but in the US these smart, sarcastic, skinny boys singing about girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls (etc.) read as gender-bendy and kind of awesome.

Really, I cannot overstate how much America sucked in 1991. Long Beach, CA in particular.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:49 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


On paper Oasis were awful and lumpen. But they had, in Liam, probably the best rock voice of the last 25 years, an awe inspiring airborne rasp. Whereas Damon has very little tonal interest, range, depth or projection.
posted by colie at 12:45 AM on May 5


...because it isn't metal
posted by Renoroc at 3:21 AM on May 5


Metal?
posted by colie at 4:08 AM on May 5


On paper Oasis were awful and lumpen. But they had, in Liam, probably the best rock voice of the last 25 years, an awe inspiring airborne rasp.

Being American, I can't relate to the cultural aspects of Britpop or Oasis in general. But hell, I thought Oasis rocked - in a totally derivative manner, of course, Noel ripped off everything and everybody. But shit. Harmonies? Overdriven guitars playing pop songs? Yes I'll have some more please. Sure, it's be great to get that with a side of intelligence and originality. But for those who like the sound of the Beatles/the mid-'60s guitar pop, there aren't too many options that don't stray into twee/lyrical obscurity/overly derivative territory.

And no love for Dodgy, eh? Are they even considered Britpop by Brits? I thought "Free Peace Sweet" was a fantastic album.
posted by kgasmart at 7:22 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I too find it hard to understand how Blur's gender-bendy hit could be seen as an expression of lad culture. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just the usual poptimist attempt to steal bases by asserting that anyone who prefers Let It Be to Like A Virgin is a homophobe.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:42 AM on May 5


Blur did 'lad' as just another experiment in style whereas Oasis were the real thing.

Ironically this bestowed upon Oasis the conviction and substance that Blur had pursued. Despite the former's bad music.

Syd Barrett could have told Damon that to last forever in pop you really do have to mean it a bit. Not just an experiment.
posted by colie at 9:10 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Parklife is a fine album in many ways but there are tracks on it which rub me the wrong way, and they’re mostly the ones which are capsule character studies which appear to be mocking the working classes’ lives as they have lived them, as seen from the point of view of Albarn, a midde class son of arty professionals.

This is completely opposite to how I've taken the songs. Not mocking whatsoever, just a comment on being trapped in the modern world. There's a direct line from the Kinks to Blur in this respect.

Syd Barrett could have told Damon that to last forever in pop you really do have to mean it a bit. Not just an experiment.

Or get better and better and manage to make music that people listen to for over 2 decades. Syd Barret an an example of lasting forever in pop is one of the more bizarre things I've ever seen.
posted by juiceCake at 9:42 AM on May 5 [2 favorites]


People will be thinking about Syd long after Albarn has released his 20th opera.
posted by colie at 9:45 AM on May 5


Britpop? I have two words for you - Shed Seven. Remember them? My god they were shit. And the NME put them on the front cover!

So while all this incredible music was happening, the British music press got(?) incredibly myopic and ignored it, favouring us instead with these tossers, whilst waiting for the Stone Roses to finish their second album.

My main memory of Britpop is drunken Englishman singing those fucking Oasis songs over and over and over and over again.
posted by awfurby at 8:07 PM on May 5


People will be thinking about Syd long after Albarn has released his 20th opera.

Sure, and people will be thinking of Albarn as well, more than Syd for sure, who sadly, is yet another person who wasted his talent.

My god they were shit. And the NME put them on the front cover!

Well it is the NME so...
posted by juiceCake at 9:08 PM on May 5


And on the same album as To The End, a lovely attempt at Jacques Brel continental sophistication which the band later recorded a French version of with Franciose Hardy

Which deserves a listen if, like me, you had never heard of it.
posted by rongorongo at 1:52 AM on May 6


Criminal Justice Bill did more good than harm for electronic music
It meant a number of people were incarcerated, fined or otherwise persecuted for nothing more than having a party. The right to silence was removed and stop and search became easier (which is an almost direct line to the 2011 riots). It brought about the dreary superclubs and ludicrously overpaid DJs that we have to this day, other than that I didn't see any impact on electronic music. The shift away from having fun to being cool and not breaking into a sweat on the dancefloor detracted from the atmosphere. It became all about who you knew, dress codes, designer labels and VIP areas. Thousands of pointless house remixes of mainstream songs with the same aim as Hollywood remakes.
The underground continues to exist, the happy hardcore aesthetic re-emerges regularly in different guises. The loved up silly rave vibe continues to exist. The stripped down techno core still exists. Etc. Etc. That is in spite of the CJB. I am having trouble thinking of any artist that made more interesting music because of the CJB, but I can think of a tidal wave of corporate club pabulum that bore a few people good fortune and suffocated many others. Ground everything down and knocked all the edges off.
The Shamen put a track into the top ten with the chorus 'E's are good' that you would hear in the chippy, cheeky bastards. It's almost like they actually scared someone.
posted by asok at 4:02 PM on May 6


"He pretty much ignores all the other revolutions in UK music between (to pick a couple of not quite arbitrary years) 1992 and 1998 – the transformation of British dance music which though he completely fails to mention it, occupied the upper reaches of the UK charts at least as much, if not more so than Britpop in the period he’s writing about, being the prime example. "

While I'm glad that at least a few folks here have actually read the article before going into reflexive paroxysms because it shits on something they loved when they were 12, one of Parkes' implications within that essay was that dance music (etc.) was actually vital and interesting in that era, but that Britpop overshadowed it as an identity/movement/trope. Beyond that, a failure to mention the things that were not Britpop but were contemporary and better is not necessarily a problem for an article slagging Britpop.

And honestly, I think he supports his central thesis pretty well, that by reviving British '60s pop tropes without the broader context, they were largely neutered and that had broader, negative implications that should be a part of the discussion of Britpop.

I was a little surprised to not see him mention the second Supergrass album, We're In It For The Money, which was pretty apt then and now.
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: While I'm glad that at least a few folks here have actually read the article before going into reflexive paroxysms because it shits on something they loved when they were 12, one of Parkes' implications within that essay was that dance music (etc.) was actually vital and interesting in that era, but that Britpop overshadowed it as an identity/movement/trope. Beyond that, a failure to mention the things that were not Britpop but were contemporary and better is not necessarily a problem for an article slagging Britpop.

And honestly, I think he supports his central thesis pretty well, that by reviving British '60s pop tropes without the broader context, they were largely neutered and that had broader, negative implications that should be a part of the discussion of Britpop.


Yeah, he mentions in passing that there was plenty of other stuff that he says was ignored or overshadowed - and in the sense that much of it received less coverage than Britpop at the time, he's right - but it's not like this stuff wasn't covered at all, especially by the Melody Maker, which Parkes wrote for at the time and which was always the more adventurous in what it was willing to cover of the two music weeklies in comparison with the NME. Depressingly, he was also right that putting a black face or faces on the cover would result in a drop in sales that week. Even more depressingly, it's not any different 20 years on.

The feeling I got from the essay was that, although he hated Britpop at the time and hates it (perhaps even more) now, he's more irked by its celebration, 20 years after the fact, as some high point of British music, and while that is definitely an argument I can get behind, it's not one he made with any conviction in the essay. I mean, in the same timeframe that he's writing about, while MM and NME were boosting various awful Britpop wannabes, they were also writing extensively about Cornershop, Stereolab, Mogwai, Mouse on Mars, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Flying Saucer Attack, Pavement, Rocket From The Crypt, Smog, and a whole host of others.

The first music that I really got into was the Roses/Mondays Madchester thing in 89/90 when I was 12 going on 13, and by '92 I was a fully paid-up member of the "if I can't order it direct as a 7" from some obscure American indie label then I'm not interested" massive*. With the exception of Pulp, I can pretty much take or leave (and it's almost exclusively leave) the majority of the acts who fall under the Britpop rubric. But I wonder what a movement (even one manufactured by the music press) would look like that both aped British '60s pop tropes and incorporated the broader (social?) context of the time would look like. British culture changed so drastically between, say, 1965 and 1995 that I'm not sure that such a movement would have taken off like Britpop did that brought in those issues, because outside of very broad-to-the-point-of-meaningless contextual issues, things were so different. I mean there are no exact equivalences, to put it mildly, but imagine that in the mid 90s US charts there was some sort of psychedelia revival that aped the music of '67 SF and completely ignored the social context, and resulted in new bands selling records by the truckload, changing the mainstream as it did so. What would the 20-years-on cultural recollections of that look like? Would that ever have taken off as a movement if the social/political context of '67 SF was a key part of it?

And this, I think, is what has Parkes' dander up: not the mostly-awful crap that was promoted as the future 20 years ago, although that's part of it, but the fact that its celebration is a de facto erasure of what was genuinely great and thrilling at the time. I'd like to have seen him advance a point more along these lines, because that's a genuine problem; all that great stuff wasn't ignored at the time (even if it was less-puffed than a new Menswear single), but the historical narrative misses it out in favour of arguing that Sleeper's third single was some kind of paradigm shift.

Of course, much of the reasoning for the Britpop at 20 stuff is driven by the fact that plenty of people who are now in charge of various cultural institutions - papers, magazines, the BBC - were young thrusting 20-somethings back in the mid 1990s, so it's understandable that they want to valorise the glory days of their youth, no matter how boring it is for the rest of us, but so it goes.



*Back in 1992 I sent a letter to Simple Machines records, run by Tsunami, with a money order for a couple of singles, and they sent me the singles, along with a handwritten note asking if I could be the promoter should they want to put on a gig or two in North-east Scotland. I had to write back, respectfully declining, since I was 15 and still at school.
posted by Len at 2:19 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


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