Britpop – Five Over/Five Down

April 2014 marks 20 years since Britpop went mainstream with Blur and Oasis starting to duke it out in the charts and Fred Perry polo sales rocketing.  What was it exactly?  A surge of British bands playing commercially minded pop music with Anglocentric subject matter or a hideous explosion of union flags, beer, tracksuit tops and crass reductions of sixties and seventies influences shoved in a blender with no lid?  Both as it happens, and the last hurrah of a music industry seeing real money sloshing around, not all of which was spent wisely.  There has been anything but a rosy glow of nostalgia in the press retrospectives which is ironic for such a backward looking episode, yet not every group involved had becoming the new Herman’s Hermits as the summit of their ambition.

The sociological or business meaning of it all is unimportant as all that remains is the music.  To wit – five obscure tunes from the hinterland of Britpop which display wit, eccentricity and a snarky Anglo-Saxon tang rather than mockney panto goofiness, to show that it could be worthwhile.  And then five which are the case for the prosecution, that Britpop was guilty of the worst sort of little England posturing and chasing of bland acceptance.  You decide the epitaph because it won’t happen again, ever.

Five to rediscover

David Devant & His Spirit Wife – Miscellaneous (1997)

As Allmusic puts it, these Brighton art-rock nutters created the sort of zany, catchy and slightly menancing musical funhouse at the end of the pier that competitors drowned trying to reach.  The album Work, Lovelife, Miscellaneous did not have a dud track on it and the title does yearning existentialism without the bombast.

My Life Story – Strumpet (1996)

Britpop was a broad church – where do the sour Auteurs or subversive Denim fit in?  Just as they represented the fixations of one guy, MLS were the brainchild of camp renegade Jake Shillington but saw their thunder stolen by the Divine Comedy who similarly mashed up baroque pop with arch knowingness.  Even so, I treasured this memorable ode to wannabe cougars pressed on eye-watering pink vinyl and pleasingly showing up in the top thirty.

Rialto – Monday Morning 5:19 (1997)

Leader (and John Lennon double) Louis Eliot hung around the scene never quite finding the door into the party that wasn’t fire-alarmed.  This double-drummer, string soaked jealousy ballad sounded massive and unlike anything else on the radio but was only a big hit in South Korea.

Jubilee – Isle Of Wight Sands (1996)

Another Mono signing with silly neo-mod haircuts this was the b-side of Jubilee’s first single “So Sad About Us” (not the Who song).  It was much better and may have even been a hit, describing a day out at the seaside bent slightly out of shape, with an Oasis style intensity but better lyrics.

Longpigs – She Said (1995)

Best known as the original home of Richard Hawley, and named after cannibal slang their Britpop album was tough and gritty but dare I say, a touch American in tone?  That’s probably why they never broke out, but this remains a great, savage single.


Five to forget
Laxton’s Superb – Coming Round (1996)

Hip Beatles reference in our name? Charge account at Merc?  Friends with Chris Evans?  Yeah ticks all the right boxes except one marked good song –  this resembles a Verve discard smeared with sickly strings and staked out as ant food.

These Animal Men – You’re Not My Babylon (1994)

You have to laugh at a band that seemingly regarded the Cockney Rejects as role models and had a logo mimicking Lonsdale (for positive brand association maybe).  Part of the Britpop offshoot New Wave of New Wave (please don’t ask me to explain) along with the equally doubtful S*M*A*S*H, this is several unskilled punk covers bands heard through the wall of a cheap smelly rehearsal studio.

Heavy Stereo – Chinese Burn (1996)

After Oasis became properly massive record companies scrambled to scoop up anything that copied their bone-banging, monolith-worshiping fusion of the Beatles, Pistols and glam rock.  We know how that worked out, acres of fallow, sneering sludge rock, exhibit A.  Being a drug-resistant single cell lifeform, Oasis eventually absorbed Heavy Stereo and other pretenders before expiring from a lack of interest.

Dandys – I Wanna Be Like You (1993)

There’s something nasty in Shed Six, one down from Seven, anaemic bluesy pop drivel with crap lyrics, whiny vocals and too much flanging.

Manatray – Insomniacs Dream (1995)

Lest it should be forgotten that Blur also begat a million photocopies, here’s a reminder.  It could be them except it is one notch down in every department.


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