33. Menswe@r, Nuisance
Pity poor Menswe@r. They probably don’t deserve to be the punchline of so many Britpop jokes, but their best work is only just mediocre so it’s hard to defend them. The definitely brought a lot of it on themselves with that @ in their name, though.
32. Dodgy, Homegrown
Dodgy are also the butt of many jokes, but they made the active decision to be called Dodgy. (Imagine an American band called Rando, or something like that.) “Melodies Haunt You” is a pretty good song, so maybe they should’ve had a bit more self-esteem.
31. Kula Shaker, K
Kula Shaker had some catchy tunes for sure, but “let’s be a ’90s version of George Harrison’s two Indian-influenced Beatles songs” is kind of a flimsy premise for a band. Also, remember when the lead singer was talking about how much he liked swastikas and how Hitler wasn’t all that bad? Yiiiiiikes.
29. Ash, 1977
Ash are from Northern Ireland and their sound is a bit closer to the American alt-rock of their time, but they are still often lumped in with the Britpop pack. They had a lot of goofy charm, even if their music tended to be catchy but sort of basic.
28. Catatonia, Way Beyond Blue
This Welsh band’s debut was produced by Britpop kingmaker Stephen Street, which makes it feel a bit more like it’s part of the general scene than the music, which is mostly solid U.K. indie rock with a noticeable Welsh accent. It’s good stuff, but the kind of thing you sorta need to be prompted to remember nearly 20 years later.
27. The Charlatans, The Charlatans
The Charlatans were Britpop before Britpop was even a thing. Their self-titled album was their best work in the actual Britpop era, and the Stones-y single “Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over” is probably the peak of their career.
25. Sleeper, The It Girl
Sleeper were basically like a Britpop version of Blondie, to the point that one of their best known songs is actually a cover of Blondie’s “Atomic” on the soundtrack of Trainspotting that was recorded because the band wouldn’t allow their original to be licensed. This was their best-selling record, and was a bit heavier on keyboards than their debut.
24. Super Furry Animals, Fuzzy Logic
Super Furry Animals were only tangentially related to Britpop proper, but this quirky, catchy record had a lot of influence on later Britpop records, especially Blur’s self-titled album in 1997.
23. Black Grape, It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah
Happy Mondays helped set the table for the Britpop renaissance as leaders of the Madchester scene of the very early ’90s, but had mutated into the offshoot band Black Grape by the mid-’90s. This is a pretty odd record in retrospect – it’s sorta like listening to a few wasted blokes shouting over some party they’ve crashed – but there’s no denying the charms of a tune like “Kelly’s Heroes.” (“Jesus was a black man!” “No, Jesus was Batman! “NO, THAT WAS BRUUUUCE WAAAYNE!”)
22. Suede, Dog Man Star
Suede’s second album was a deliberate move away from a Britpop identity, and went a bit darker than their debut. This was the their final record with their original guitarist Bernard Butler, and the band’s later records suffered a bit without his distinctive style.
21. Oasis, Be Here Now
Oasis’ third album gets a lot of flack – mainly from Noel Gallagher himself – but it’s actually a pretty great record if you’re down with rampant musical excess. It’s too long by about 20 minutes, sure, but there’s at least four or five songs on this album that are top-drawer Oasis tunes. It came out at the end of the Britpop era, and basically sounds like a coke-fueled blowout in its honor.
20. The Divine Comedy, Promenade
The Divine Comedy singer and songwriter Neil Hannon was a bit on the outside of the Britpop world – his work predates the scene by a few years and is more influenced by chamber pop artists like Scott Walker – but his perspective on British life was very much in line with contemporaries like Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn. Promenade, a concept album about two lovers on a day trip to the seaside, is essentially a classy, orchestral cousin to the music made by Hannon’s more famous peers.
18. Kenickie, At the Club
If we’re being very honest there isn’t a lot of difference between Kenickie and fellow female-fronted Britpop bands Sleeper and Catatonia, but they certainly had an edge in the effortless charm of singer Lauren Laverne. (She’s since moved on to a successful career in radio and television.)
17. The Divine Comedy, Casanova
Neil Hannon embraced the Britpop zeitgeist a bit with the fourth Divine Comedy album, and it paid off – “Something for the Weekend” became a genuine hit in the United Kingdom, and that success led to Hannon finding the devoted cult audience he deserved.
16. The Auteurs, After Murder Park
Much like The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, Auteurs songwriter Luke Haines was sort of grandfathered into Britpop mainly by sharing subject matter and aesthetics with his more popular contemporaries. Haines is more caustic than the rest, though, and Steve Albini’s production on After Murder Park gave it a heavy punch despite the record’s chamber pop leanings.
15. Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time
Cornershop’s genre-bending breakthrough album came out near the end of the Britpop era, and maybe only really counts as Britpop in a broader contextual sense. But regardless, this is an often brilliant record that has held up very well over the years and is worth discovering or revisiting.
14. Suede, Suede
This is one of the records most often credited with beginning the Britpop era, and certainly set the template for the glam revivalism aspect of the movement. This is still Suede’s best record, and “The Drowners” and “So Young” in particular are defining songs for the band.
13. Blur, Modern Life Is Rubbish
More than any other record, Blur’s second album set the parameters for Britpop as a genre and as a movement by cobbling together various highly British sounds – music hall pop, glam, post-punk, The Smiths-esque indie – and filling the lyrics with specific references that would make little to no sense to anyone outside the United Kingdom. Blur would make better albums later on, but “For Tomorrow,” “Advert,” and “Blue Jeans” rank among their finest compositions.
12. Manic Street Preachers, Everything Must Go
The Manic Street Preachers didn’t really set out to be lumped in with Britpop – they were originally more of a punk band – but their first record as a trio following the apparent suicide of their original singer lyricist Richey Edwards certainly fit in with the spirit of the moment. “A Design for Life” stands out as one of the period’s defining anthems.
11. The Verve, Urban Hymns
This is the album that made The Verve famous in the United States, and consolidated them as one of the top groups in Britpop after a period where the very existence of the band was in question. This is a sweeping and hugely ambitious record – everyone knows the glorious lead single “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” but even the relatively low-key tracks on this record seem to play out on an epic scale.
10. Supergrass, I Should Coco
Supergrass were like the bratty little brothers of Britpop – highly energetic, a little goofy, and they didn’t come into full bloom until after some older bands laid the groundwork for the scene. Their debut still sounds fresh and fun, and “Alright” – which many know mainly from being on the soundtrack of Clueless – is among the most famous of all Britpop tunes.
9. Blur, Blur
Just as Blur signaled the start of the Britpop era with Modern Life is Rubbish, they basically ended the period with their self-titled fifth record, which made a point of moving away from the overt Britishness of their three previous albums in favor of a raw, messy sound heavily influenced by American indie bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth. But even in spite of that, it’s still a very, very English record – there is a very strong early Bowie influence throughout, and the closing track “Essex Dogs” paints a vivid and extremely bleak portrait of life in mid-’90s Britain.
8. Pulp, His ‘N’ Hers
Pulp had been around for more than a decade before this record, but this is where the band truly found their identity and helped kickstart the Britpop period with classics like “Do You Remember the First Time?” and “Babies.” Jarvis Cocker firmly establishes himself as the finest lyricist of the Britpop movement here – his words are rich with mundane but vivid details, and the songs focus on sordid, sexy moments in otherwise ordinary lives.
7. The Verve, A Northern Soul
The Verve were the most romantic of the Britpop bands, and their second album is often unbearably gorgeous and sad. The emotional stakes on A Northern Soul are enormous, and Richard Ashcroft somehow found a way to sing songs of very personal and specific heartbreak in a way that it sounded like it was about everyone and everything. “A New Decade” and “This Is Music” are top-notch rockers, but the real soul of this record lies in the tear-jerking ballads “History” and “On Your Own.”
6. Blur, The Great Escape
The Great Escape is the third of Blur’s Britpop trilogy, and by far the most bleak. The record seems bright and jovial on its surface, but nearly every song is extremely misanthropic and witheringly judgmental of its characters, whether it’s the drunken wife-swappers of “Stereotypes,” the vapid consumer in “Globe Alone,” the depressed rich man of “Country House,” or the pervy government official in “Mr. Robinson’s Quango.” The key track here is the orchestral hit “The Universal” – it’s an extremely bitter and ironic song about the lottery, but somehow the phony optimism of the chorus comes full circle to earnest hopefulness, and the cynicism gets purified by the overwhelming sentimentality of the sound.
5. Elastica, Elastica
Elastica got a bad reputation at the time for shamelessly stealing hooks from other bands, most notably Wire. But if you can get over that – and seriously, you should – their debut is one of the most consistently thrilling pop records of the ’90s. Justine Frischmann’s vocals really make the record what it is – her persona is wry, sexy, and wonderfully androgynous.
4. Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Oasis’ second album is Britpop’s biggest blockbuster both at home and abroad – it’s so full of hugely popular songs that it could double as a greatest hits disc. It’s rare to find a rock album that is both massively ambitious and deeply unpretentious. Noel Gallagher was aiming very high when he wrote this record, but his goal was basically to make a record where every last track sounded like the perfect soundtrack to drinking in a pub.
3. Oasis, Definitely Maybe
Oasis’ first record is as confident and fully-formed as a debut can get – every song is expertly crafted but delivered with the thrill of a band who’ve just hit their stride and are ready to take on the world. Whereas their rivals in Blur and Pulp excelled in writing songs about ordinary lives in modern England, Oasis thrived by embracing escapism and optimism. Definitely Maybe is a fantasy about what life could be if you escaped your mundane lot and willed yourself into living a rock star dream. It definitely came true for Liam and Noel.
2. Blur, Parklife
Blur’s defining album is a panoramic view of mid ’90s London in the form of a record that integrates a range of genres – synth-pop, music hall, punk, mod rock, French balladry, electric folk – while sounding totally cohesive. Damon Albarn’s lyrics are often snarky, but he never tips over into the sort of misanthropy that took over on The Great Escape a year later. The record gets very perky, but the songs that stick with you are quite melancholy, like the resigned “End Of A Century” and the grandiose loneliness of the finale, “This Is A Low.”
1. Pulp, Different Class
Blur may be the greatest Britpop band, but Pulp created the defining album of the genre with Different Class, a record packed from top to bottom with brilliant songs about resenting the rigid class structure of English society. This could easily be a dull and didactic, but the massively charismatic Jarvis Cocker dives into this subject matter with a great deal of wit and nuance, even when he’s calling for working class people to revolt in the rousing opener “Mis-Shapes.” The peak of the album – and of Britpop in general, really – is the hit single “Common People,” which stands among the best rock anthems of any era.
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