Styles & Forms | Britpop

By the early 1990s British pop and alternative fans were crying out for homegrown pop that combined old-fashioned rock charisma with lyrics and a definitively British sound, to counteract the manufactured teen acts, Euro-dance novelties and US imports. This arrived in the mid-1990s in the shape of Britpop: a wave of guitar bands with short, sharp pop songs.

The heavily 1960s-influenced basis of Britpop was heralded in 1990, with the release of the self-titled debut album by Liverpool group The La’s (a Merseyside slang word for ‘lads’). Led by the singer-songwriter prodigy Lee Mavers, The La’s purveyed a deceptively simple guitar pop in the vein of The Beatles, The Who and The Hollies, but somehow made entirely fresh by Mavers’s poetic flights and choirboy-thug vocals, typified by their beautiful hit ‘There She Goes’. Sadly, the eccentric Mavers, after complaining bitterly in the press about the production on the released album, split the band up and went into hiding in his native Liverpool. While their bassist, John Power, enjoyed some mid-1990s success with the similar but far less exciting Cast, Mavers remains missing in action, obsessively perfecting the ultimate pop sound that only he can hear.

Meanwhile, Bowie-worshipping Londoner Brett Anderson formed Suede in 1989. By 1992, the quartet had released their Suede album to huge critical acclaim, with the mix of Anderson’s Bowie-esque tales of seedy sex and squalid glamour, coupled with guitarist Bernard Butler’s virtuoso riffs and squalls, delighting a UK press and public desperate for new guitar heroes. Although Butler left for a solo career in 1994, Suede continue to please their loyal following with unreconstructed glam rock.

The Britpop Wars

With Suede establishing a market for homegrown guitar pop, the three acts that define the Britpop era made their move. The superb London four-piece Blur summed up the mod-reviving, 1960s- and 1970s-quoting, anti-American mood on 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish album and became a national obsession with 1994’s Parklife – an irresistible blend of Kinks-ish English observational comedy, XTC- and Wire-influenced new wave, and cockney singalong, with a sprinkling of glam and synth-disco. The album established Britpop as a UK commercial phenomenon overnight.

Hot on their heels were a Manchester band led by two confident and charismatic brothers. Liam and Noel Gallagher’s Oasis were unashamed copyists, stealing riffs and melodies from Marc Bolan, The Sex Pistols and, most famously, The Beatles. But Liam’s Lennon-meets-Johnny Rotten vocals and Noel’s wall-of-sound guitar crunch made their first two albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, almost universally popular in the UK, packed as they were with hard-rocking anthems and instantly classic power ballads.

Britpop reached its peak of homegrown national interest in August 1995, when Blur, arguably, contrived a popularity contest with intense rivals Oasis by releasing their long-awaited new single, ‘Country House’ on the same day as Oasis’s ‘Roll With It’ in a race for the week’s No. 1...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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