Twenty years ago today–April 25, 1994–is the day I consider to be the birthday of Britpop. A new record called Parklife appeared in stores from a band called Blur, a group that had seen a little success as a post-Manchester baggy-ish band a few years later. At the Anglo-centric club night I used to host, the kids were already nuts over the first single “Girls & Boys” and you could somehow feel that this was going to be a very, very important record.
And it was. Parklife was Damon Albarn’s anti-imperialist manifesto. He made a conscious decision to drive out the Yanks and their grunge by bringing old Blighty back into the mix. Rule Britannia and all that. Celebrate the Empire and its vast musical history. Songs about Britain for Britain.
It worked. For the next three years, we were awash in Britpop. Oasis. Elastica. Pulp. Suede. Cast. Boo Radleys. Menswe@r. (Okay, maybe not them.) But even the secondary bands–Gene, Echobelly, Dodgy, Marion, et al–had their moments.
Between what was coming out of the UK, the emerging punk rock revival in the US, the still-strong Lollapalooza cadre of bands and the remnants of grunge, it was a helluva good time to be an alt-rock fan. It seemed that every week we were blessed with some cool new song, band or album.
For me, Britpop was awesome. I loved the cheekiness of the lyrics, the undisguised accents, the angular construction of the songs and the weird chord changes. I enjoyed trying to translate all the slang and references into Canadian English. I even took a trip to Camden and forced my wife to sit with me for a drink in the back room of The Good Mixer.
The Yanks were kicked out in the end (well, mostly) and Britain felt very good about itself for a while. But like every other trend, it ran out of gas, dragged down into the darkness by plenty of heroin abuse. Still, it was fun while it lasted.
You’d think that the Brits would be celebrating what was accomplished twenty years ago. Most are, but some are, well, being contrary. Michael Hann, writing in Britain’s The Guardian, provocatively calls Britpop “a cultural abomination that set music back.” Read his take here.