The 8 Ball 5.24.14: Top 8 Britpop Albums
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 05.24.2014
From Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? and Blur's Parklife to Elastica's self-titled album, The Verve's Urban Hymns and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Britpop albums of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
Before you start reading, have you bookmarked 411Mania.com yet? It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and it'll get you your daily dose of entertainment news that much quicker! Typing the URL out in the address bar is such a pain, don'tcha think? Hell, make it your home page and it'll be that much easier for you!
Top 8 Britpop Albums
It's time once again for the 411 Music Zone 8 Ball! Welcome ladies and gentlemen; Jeremy Thomas here as always. The shadow of Britpop has been heavy over the music industry as of late, with post-Britpop act Coldplay hitting the charts in a major way thanks to their new album Ghost Stories while Blur's Damon Albarn released his first solo LP a few weeks back and Oasis and Blur's famous rivalry albums hit twenty years old this year. Britpop is a genre that came on strong and then for the most part burned out quickly but left their English sensibility as a legacy to the alt-rock scene. This week we're going to be looking at the best albums within the genre proper.
Caveat: First let's define exactly what "Britpop" means; despite its title the genre is not a pop genre as much as it's a rock genre. Britpop grew out of the alt-rock movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s and was characterized by melding that sound with heavy influenced of British pop-rock from the 1960s and 1970s. The genre was strongest in the early-to-mid 1990s and while there have been many groups since which were heavily influenced by the sound, they aren't truly Britpop in the true definition so the first and second-wave acts are where I focused myself. So no Coldplay, no Travis, no Stereophonics. And while Radiohead's The Bends is definitely a Britpop-style LP, their work after that veered away from that sound--which, incidentally, helped them survive and prosper in the years that followed.
Just Missing The Cut
• Supergrass - I Should Coco (1995)
• Blur - Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)
• Oasis - Definitely Maybe (1994)
• The La's - The La's (1990)
• Gene - Olympian (1995)
#8: Manic Street Preachers - Everything Must Go (1996)
First on our list is an album from a group who certainly didn't aim to join the Britpop movement, but it didn't stop them from creating a great album that fit firmly into the genre. The band, which began with much more of a punk influence, found themselves at a crossroads after rhythm guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards permanently vanished in early 1995 on the day that a flight to the US for a promotional tour took place. The band considered dissolving in the aftermath, but decided to stay together as a threesome. Their next album was Everything Must Go, an LP that saw a major stylistic change and fit firmly within the Britpop spirit. It quickly became (and has remained) lauded as one of the defining albums of the era and one of the true greats of British music. The LP doesn't completely leave behind the band's previous sound; rather, it takes that sound and embellishes it with far more instrumentation and a shift of lyrical content toward the political themes that were dominant within the genre at the time. It became a landmark album for the genre and firmly established a new era for the group.
#7: Kula Shaker - K (1996)
Kula Shaker was an interesting anomaly within Britpop. The London-based band came around toward the end of the genre's first wave, when bands were just starting to try and move away from being labeled the term. The group was a different side to Britpop, focusing more on the psychedelic elements of 1960s British invasion while weaving in some strong doses of Indian mysticism and instrumentation. K was their debut album under the band name and gave the genre a shot in the arm with powerful tracks such as "Govinda" and "Tattva." There's some debate as to whether the band even qualifies within Britpop but for my money they fit perfectly within the genre's influences and you can't deny the impact that they had on the genre, helping to lay the foundation for the second wave of Britpop. K is a captivating album that takes you on a ride and doesn't let go until last track has faded.
#6: The Verve - Urban Hymns (1997)
The Verve is one of the acts who most visibly brought Britpop to prominence outside of the UK itself. There were few songs as predominant on radio as "Bittersweet Symphony," a great piece of music that was played absolutely anywhere you turned until the opening chords made you sick to even hear. But there's more than just that one song on Urban Hymns, which was the band's third album. Urban Hymns almost never got made; in July of 1996 the band broke up due to internal struggles and while three of the band members reunited weeks later, it wasn't until Richard Ashcroft got Nick McCabe to return in early 1997 that the band was complete again. The album was done by early summer and it remains the group's best work...partially because they broke up again soon after it. Ashcroft has nearly unmatched skill among his generation as a lyricist and Urban Hymns is full of amazing songs. This was one of those watershed albums that marked a turning point not only for Britpop, but for alternative rock in general as it became impossible to deny the Britpop movement and its sound became more and more incorporated into the larger genre. The Verve reunited in 2007 and released a fourth album that was decent, but Urban Hymns will always be their high point as a group.
#5: Oasis - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Here's where it gets a bit tricky for me. I've made no secret of my opinion that Oasis is an over-celebrated band. The group was undoubtedly one of the leading voices of the movement, but they are massively overly praised these days and they have gotten by more on the infamous feud between Noel and Liam Gallagher than their music at this point. That being said, even with my disdain for the group's reputation I have to acknowledge how important they were for the Britpop scene and (What's The Story) Morning Glory? is a deeply important album for the genre. You can't say much that is positive about the band's pretension, but when they were on they were really, really on. That's what you get in Morning Glory, which planted the band firmly in a dominating position on US soil with tracks like "Wonderwall" and "Champagne Supernova." While others consider Definitely Maybe the better album, this is Noel's best work as a songwriter and sonically it just plays great. It's also a more cohesive album overall and yet doesn't lose any power in terms of its singles. There's a damned good reason why people are still clamoring for a reunion despite the fact that the group is dead and gone and it's not just so we can see Liam hit Noel with a tambourine again.
#4: Elastica - Elastica (1995)
Like most genres of rock, Britpop was largely a man's game. But that didn't stop Elastica from making their mark. The Justine Frischmann-fronted group formed after she and Justin Welch left Suede and decided to form their own band, recruiting bassist Annie Holland and guitarist Donna Matthews. Their first, self-titled album showed off Britpop's more abrasive, garage rock/punk-oriented side and became a success both in the UK and the US. The single "Connection" will always be the track that listeners identify them with most strongly and became ubiquitous on college radio, not to mention its use in several TV shows. But that's far from the only great track on the album; "Stutter" made for a bad-ass rock number while "Waking Up" captured more of the traditional Britpop sound and themes without losing what made Elastica what they were. The group did well in their own little corner of the Britpop scene and while their second album was too little, too late this is one of the great LPs of British independent rock.
#3: Suede - Suede (1993)
Next on our list is one that more or less kicked off the era of Britpop. Suede isn't the best-known of the Britpop bands, but they were incredibly impactful for the genre by mixing British glam rock with the alt-rock elements that were becoming prevalent at the time. Their self-titled debut album inserted some heavy Bowie-esque notions into the sound that was becoming popular at the time and frontman Brett Anderson delivered some fantastic vocal work to combine with the expansive instrumentals from guitarist Bernard Butler and the rest of the band. With tracks like "So Young," "Animal Nitrate" and "The Drowners" propelling them to the top of the UK charts, Suede delivered an experience that influenced many of the nascent sounds of the genre and just about every Britpop band that has followed in their wake. The group delivered one more excellent album in Dog Man Star before Butler left the band and were never the same after, leaving this to stand as their true legacy.
#2: Blur - Parklife (1994)
Blur or Oasis? That's the common question when asking about your Britpop sensibilities, and the question is akin to the Beatles/Rolling Stones debate or even the Marvel/DC debate for comic book and movie fanboys in how it divided people. No groups were as closely identified with the genre as those two and while everyone has their opinions, for my money Blur was the better overall band. Parklife was a fantastic piece of music that took the rapidly-growing Britpop movement and shoved it right into the forefront. It's hard to believe that it's been twenty years since this album's release and in that time Damon Albarn has gone onto several other projects, including his first solo album earlier this year. It's fair to say that this is his best work amongst all his various groups. "Girls & Boys" has a catchiness that absolutely can't be denied and yet it's hugely well-written to boot. It's a musically-diverse record and veers from snarky to morose without ever seeming like it's a discordant shift. "End of a Century" wears its Beatles influences on its sleeves but doesn't sound derivative while the smooth, lounge-y quality of "To The End" sweeps you away. This was very nearly the height of Britpop quality right here.
#1: Pulp - Different Class (1995)
While Blur is the best band of the Britpop genre, there is one act who made a better album than them and that's Pulp. Different Class is well-named, because it is in a class all its own. This album delivered some of the most pointed social commentary of the scene, but it did so in such a clever way that you couldn't dare call it pretentious. Just listen to "Common People," a really brilliant song that captured the resentment of the British class structure in a way that hadn't been done before. The album is backed from top to bottom with great music and while it never quite made a splash outside of the UK, it represents the pinnacle of what was capable within Britpop. Jarvis Cocker's lyrical work was sublime and he is one hell of a vocalist to boot. It's as close to a perfect Britpop album as it gets and whether you're bopping along to the dance-like "Disco 2000" or being inspired by the anthemic quality of "Mis-Shapes," it's really hard not to be swept away by this what is essentially the genre's single-greatest achievement.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
For this week's Music Video A-Go-Go, we're going with the video that first introduced me (and many other Americans) to the Britpop sound: Oasis' "Wonderwall." Check it out below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.