The swish and the swagger, the glamour and the gloom, the setting imperial sun glowing through your ninthpint of Harp. British rock in the ’90s offered an endless supply of star-crossed fops, dance-pop cads, and ax-slinging ironists.
A. Primal Scream Screamadelica (Sire, 1991)
Stones-obsessed longhairs enlist acid-house DJ Andrew Weatherall to produce their third album, and he turns their music inside out. Singer Bobby Gillespie finds in techno what he could never get from rock: a bass line that’ll get him to the church on time. Classic song: “Loaded”–a sample of young easy rider Peter Fonda gets the party started, and reggae horns keep it going all night long.
B. Suede Suede (Nude/Columbia, 1993)
The distortion-pedal swirl of early-’90s dream pop meets the polymorphous perversity of glitter-rock giants T. Rex. Singer Brett Anderson does things with his larynx that you can’t show on the Spice channel, and guitarist Bernard Butler gets dirrty with the ghost of Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson. Classic song: “Sleeping Pills,” a sweeping ode to Valium and astrology that Interpol should cover immediately.
C. Blur Parklife (Food/SBK, 1994)
In the tradition of early Kinks and Martin Amis’ corrosive novel London Fields, this affectionate-in-spite-of-itself song cycle about the quiet desperation of the British middle class is full of so many dart-sharp hooks it’s ridiculous. Classic song: “Girls & Boys,” a synth-charged disco-punk jam about vacation sex–remember, it doesn’t count if you’re in Greece. Also try: Blur (Food/Virgin 1997) Burned out after a protracted feud with Oasis, the band soothe their art-student souls with weed and Pavement and accidentally write a perfect punk single, “Song 2.” Woo-hoo!
D. Pulp Different Class (Island, 1995)
Twelve poison-pen antianthems about how the presence of slumming rich kids can totally ruin your favorite dive bar, by Jarvis Cocker, the Britpop songwriter with the sharpest quill. Classic song: “Disco 2000,” a love song–possibly sung by a stalker–set to a melody borrowed from the Clash’s anticapitalist folk tale “Lost in the Supermarket.”
E. Elastica Elastica (DGC, 1995)
Elastica hooked Blondie’s sex appeal to skinny-tie guitar snarls lifted from old punks like Wire and the Stranglers. Wire and the Stranglersboth threatened to sue, which only confirms this record’s greatness–riff-lifters of the world, unite! Classic song: “Stutter”–singer Justine Frischmann cuts a lager-addled suitor off at the knees with little more than a sneer and a bored hair flip.
F. The Verve A Northern Soul (Vernon Yard/Virgin, 1995)
Their follow-up, Urban Hymns, had “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” the hit that launched a thousand sports-highlight montages. But this one’s even bittersweeter: a psych-rock comforter for those who’ve stayed up too long or come down too hard. Classic song: “On Your Own”–singer Richard Ashcroft turns the trudge home from the bar into a metaphor for existential crisis.
G. Oasis (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (Epic, 1995)
Noel Gallagher composes mammoth glam-Beatles hooks and lyrics that mean fuck-all (“Some might say that sunshine follows thunder / Go and tell it to the man who cannot shine”). His brother Liam sings them like they mean everything. Classic Song: The epic cokehead rant “Morning Glory”–sneering delirium worthy of Johnny Rotten, borne aloft on a towering inferno of guitar.
H. Supergrass I Should Coco (Capitol, 1995)
This trio of Hair Bear Bunch look-alikes may be the Britpop era’s most underrated band, and this hyper-catchy tune blitz is their greatest achievement: rapturous odes to teenage lust and cut-price drugs, played reallyreallyfast, as if Scotland Yard were about to kick down the door of their clubhouse. Classic Song: “Sitting Up Straight”–the sound of fresh-faced juvenile delinquents bum-rushing the toy shop on pogo sticks.
I. Radiohead The Bends (Capitol, 1995)
In Cobain-worthy metaphors, Thom Yorke makes his alienation skin-crawlingly physical–IV drips and iron lungs, blood and ash, bones and teeth–while Jonny Greenwood builds a labyrinth of beguiling art-rock guitar. It’s the last Radiohead record that remotely counts as Britpop; from here on, it got complicated. Classic Song: “Just,” for Greenwood’s crazy Sonic Youth-funk solo, a reminder of how much this band sacrificed when they decided guitars were evil.
J. Coldplay Parachutes (Nettwerk/Capitol, 2000)
Anyone who derides them for being a more straight-ahead Radiohead is missing the point. While singer/hopeless romantic Chris Martin sometimes brings more sap to the table than Mrs. Butterworth, there’s something awe-inspiring about the way Coldplay harness a decade’s worth of British guitar-rock innovation to silly love songs. Classic song: “Yellow”–what the Lloyd Doblers of Y2K rocked in their boom boxes.