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A British Disaster: Blur's Parklife, Britpop, Princess Di & The 1990s
Taylor Parkes , April 28th, 2014 06:32

Taylor Parkes marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Blur's Parklife by exploring the album in the context of the huge changes wrought on British life in the mid to late 90s by Britpop, Blair and the death of Princess Diana. Chips photo by David Moats

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The British: so proud, yet so eager to serve. Nothing's ever going to change, except to get worse. And I can't leave.

You'll have noticed this Britpop anniversary, I suppose? Everywhere you look, greybeards reminiscing; all those bastards you thought you'd seen the last of, tunnelling out of the boneyard. This was their moment, this was their time, and no miserable motherfucker's going to take that away from them (I'd like to see them try).

The media's been full of it, but then it always was. They pretty much control the media now, that Britpop generation – these are the new baby boomers, second-rate and shallow like the times. And this is how the glorious anniversary has been celebrated: all the usual bores, saying all the usual boring things. And I mean... just listen to them. A voice on the radio telling me that Britpop's commercial success, and its prominence in the media, was "youth culture winning". Seriously – youth culture winning. They actually said that! In 2014! You have to stop and scratch your head: how could anyone possibly think that? How is it conceivable that anyone who was actually there, who saw this shit unfold, and saw what happened next, could still be splashing around so far from the truth – even from anything which sounds like the truth? Youth culture winning! What the fuck?

I can take this kind of ahistorical crap from the bands. If you ask someone who spent the mid-1990s guzzling cocaine and alcopops, sleeping with teenage girls in tennis skirts and being told they were the fucking king, then yes, they're going to say that Britpop was "really exciting... an amazing time". You'd hope so, wouldn't you? What I do find worrying, if not surprising, is this blithe miswriting – by people who should know better – of what was, for mostly unhappy reasons, a crucially important part of British cultural history.

But all those nodding dogs with fuck all to say, they're the "experts" now. The simplistic, smugly flippant nature of what passes for media commentary on popular culture is testament to that. Everyone else is excluded from the discourse, because God damn it, they complicate things.

"Who would want a simpler history of of a dead cultural moment?" asks the protagonist of Phonogram: Rue Britannia, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's fantastical comic about Britpop survivors. And the answer? Those who stand to profit in some way from this kind of negationism – Britpop's permanent lowering of the bar has been extremely good to them, so the myth must be perpetuated. And those who, for reasons of their own, cannot permit themselves to take a wider view.

Here's a wider view: Britpop was the willing soundtrack to – and yes, enabler of – the final destruction of everything Britpop ever claimed to love. All the glories of its precious 1960s; the idea of "youth culture" being something more than swank and competitive consumption. It managed this by posing as vital while systematically stripping away whatever made British pop music interesting or valuable, syncing with ruinous cultural trends and then, with its preposterous bulk, blotting out the sun. Worse, it left an indelible mark on millions of young white middle-class men – which in cultural terms, alas, is as good as poisoning a reservoir. Damn right we're still suffering now. And these are Britpop's deep dark secrets, rarely told, because history is written by the winners, who saw nothing: all the important stuff was happening in the cloud of dust behind them.

This is not the story of how Britpop "made us proud to be British again". This is not about Alex James curdling cheese and writing a column for The Sun, or two million people on the telephone trying to make credit card bookings for a monstro-gig in someone's country estate. This is the other Britpop story, the one where Britpop steps on a rake and helps to destroy the post-war consensus. This is the one where Britpop looks at its watch while holding a glass of milk, and helps sink British popular culture in a mire of apathetic infantilism from which it has yet to emerge. The one where Britpop, trying to be nice, prepares the ground for a pop scene where the children of the landed gentry trill bucolic bollocks while the rest of us survive on long, long, piss-wet streets of chicken shops and Poundlands and closed-down fire stations, breathing in spores in rented bathrooms, stuffing ourselves with Mr Mash and a source of phenylalanine, knowing we're probably going to die somewhere that's even worse than this.

Britpop was about the end of the 20th century, and most of what was good in it. About the end of whatever was left of a counterculture; about the beginning of a kind of counter-counterculture which swims with the tide but faster, preening and ignorant, getting what it wants with snark and the threat of humiliation. About the beginning of – or at least a sharp acceleration in – the dumbing-down and depoliticisation of what used to be known as "alternative" culture; a sudden aversion to principle, and a redefinition of the word success. About the beginning of self-righteous privilege, the demonisation of the working class, the full assimilation of mass art into neoliberalism; the sacking of Bohemia, and the last collapse of hope. The beginning of the end. The beginning of now.

This is not about youth culture winning.

Britpop was never really about Britain, anyway, was it? It was about London. More specifically, it was about London as seen through the eyes of new arrivals, because most of those bands had recently relocated in order to seek their fortunes. And no wonder they were giddy: London was still a city of people, still wide open, still astir. It was here if you wanted it; it was what you made of it. Twenty years later, it's well on its way to becoming a dead city, culturally – just another rich-kids' romper room, like Paris or Manhattan. Anyone not gainfully employed in the manufacture of human misery can get the fuck out, while those who stay must pay for the purchase of water cannons, meant for them, in case they have too much to say for themselves.

Britpop didn't make this happen, but it didn't do nothing. It did worse than nothing.

What was actually happening here, while it was being celebrated? Camden Town - Britpop's spiritual home - abandoned its radical bohemian past to become a millionaire-owned, tourist-oriented pop-cultural charnel house. Tony Blair - Britpop's spiritual leader – institutionalised and extended Thatcherism and, while glad-handing gullible rockers and beaming about Britain's marvellous musical heritage, tore up the fucking tracks.

Britpop didn't make this happen, but it didn't do nothing. It did worse than nothing.

On the back cover of Parklife, Blur pretend to enjoy themselves at the dog track: this is Walthamstow Stadium, all lit up and buzzing with life. Back then, the presence of well-spoken, shiny-haired young artist types in Walthamstow was a novel and faintly humorous idea. These days, as the working class residents of "Awesomestow" are forced from their homes to the winsome sound of ukeleles, there's not so much laughter – except from estate agents and buy-to-let landlords, who are in fucking hysterics. And in case you're interested, the stadium closed in 2008.

Yes of course, Blur's artistic gentrification was a stunt, a gimmick – just a bit of fun. The problem is that things feed into other things; culture is made up of a million tiny ideas, and when too many of them move in one direction, the current can sweep things away. Parklife is ahead of its time in at least one sense: dehumanisation. That is to say, the conversion of people's lives into remote cartoons, where things go boom but it doesn't really matter. Just like those now profiting from the breaking up of London – buying and selling what used to be called "homes" but which are now called "property" – the worst songs on Parklife are weirdly oblivious to the smell of death: the death of London, the death of Britain, the death of culture.

Parklife's just an old pop record, sure, but it's on the wrong side of history, and these days it sounds heartless and sour. It didn't make this happen, but please understand – it didn't do nothing. It did far worse than nothing.

We need to take a closer look at the 1990s, if any of this is going to make any sense.

Less than a minute into Parklife, Damon Albarn sings "love in the ninetieeeeees" – but he's not actually saying anything in particular about the decade he's in. It's just a kind of celebratory time-check: he's reminding himself, and us, that it's no longer the 80s.

This fact, that it was no longer the 80s, was extraordinarily important to Britpop. Nobody liked the 80s – it was all hairspray and Thatcherism, wasn't it? Well, no... but some way into the new decade, that was still how it seemed. Certainly, for many years, most of the music was still too toxic even to be handled with irony-gloves: the 80s styles pastiched on Parklife are sealed in tanks, held up with tongs.

It seems funny nowadays, when one decade just kind of bleeds into the next, but the sheer relief with which the pop world greeted 1990 bordered on embarrassing (the NME published an overview of the last ten years in their 1989 Christmas issue, and titled it "The Eighties: Thank God It's Over"). A lot of this sudden buoyancy would have been from Ecstasy, of course – still, there was also a genuine sense of optimism in the real world, for a couple of years at least. The fall of Communism, the crumbling of apartheid, the touchingly naïve idea that governments would get to grips with impending ecological crisis... you remember, all that stuff. The End Of History. People believed it. No one would ever go hungry again in this wonderworld of peace and prosperity.

The trouble with optimism, of course, is that it's rather close to complacency.

What really happened in the 1990s was that one side stopped pushing. By 1994, it was rather uncool to be bothered about anything much. A whole generation playing dumb? Dunno what you're on about, mate. Cheery sexism? Shut up love, it's only a bit of fun. The armour-plated smugness of a new liberal bourgeoisie? Chill out you knobhead – have another line. Meanwhile, the other side were busy consolidating all the gains of the hated 80s, privatising and deregulating, getting ready to take this shit to the next level, unopposed. What did the heroes of Britpop have to say about that? Bupkis at best.

(Then again, none of these fuckers had much to say about anything, did they? Interviews with bands became a chore to read, and a trial to conduct. Britpop's idea of an "outrageous" "bigmouth" was Louise Wener – Louise Wener! Does anyone remember a single one of her "controversial" "outbursts"? Please don't remind me, if you do.)

Britpop had no vision, no sense of what the 1990s were, or could be – all it ever seemed to do was define itself against the previous decade, and look back to the last time things seemed bright and clear: the 1960s. (Sure, there was a wing of Britpop keener on the late 70s, bursting veins to sound exactly the same as Wire on Chairs Missing, but without the most interesting bits. Still, the impulse was the same, to recreate a Golden Age... they were just on different drugs, or something.)

This was a rather silly, selfish kind of 60s revivalism, though – a dream of being surrounded by dolly birds down at the Scotch of St James. No one seemed to have any particular interest in anything else from the time: new freedoms, new kinds of consciousness, new worlds of radical thought. No one seemed too bothered about rolling back that thick custard-skin of 80s materialism or, y'know, trying to learn something.

And while I can certainly recall a lot of people behaving like kids, I don't think this was in the hope of recapturing the clear perspective of childhood, that one's soul might breathe again – how charmingly un-90s is the hopeful sweetness of this contraption, designed by Damon Albarn's dad:

Even so, this constant referencing back to the 60s did begin to creep beyond the music and the clothes, into slang (everyone was "man" again), football ("thirty years of hurt") and parliamentary politics. This inability to process the present is how Britpop managed to miss what was really going on in the Labour Party – plans being laid for an eternal 80s – and why it chose to cheerlead Blair to power not with reservations but with raised thumbs, as though expecting him to renationalise Thomas Cook and put Tony Benn back in charge of the stamps.

Damon, to his credit, saw through Blair almost at once, and turned down all the invitations to his squalid little photo-ops. Others were rather less alert. Still, the 1990s was the last time it was just assumed that anyone involved in the arts would loathe and despise the Conservative Party, a baseline of awareness and decency. This was the last time pop musicians from privileged backgrounds were expected to play it down, or make a joke of it, rather than become defensive about the "prejudice" they faced. This was the last time bands – most bands – had any objection to flogging themselves and their music off to the advertising industry, or the vaguest idea how anyone could possibly object to that. Asked in a recent tQ interview why he'd sold 'The Universal' – probably his loveliest song – to British Gas, Damon Albarn shrugged. "The music industry has changed... I mean, there are very few people that consider not having their music put out in that way these days."

Yeah, it's changed all right, and the change began in 1994. Britpop was the first "alternative" style to be judged on what it sold, and was only too happy for things be this way – which led to a huge shift in priorities, both in British music and in the media which covered it (Britpop may have had no direct effect on non-white, non-guitary, non-commercial styles, but it had the fairly significant indirect effect of further marginalising them). Innovation became an irrelevance, or worse – seen as the preserve of some kind of notional nerd in a box room full of hard sums and crispy tissues. The oppositional impulse which had always driven independent music in Britain, however distantly, was gone – and in its place a kind of superconformism, a conventional ambition.

And so we all had a jolly good time, and we all got fucking screwed.

The funny thing is, at the start of 1994 it seemed like Blur had pretty much had it. Modern Life Is Rubbish, the album on which they'd tried to reinvent themselves as puckish art-school satirists, hadn't exactly flopped, but had swayed a little in the breeze. The general feeling was that they'd been aced out by Suede, then flaming hot, still in that early, quite-exciting phase of lush and spiky songs about getting bummed by a dog on UHU. Blur, by comparison, were tat; old hat. The singles from Modern Life, even the properly gorgeous 'For Tomorrow', had gone almost nowhere. Live appearances would often degenerate into sad, drunken thrashing. It was a surprise to everyone (except maybe those who understood the power of PR) when 'Girls And Boys', the lead-off single from Parklife, hurled them back into the fray.

And for a while I really tried to be optimistic about Blur. Clearly, they could bash out a decent tune, and at least they had a bit of... I dunno, something. They'd made an effort. So, for this first listen to Parklife in nearly two decades, I'm trying to forget what I always tried to forget: the bumptiousness, the chuckling condescension... the Blurriness, basically. But you know what? It's unavoidable. The young Damon Albarn, all jazz hands and puppy-dog eyes, is still phenomenally hard to stomach. The music is solid and reasonably well-performed, but it's infuriatingly bubbly, you know what I mean? Some of Parklife is pretty good. Bits of it are really good. Still, I've found myself playing it quietly, in case the neighbours hear.

I mean, anyone who can't see that Blur were a talented band – far more talented than most of their Britpop peers – doesn't really understand music. This is an accomplished record: Blur's attention to detail, and their smooth command of all those little turns and tricks which make mid-60s, late-70s and early-80s music sound the way it does... you can only admire that. But that's the problem. You can only admire that. 'Girls And Boys' – with its jolly lyrics about working class people being a "herd" – starts things off with much vim and vigour, and it's a catchy little number, but at no point does it feel like anything more than a musical prank. It's as affecting as watching an intermediate level card trick.

'Tracy Jacks' has a go at being The Kinks, with a pleasing arrangement of Jam guitars, Beatley bass and Bowie strings – but it's so... blank? Uncaring? Smug? Its suburban fairy tale is neither believable, funny nor in any way instructive. All it says is "LOOK!" – with eyeballs drawn in the Os – "We're telling stories about middle class suburban folk, just like The Kinks!" It's impossible to care. Part of me thinks that may have been the point. 'End Of A Century', full of unfocused allusions to middle age and domesticity, is another squandered chance to say something which might have been worth saying, or hearing. Still, its beautiful tune and rather hypnotic faux-communality stop you from worrying too much about that, which is nice I suppose, if vaguely sinister.

Then along comes 'Parklife', the song: cutting bingo tax and beer duty to help hard-working people do more of the things they enjoy. If there's one thing that leaps out from Parklife, the album, it's this penchant for smirking caricatures of working class culture, which probably seemed like a laugh at the time, but does expose the album's total lack of anything resembling a heart. You wouldn't call it class hatred, but it's like the "affectionate" mockery of some cunt in an office who just won't stop. I mean, 'Bank Holiday' – is this supposed to be funny or something? Because it fucking isn't, it's horrendous: a massive, grinning, lagery piss from a private jet into someone's rockery. It's not even offensive – it's just a shitter version of this:

…except it's selling something even more unhealthy.

'Badhead' is the first song on Parklife that's unreservedly lovely, but as tQ's Luke Turner so wisely said a couple of weeks back, you can't trust a band whose best songs are their ballads. After this comes 'The Debt Collector', parping pointless filler. By 1994, CD was established as the primary format for pop music, and everyone's albums began to expand to fill the available space. In the 60s bands had no choice but to pad their albums with this kind of dross, because they were churning out two of them a year. By the mid-90s, one album every twelve months was considered fast work, yet still we had to suffer through these silly instrumentals, weak attempts to be comical, songs with the bassist singing – the kind of bilge which should, at best, have been pumped off as B-sides (and there was a knock-on effect: have you heard the B-sides of the singles from Parklife? I have, twenty years ago. Once each. I've not quite recovered). So the first half ends with 'Far Out', an uninspired if pretty well-observed Syd Barrett pastiche. But there we are: a Syd Barrett pastiche. Syd Barrett, composer of some of the most unnervingly beautiful, strangely affecting music in history. Pastiched. Welcome to the 90s.

But then 'To The End' starts up, reminding you that this is not a bunch of no-mark pissheads, this is a band with real ability, genuine possibilities... so you hate them even more. 'To The End' still sounds fantastic, a perfect balance between knowingness and wide-eyed emotion. It's a grown-up pop song that swoons. This is what Britpop should have been: expansive, inclusive, genuinely clever.

Parklife goes a bit dry after that. If I remember rightly, they caught a bit of stick for 'Magic America', as though it were a coherent comment on Atlanticism, or the lure of the New World for British proles, or the British longing for elsewhere... or something. Listening now, it's hard to see why anyone ever considered it worthy of comment (compare this to the subtlety, warmth and vision of The Kinks' 'Australia', if once more you want to know what Britpop could and should have been).

Nothing else is worth a light until we get to the big finish: 'This Is A Low' is a very fine piece of music, but even here you can't help feeling there's something important missing. Albarn's clever-but-stupid lyrics are horribly grating, less like social comment than the scribblings of an advertising copywriter coming down off an E. Like the rest of Parklife, 'This Is A Low' makes a very big show of saying something, and says nothing at all.

There were two Britpops, really. One was spellbound, one triumphalist; one was curious, one incurious; one was a door in a wall, and the other was rock. Do you remember?

At first, what they started calling Britpop wasn't a movement, or a scene, just the kind of flip from one thing to another which used to happen all the time in music, and doesn't, really, now. It felt inevitable: something bright and sharp to pierce the shoegazing fog, to hack away the dreadlock fuzz of The Levellers, The Wonder Stuff and Ned's Atomic Dustbin – all that fucking juggler shit. After that, this was like a spring morning (the idea that Britpop was a patriotic reaction to grunge is revisionism, I think, largely down to that infamous issue of Select magazine with "Yanks Go Home!" and the Union Jack on the front; back then, this stuff seemed more like a reaction against recent British music, which had been dreadful, rather than Nirvana, who everybody liked).

Anyway: Suede, Saint Etienne, Pulp, The Auteurs, Denim... you could even include the young Manic Street Preachers, maybe... none of these groups had much in common but their overt Britishness (when "Britishness", in pop and in life, meant something slightly different) and a sort of detached intelligence. They had a couple of minor hits, Suede even made the Top Ten, but there was certainly no bandwagon at this point. For a couple of years this stuff was just there, another chocolate in the box, co-existing happily with the other trends in white kids' music: Riot Grrl, the New Wave Of New Wave, other crap which even I've forgotten.

Much of what was good about this music was lost in the subsequent deluge. All those rotten bands you think of when you hear the word "Britpop" – Sleeper, Echobelly, Bluetones, Thurman, Shed fuckin' Seven and so on, and so on – they were following on from these bands, like rising damp follows on from a rainstorm. The difference was that they were regressive, seemingly informed by an incredibly limited range of very conventional influences (all Smiths and Stone Roses). This was not purism, simply a narrow horizon, British indie's notorious aversion to anything too fast, too slow, too weird, too dirty or too disturbing.

The second Britpop, which came slightly later, was all about Oasis – or rather, everything that was bad about Oasis: slow motion guitar solos, drummers who sounded like their shoes were wet, untucked Ben Shermans flapping around like the mainsail in a westerly. People with such little sense of their own ridiculousness, they'd actually call an album Urban Hymns. Jesus Christ! We needn't dwell. We know what Kula Shaker were all about (and if you don't... well, never mind). We don't need to talk about the Stereophonics, or Ocean Colour Scene. No mythology to puncture here. 1996: The Year Of The Rat.

Oasis themselves I thought were OK, so sue me. I was never fond of what the NME in 2012 – with a straight face, I swear! – called "Noel Gallagher's no-nonsense lyrics", but when you forgot that saviours-of-British-rock baloney, they weren't so bad. Unbelievably empty, yes, and stupid? Oh, you bet. But there's something to be said for this kind of obliterative, almost transcendent stupidity (the irony being that in real life, Noel Gallagher is one of the sharpest and funniest bastards you ever could hope to meet). What was so pernicious here was not so much the music but the idea of Oasis: doughty English knights on horseback, come to rescue pop from all that poofy art-school shit.

It didn't have to be that way. Believe it or not, on their earliest demos Oasis covered 'Feel The Groove' by Cartouche, an early-90s Euro dance act (presumably named after the sound of a brick being thrown into a river). This was not some kind of piss-take. Noel had spotted the connection between its nursery-rhyme relentlessness and his own simplistic style, and – perhaps for the last time ever – chose to do something unexpected. Sure, the result is not very good, but it suggests what might have been: an Oasis open to suggestion, willing to let in some light. But of course, for whatever reason, this approach was dropped. No one would be feeling any grooves from now on – just a kind of sodden thud. And in their enormity, Oasis could have done anything they liked. Instead: a whole new world of grey, the most disastrous misunderstanding of The Beatles since Charles Manson.

Although the thing is, Oasis didn't sound like The Beatles, did they? Everyone knows they stole it all from Kipper.

Parklife, for me – and I may be alone on this – is wedged in the hinge where these two Britpops meet. At that time, the "middle class", "arty" Blur were seen as the natural, implacable enemies of rough, tough Oasis – the Jocks and the Geordies, Bully Beef and Chips. Seen from higher ground, of course, it's not like that at all. When you listen, rather than look, Blur's mid-90s music feels like a missing link between the postmodern glimmer of 'Avenue' or 'Razzmatazz' and the bulldozing gibberish of 'Roll With It'. Parklife self-identifies as "clever", but it's a significant step away from proto-Britpop, which had been for the most part highly personalised and esoteric, and semi-commercial at best with its dizzying eclecticism (Saint Etienne) or showy perversity (Suede). Parklife is a rock record. Parklife isn't about ideas, it's about suggestion: the suggestion of relevance, of something where there's really nothing. Parklife is solid, expensive-sounding and tooled for mainstream appeal. Parklife might come on like some kind of concept album about English proletarian culture (or something), but its lyrics skid over the top of meaning, always vague enough to be ignored. Its "cleverness" is a clever illusion.

Parklife – and this is the best thing about it – wasn't scared of becoming popular.
Parklife – and this is the worst thing about it – soon became very popular indeed.

Low rents and high living; devastating personal problems; out in Camden every night, tight as a boiled owl.

Yeah, I remember it well. From 1993 until the start of 1998, I was working for Melody Maker, what we used to call a "music paper", even though we knew that it was really an indie rock paper – more open-minded than that might suggest, but still lashed to a student audience who wouldn't buy anything with black people on the cover, and whose ideas about "real music" were as stubborn and stunted as old-time religion. This could sometimes be restricting for those of us whose tastes did not generally run to indie rock, but you know, we managed – you could always pitch for that week's token feature on something else: electronica, chart pop, hip hop or something a little bit avant-garde. Besides, they let us write about music as though it mattered, which was why we were there. We could make a modest living from it, too, in the days when you could rent a bedsit in Holloway for fifty-five pounds a week.

But the music press was changing – or to put it another way, dying. The story you most commonly hear is that it became a victim of Britpop's sudden success, as the bands it covered got so big that they could be followed in the daily papers and on television, until there was no real need for a weekly music paper. Which suggests that all anyone wanted from a music paper in the first place was the kind of coverage you'd find in the daily papers, or on television. That's complete nonsense – for one thing, sales went up as Britpop rose – but the wrong people seemed to believe it, and the papers changed in tone.

This was maybe music writing's last chance to reach a mass readership, and do what it was meant to do: circulate some bright ideas, awaken sensibilities, encourage innovation. Britpop is what happened instead. And not by mistake – the press went chasing after that shiny bauble as fast as any loser band. And it was so fucking gleeful. Word counts were cut; analysis gave way to mindless boosterism. I remember an NME Glastonbury supplement claiming that Sleeper were "driven by an obsessive hatred of mediocrity at all levels". It was beyond parody. I remember gasping in horrified disbelief, again and again, at decisions being made around me. Looking back – and it's not often I say this of my younger self – I was absolutely right (though not wholly innocent, I'll admit, in case anyone has back issues to hand). If anything, it was this abrupt shift in the tone of music writing, this kind of failed populism, which led casual readers to decide they could get all this elsewhere. And certainly, it drove away the hardcore.

Orgasms were being faked all over the place, as well. Looking back, Britpop is almost unique among those musical trends which lasted half a decade or more, in that you couldn't fill a Nuggets-type compilation with genuinely good tracks. Trying to find twenty memorable singles from twenty different Britpop bands, you'd end up on the very fringes of what anybody ever meant by "Britpop": 'Get Yourself Together' by Velocette? Possibly. 'CF Kane' by Delicatessen? No, no, they were something else. And these differences matter, as much as any of this rubbish matters.

Even in the high Britpop summer of 1995, I'd crawl home and listen to Joni Mitchell, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Fleetwood Mac... or else the eerie delirium of pirate stations playing music which sounded like now, but which I never wrote about because (thank God!) I didn't understand it, so I couldn't explain it. So it couldn't bore me rigid.

And when I look at the records from that period which I bothered to keep – a few albums by The Boo Radleys, the first one by Supergrass, one or two more – they're genuinely good, but I can't imagine really wanting to listen to them any time soon. Tainted by association? It wouldn't surprise me: even Pulp, who would have been a superb band in any era, have been folded in with their peers, at least in the popular consciousness. From the BBC's recent Britpop splurge, here's Steve Lamacq on 'Common People': "It is one of the defining records of Britpop because it seemed to embrace the essence of the time so perfectly... it seemed to sum up a feeling of 'us and them', as if to illustrate how the indie mavericks had taken on the pop stars and – for once – they'd won."

Again with this victory stuff! Now look – I think Steve Lamacq's okay. Yeah, most of the music he likes is shit, but he's the real thing; a true rock and roller in his way. He genuinely loves and understands that terrible music, so hey... I don't want to put him down. But this was a ludicrous thing to say, and what troubles me most is that I'm pretty sure it's a fairly mainstream view. In fact, 'Common People' is the one explicitly oppositional pop single of the Britpop era, and as such it doesn't "define" a bloody thing – besides, in what sense is that song about winning? As for this "feeling of us and them", damn right I had a feeling of "us and them" in 1995 – and even more so now – but I'm not sure Steve and I would quite agree on the specifics. Also: "indie mavericks"? Cast? Powder? Gene?

I remember this kind of triumphalism from the time. It was creepy then, and sounds a whole lot creepier today. But it was enforced so strictly: I remember being chided by members of my editorial staff for scoffing at "what the kids are into", and was told in no uncertain terms that I should stop pointing out the lack of imagination in this music, the way so much of it was blatantly, unavoidably second-rate. "The kids haven't heard this kind of music before," I was assured. "It's all new to them." In other words, don't be a prick – don't worry yourself about cultural death. We're providing a service here. Things were changing. They really were.

(Not that the music press, as we understood it, would have to worry much longer. Shortly after the release of Parklife, our front page trailed a feature on some nerdy new computer thing which was just getting big in the States. INSIDE THE INFONET, it said. "Eh? What?" spluttered a reddening face in the Tuesday editorial meeting. "It's called the Infonet, isn't it? Isn't it?" For a music weekly in 1994, this was a faux pas roughly comparable to spotting a cowled, scythe-swinging figure coming up the garden path, and announcing the imminent arrival of the Grim Peeper. Oh, how we laughed.)

So, as Blur and Oasis battled it out for number one – with singles that were almost supernaturally shit – everyone was informed that this was terribly important. Yeah, it's nice when a band you like does well. But no, this was more than that – this was really important. At the time, other kinds of music were having laws made against them, or having their venues closed. But this? This was important.

Why? Because the mainstream media was staffed by baby boomers, who still thought in terms of "bands". It's "bands" that make the real music, right? "The music industry hasn't seen anything like it since The Beatles fought it out with The Rolling Stones in the 60s," said John Humphrys on the BBC News – and right there it was abundantly clear why this had gone mainstream, and was going to stay there (although... listen to how he spits out the phrase "pop groups", as though it's in inverted commas: in that great millennial shift from the stuffiness of the old Establishment to the pseudo-hip inverted entryism which they favour today, this might just be the exact point of transference).

Anyway, Britpop fell for it. The fact that a pig like Humphrys was on the telly talking about "us" was meant to add some kind of legitimacy – "we" were going big-time. British guitar bands, raised on film of The Beatles waving from jumbo jets, had been grumpy for years about their lack of chart success. This kind of music used to sell millions, so why didn't it now? (There was no point answering that question, because they didn't want to hear the answer, and may not have understood it.) No surprise that their response to all this attention was to make like the nouveau riche, snatching all the tokens of mainstream success. Such was the broken logic of Britpop: if the Establishment is bigging you up, that means you pose a threat to the Establishment. If they put you on the one o'clock news – even if they use the same droll tone as on that story about the windsurfing panda – celebrate, boy. It means you've won.

Britpop's sudden, shattering success created an orthodoxy overnight. Even at the time, it was depressingly obvious that this was going to shut down British guitar music, creatively, for a long time to come. It was the perfect inversion of punk: a giant contraction, a kind of implosion, British guitar pop collapsing in on itself so tightly that nothing could get in or out, for years and years and years.

And so today, British guitar pop looks and sounds like what it is: the product of twenty years of inbreeding. Undersized, genetically disordered, sterile. The end of the line.

OK, there's really no such thing as originality in pop – only people ripping off stuff that you haven't heard yet – but let's face it, Britpop was ridiculous. This could not even pass itself off as postmodernism: there was nothing bold about it, no sense of adventure in amongst the ruins and the masks. This was the bourgeois aesthetic in sound, a musical equivalent of mock-tudor houses and crap from the Franklin Mint. A careful but fundamentally clueless reshuffling of bits of the past with no real grasp of what went where, or what meant what... just that prissy preoccupation with "good taste" which leads, unfailingly, to utter fucking ghastliness.

Britpop wasn't just derivative; there was a palpable fear of innovation. In the 1990s, music technology was developing faster than at any point since the days of Jim Marshall, but these bozos wouldn't budge from the same old harmonies, the same old riffs. All the while completely unaware that this was not in fact continuing a grand tradition – rather, desecrating it. All of Britpop's supposed affection for post-war British life, its vaguely-stated aim to "protect" this stuff from "Americanisation"... it was so much mince. This was only ever about the clothes, or some shit they'd seen on TV; Damon Albarn, asked for an example of the "loss of identity" which troubled him so, could only think of the horse brasses being taken down in his local pub.

What these people failed to understand was the forward-looking nature of this particular past, its openness to outside influence, its self-conscious modernity... how un-British it was, in a sense. But when you have no vision, you will misinterpret the past as badly as the present, and you cannot be trusted with the future.

Living At Thamesmead (1974)

So, in the summer of 1996 I went to see Oasis at Knebworth. Standing in the mellow sunshine, surrounded by kids who seemed genuinely moved when Noel announced that as the largest audience ever to pay to get into a rock gig, they were "making history", I tried to make sense of what the hell was going on. In the end, I had to do exactly what Oasis wanted me to do – that is, stop thinking. Instantly, everything made perfect sense... it wasn't good, but it did make sense. I was struck by an almost unbearable poignancy; I wrote my review in a kind of melancholy daze. Our generation was fucked, I said – bullshitters, wasters. "Still, we had something. At some point, we had the time of our lives."

And that was it, wasn't it? That was really it. Maybe this is why most of the time I don't like to think too much about Britpop – aside from the fact that most of it was shit. It's a reminder of the strength and pain of being young; that it can't come again. For those borne to a comfortable place on the cultural currents of Britpop, it's a fond memory, something worth celebrating. I disagree... and because I'm not the only one whose life, in the end, was somehow diminished by Britpop, and Blair, and the 19-fucking-90s, I don't think it's just me. But still... at some point, I had the time of my life.

If you really want to know about Britpop, take a look at how it ended. More than once I've seen the death of Princess Diana in August 1997 described as "the end of Britpop"; our generation's Altamont, right? This used to make me howl with laughter, but you know, the more I think about it... no, seriously. In a way.

Britpop and the cult of Diana shared the same root, after all: a forced exceptionalism, rooted in pride but also desperation. Maybe this was the day when Britpop finally merged with the mainstream, and the two could not be told apart. Sentimental populism, anti-intellectualism, enforced with a false communion. Radio One replaced its scheduled programmes with a kind of moping mixtape, so its target demographic had to give a toss. Apparently, many of them did. So much for "Cool Britannia" – the only kind of glamour which really resonates with the British is what Tom Nairn in his study of the monarchy, The Enchanted Glass, called "The Glamour of Backwardness". It's like a fucking spell.

So the same old hacks who'd been so pleased to tell the world how London was swinging again ran back to their Apple Macs, to determine what this flood of tears and snot and uncomprehending emotion said about "us as a nation". Few reached the same conclusions as me, and everyone I knew, which was strange, because they seemed so very obvious: Britain would never grow up. Britain, with its stiff upper lip gone slack, was now a blubbering baby. Britain had missed what may have been its last chance to change. The 90s were a turning point, possibilites spread like a fan of cards... and Britain came out of it dumber, more pliant, more boastfully backward than ever.

The flag-waving's for real now. And it's what it always is – a sign of insecurity – but within that is a terrible kind of strength. In the confusion of austerity a brand new Britishness is afoot, like the old one but fractionally closer to fascism. More than apolitical – actively hostile to radical thought. More than dismissive of class-consciousness – angry at the slightest suggestion that anyone's problem might not be a problem with them, but a problem with Britain. It's everywhere. And every single chance it gets, it guts that "other" Britishness, the kind pop music once personified, the kind that's all about irreverence, vitality and wit. Not just in the present, but retrospectively – watch now, as history slowly changes; watch the life and meaning being sucked from everything good that ever emerged from this island, starting with Britpop pin-up boys like The Beatles, The Smiths, the Sex Pistols... all that love and scorn wiped from the past, and therefore from the future.

Yes of course, if you scratch around a bit, this other Britishness is still there, not least in pop music – in styles too far underground to "matter", in the occasional chart hit, in the sarcasm and brutality of Sleaford Mods or Fat White Family. But it feels like a losing battle. Everything let loose by Britpop – that vague jingoism, that false sense of community, that distrust of seriousness, that come-on-mate-don't-be-a-fucking-misery pseudo-celebratory shit... it was all a bit too close to what Britain has always done a bit too well. Is anybody really surprised that the wrong people sensed this, picked it up and ran with it – or that a kind of aggressive complacency turned out to be an unwise tack, when everything was up for grabs? The architects of Britpop should be shamefaced and contrite, yet here we are at the end of a month of "celebration". Congratulations.

So proud, yet so eager to serve. Nothing's ever going to change, except to get worse. And I can't leave. I can never leave. None of us can ever leave.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

Andy C
Apr 28, 2014 11:04am

Taylor Parkes, collect your writings and publish them NOW, damn you.

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Apr 28, 2014 11:19am

there was some early clip of supergrass on TV last week and i'd totally forgot how fresh they seemed at that time. as a 13 year old blur 'obsessive,' even then i felt there was something way more exciting out there, somewhere, something less sort of orchestrated and more shambolic.
then again, the knock on from parklife was pretty cool for us young uns - stereolab, syd, kinks, wire. Blur were a gateway drug.

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Andy G
Apr 28, 2014 11:50am


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Apr 28, 2014 11:56am

How and why did indie-heads start giving a shit about who's number one in the charts ?
And look what happened next : The Spice Girls being talked about in the music press like they're a serious act.
And we still get that shit today : music rags talking about Lady gaga and Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus like they matter ? People who care about music enough to read these things go to them to escape from the bullshit, not to get more of it...
20 years later, it seems only success is respected. Articles now mention how many Twitter followers or YouTube clicks an artist has got (an information which incidentally doesn't even have to be written about since it's there to see for anyone with a computer).

I'd never thought about Britpop being the starting point of all this (then again, I'm not British, the outlook on it all was different where I live), but you have a great point.
And even if you didn't have a point, this is still a very honest and well-written article.

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Apr 28, 2014 12:03pm

The first ever Britpop record was of course "You're The One For Me, Fatty".

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Bryan G
Apr 28, 2014 12:04pm


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Apr 28, 2014 12:29pm

I loved that. Cheers.

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Apr 28, 2014 12:30pm

Haha. Brutal. And whilst I don't agree with all the details (I think Parklife is superb) the crux of your argument is spot on; Britpop was a total nadir for "British" culture and its influence has been totally malign. I wonder if we'll ever really recover (and I don't just mean utter shit guitar bands).

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William Salter
Apr 28, 2014 12:35pm

'I mean, anyone who can't see that Blur were a talented band – far more talented than most of their Britpop peers – doesn't really understand music'

You wouldn't get away with that sort of analysis in a first year undergraduate paper. Perhaps this is why nobody will pay British music journalists to write anymore. The standard of writing at the Melody Maker was always atrocious, dressed up mean spirited opinion pieces without any cultural comment of any value. Yet again bitter creative writers with no outlet who can longer make a living vent their tiny minds about Britpop. Well, it obviously was a cultural phenomena of sorts, otherwise we wouldn't be going on about it. Can I recommend that Mr. Parkes reads Grail Marcus or even Allan F Moore, so as to get a grip on cultural studies -

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Apr 28, 2014 12:44pm

YES! Very good article.

IMO the normalisation of 'celebrating mediocrity' that flourished with Britpop era music writing is the worst hangover of that era, and as damaging to music as a cultural force as illegal downloading and the rest.

How are kids supposed to seriously engage with acts who, in 2014 sound EXACTLY like they could have existed 20 or 30 years ago, and are bringing nothing to the table themselves bar, say a trippy record sleeves and a slightly grown out Bieber do.

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Apr 28, 2014 12:51pm

and ON and ON and ON and ON..... No chance of holdimg my attention for so long. Stil, at least it gave you something write about -- at great length.

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Apr 28, 2014 12:56pm

How many lines did Parkes snort in his Walthamstow basement (from which, I presume, he's being evicted) to blurt out this crap?

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Apr 28, 2014 1:01pm

'The flag-waving's for real now.' Spot on.

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Apr 28, 2014 1:06pm

In reply to SY:

I just got to this bit where the whole argument unravels in one sentence

The Boo Radleys....they're genuinely good

No, they are not.

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pat redux
Apr 28, 2014 1:06pm

Very enjoyable read, again. At the time this phenomenon was both silly and disturbing (speaking as a British citizen: British patriotism is always smelly and claustrophobic). Blur were obnoxious and Oasis were stupid and Pulp were smart and Suede did what they did. But the mention here of pastiche is key, I think, and can serve as a summary to the whole Britpop thing. Nobody had anything to say, but they liked to wear their influences like accomplishments.

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Simon Witter
Apr 28, 2014 1:08pm

What a great piece!

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John Doran
Apr 28, 2014 1:31pm

In reply to William Salter:

Who the fuck is "Grail" Marcus?

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Apr 28, 2014 1:53pm

You don't know Grail Marcus? He's a holy man.

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Apr 28, 2014 2:18pm

I'd like to see similar cultural critiques of American grunge, which is also getting the weepy-eyed anniversary treatment by the Industry.

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Gina Wisker
Apr 28, 2014 2:19pm

In reply to Pun:

Searching for the Holy "Grail' Marcus. It was a well pitched joke obviously, too sophisticated for the likes of some. I agree though, Parkes's literal interpretation of Britpop is laughable.

Message for Taylor Parkes and his snide opinions on street kids having a laugh while creating music
You've wasted your life Parkes

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Apr 28, 2014 2:35pm

Yesterday I woke up sucking on lemon

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Tristan Bath
Apr 28, 2014 2:36pm

Incredible article, near-perfectly written.

It's pleasing to be now living twenty years AFTER all of this happened. Can't help but slightly disagree with the penultimate pessimistic thoughts about 'Britishness' as it now stands - "actively hostile to radical thought". Contemporary music, and people, are both generally much clever and radical. We can look beyond "The Beatles, The Smiths, the Sex Pistols" and see something more than merely this little island. Radical thought is rife - its just diffuse and varied. The rent is definitely too damn high though.

Looking back at Parklife makes it clearer that modern life is in fact generally great.

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Madie in Taiwan
Apr 28, 2014 2:36pm

Thank you for writing this.

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Apr 28, 2014 3:01pm

I agree with this pretty much to the letter...UNTIL you mention Sleaford Mods and Fat White Family, both of whom are shite

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Rory Gibb
Apr 28, 2014 3:03pm

In reply to Tristan Bath:

Yeah I agree with that to an extent; brilliant article, and the current situation is completed fucked up politically, economically, socially, all of which the above points out beautifully (and rightfully scathingly bearing in mind the 90s' role in the current state of affairs). Culturally... well, it's tough to call. From the perspective of someone who's long ceased to have any interest in 99.9% of British guitar music (in part, no doubt, for many of the reasons mentioned above), yeah, there's very little going on there except in a few particular cases. But the goalposts for what constitutes mass culture have been shifting as well thanks to the internet and so forth - I'm reminded of Mark Fisher talking recently about the decline of 'popular modernism', when music that was genuinely modern and experimental was still explosively popular. But I'm not sure if we're asking too much of the current atomised moment to hope for that kind of mass movement behind innovative new music again. In any case there's a fair bit of fantastic pop and non-pop music at the moment that's distinctly British in character - grime being perhaps the best example, though the demonisations of the genre by police and mainstream media in its early years arguably stunted its potential to grow into anything approaching a mass movement.

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Apr 28, 2014 3:09pm

I also hate the stupid revisionism... There was a load of great music made in Britain in the mid-90s, and it was made by:
The Prodigy
Aphex Twin
Massive Attack
Senser (yup, I'll go to bat for them - hilarious fun)
Add N to X
The Aloof
PJ Harvey
not to mention all the Jungle labels like Suburban Base etc.

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Apr 28, 2014 3:31pm

Apart from corporate DJ’s who are forced to say that Britpop was great, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought that it was good at the time, or now. It was, however, a phenomenon and so it would be interesting to see someone actually write intelligently on it rather than with such flailing vitriol. Parklife is an exceptional record – and it was designed to be a popular record. Was it about nothing? Is ‘End of a Century’ actually about nothing? ‘Clover Over Dover’? Is the instrumental a filler or some strange invitation to the odd and un-rocknroll aesthetic Blur were interested in? You can still see that aesthetic with the instrumental track on Albarn’s new record. It seems a shame to me that in the nostalgia we haven’t had talk of the end of the party – not just Princess Diana – but Pulp’s This is Hardcore’ – the best statement on the whole thing. Still perhaps the end of it was just Radiohead?

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Apr 28, 2014 3:39pm

So are we to assume that Taylor Parkes is denying his part in Blur's rise? Didn't him hear him being too critical 20 years ago...

Exhibit A: "The New Mods started with Blur, moved back through The Jam, The Who and The Small Faces, and, according to whispers from the frontline, are getting into Booker T & The MGs, James Brown, Arthur Alexander and The Temptations. They're reading Jean-Paul Satre, JD Salinger and Francoise Sagan, watching the films of Godard, Roeg and Truffaut.

All this can only be a good thing. Dammit, we may even have the most art-literate generation since the mid-Sixties on our hands.

And, in a roundabout way, you can thank Blur for that."

- Taylor Parkes, Melody Maker, Aug 20, 1994

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Tristan Bath
Apr 28, 2014 3:47pm

In reply to Rory Gibb:

I take from it the idea that mass importance isn't really very... important any more. People my age will remember Travis and Muse (who came only a little later) more immediately than either Blur or Oasis, and Muse still fill stadiums worldwide. Yet both are viewed as culturally impotent in hindsight. Take a look at the top 40 today: it's ALL impotent. Culture of substance generally 'happens' elsewhere now - seems a vast improvement to me. The internet saved us from ourselves. Grime doesn't need to chart to be a movement now, which is a far superior state of affairs.

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Jack Connell
Apr 28, 2014 4:02pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Because someone's opinion now must be exactly the same as it was twenty years ago, right?

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John Doran
Apr 28, 2014 4:10pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

So you've decided to conveniently skip over Taylor's Mea Culpa in the article above or you just couldn't be bothered reading it before getting stuck in? Either way a pretty poor show.

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Apr 28, 2014 4:23pm

An enjoyable rant, but gives britpop more prominence than it deserves. The only reason it's so dominant in the 'story' of the 1990s is because it's audience - the white middle classes - went on to dominate the media of today. Someone write a 20 years of happy hardcore piece please.

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Apr 28, 2014 5:44pm

In reply to Joe:

"The only reason it's so dominant in the 'story' of the 1990s is because it's audience - the white middle classes - went on to dominate the media of today."

Err... that's partly what the article's about, isn't it?

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Apr 28, 2014 5:59pm

Οh come on , people who don't like Blur have to be able to find something to say , otherwise it would be unfair. Is Albarn middle-class or not? Did he make fun of people or not? Is his accent obnoxious or not? These are great matters of debate. I mean, otherwise they would have to talk about Tracy Jacks, London Loves, Badhead, Trouble in the message center, This is a low etc. They would have to talk about the melodies, the arrangements, the guitars all these stupid things that can't really be a part of any intellectual snobbish revisionism. I mean, then the Quietus would be like all the other American and European indie sites that celebrate Parklife and the best aspects of the era in a relaxed way without feeling the need to make it a matter of ideology. Enjoying the music just for the music is obviously overrated in the Quietus.

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tony m
Apr 28, 2014 6:44pm

Much love for Mr Parkes BUT I don't think a lot of the bands mentioned above were THAT bad. Didn't John Peel have a lot of them in for sessions? He loved Gene, The Bluetones and (AND) Sleeper. Even The Dreadful Echobelly. Although I appreciate that the piece was more concerned with the unwarranted nostalgia, rose-tinted (oval)specs etc.

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Apr 28, 2014 6:47pm

Good piece of writing but surely the closing down of a greyhound stadium should be a cause for celebration? Barbaric industry, needs to be stamped out for good.

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Lemo Killer
Apr 28, 2014 7:01pm

Look in the mirror, I bet you're wearing a blazer/jacket with a pair of jeans. You sound like a cunt and your words are shit. I've seen & heard the God complex in many cunts like you. The type of person who stands their with smugness ingrained upon their faux world weary face, and a sense of everyone is wrong bar me. Even if what you outlined was followed to make a better musical environment at the time, a cunt like you would still find holes and flaws under the guise of 'intelligence.' Cunts like you were not welcome to the party, or at least any of the many parties I went to or organised. Many people listened to and played a variety of music in the '90s, people who listened to Aphex Twin would listen to SFA & Joni Mitchell. London cunt.

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jim cliven
Apr 28, 2014 7:03pm

Time of course will judge Britpop... it has already evaluated the Melody Maker and found it it lacking. While many thousands of young music makers will go top be inspired by Britpop, there are few who will remember the inane ramblings of the third rate music journalists no longer in work. Parkes seems to live in a world full of negative values. One opinion Parkes get right is when he mentions: The End Of History. But that’s hardly Britpop’s fault is it? In fact, Britpop is a symptom of Fukuyama’s theory. Parkes fails to make this glaringly obvious point. And why pick on Louise Wener? Maybe it’s because she is a successful published novelist? It wouldn't surprise me. Christ those Melody Maker boys must be crying in their sleep over that one. LOUISE FUCKEN WENER? ARRGHHHHH!!!! Then comes the cutting edge critique of Blur… ‘ 'This Is A Low' is a very fine piece of music’. No I don’t think so.

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Apr 28, 2014 7:19pm

That TIZER advert just blew my mind.


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Apr 28, 2014 7:28pm

In reply to Lemo Killer:

bwahhhahaaa! That made my evening... You're a funny cunt!

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Jon Melling
Apr 28, 2014 7:37pm

I was 15 in 1995 so I even liked a lot of stuff (still have an Oasis soft spot which no amount of therapy can shake off)mentioned in this article. But this is so spot on, britpop, new labour etc leave us all where we are today. Even the roses in 89/90 seemed to have something to say. 5 years later no one appeared to want to say anything. If you've ever seen Damon Albarns spoken introduction to the famous Britpop now program you'll understand why we all thought he was a dick despite Badhead & Til The End (which were funnily enough my favourite tracks on Parklife as well).

I believe Taylor Parkes also wrote a great review of Tim Lovejoys book in When Saturday Comes a few years ago so wherever you are thank you for your excellent work

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Apr 28, 2014 7:49pm

This is a great article and all, but surely Mogwai put it much more succinctly when they said, simply: 'Blur:are shite'.

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Apr 28, 2014 8:00pm

Trying to think of a band from the States as loved and loathed as Blur and I can't. How much longer before Albarn's image starts appearing as the the evil force opposing the blessed virgin in stainglass form inside your churches?

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Apr 28, 2014 8:02pm

I put on Parklife via YouTube and listened to the first 34 minutes while reading that. First time for everything!
Great piece but i felt let down in that you cover so much of the ground that all the other articles have done/will do. I really wanted more from this.

You say: "The simplistic, smugly flippant nature of what passes for media commentary on popular culture is testament to that. Everyone else is excluded from the discourse, because God damn it, they complicate things." But what you cover hardly expands the BBC6 Music paradigm. And you don't make any excuses for that beyond. "For a couple of years this stuff was just there, another chocolate in the box, co-existing happily with the other trends in white kids' music: Riot Grrl, the New Wave Of New Wave, other crap which even I've forgotten." It would have been good if you had made an effort to remember that stuff as i am sure your take on it would have been more interesting than more paragraphs on Lady Di.

I'm still waiting for new angles on Britpop... for a writer to say something that surprises me.

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Apr 28, 2014 8:03pm

In reply to Damien:


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Roy Castle
Apr 28, 2014 8:11pm

In reply to Lemo Killer:

"Ladies', Gentlemen and Norris, I give you,: Britain's Angriest Prick"

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Apr 28, 2014 8:48pm

The ultimate in Britpop Bullshittery would be the article "Modern Life Is... Brilliant!" that appeared in the NME Xmas edition at the end of '94. Written by some empty shell of a man called John Harris. Whatever became of him?

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Apr 28, 2014 8:48pm

The ultimate in Britpop Bullshittery would be the article "Modern Life Is... Brilliant!" that appeared in the NME Xmas edition at the end of '94. Written by some empty shell of a man called John Harris. Whatever became of him?

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Tom H
Apr 28, 2014 9:00pm

"The eerie delirium of pirate stations playing music which sounded like now, but which I never wrote about because (thank God!) I didn't understand it, so I couldn't explain it"

This sums up the music journalism of the time.
There's a Black Sky Thinking in exploring the way the NME and Melody Maker went AWOL in The Good Mixer toilets while amazing stuff was happening in hip hop and dance music.

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Colin T
Apr 28, 2014 9:43pm

Great article even though I disagree with some of what you've said.

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bugger me
Apr 28, 2014 9:53pm

Nevermind all this britpop shite- write something about the only rock n roll star that ever mattered


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Apr 28, 2014 10:38pm

Some crackling fair points, some beautiful conceits and a luscious dollop of double-standards, while (presumably ironically) poking a stick in the beards' nests. Very enjoyable read. TOP TROLLING!

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John Doran
Apr 28, 2014 10:59pm

In reply to Tom H:

For the most part this may be right but it's really unfair to writers such as Angus Batey, Neil Kulkarni, Simon Price, Dele etc to claim this is the whole story.

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Neil Carlill
Apr 28, 2014 11:55pm

These days I go to bed sober and wake up drunk. The 1990's did that to me, and what Taylor said...

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Apr 29, 2014 12:23am

The Auteurs were dour pretentious and had boring melodies but journos love 'em .Why do bands have to write about social inequality and laud the working class anyway?Isn't THAT a 60s idea.Dylan Protest stuff.Blur wrote some beautiful songs and some good rockers with swagger like Tracy Jacks.So what if they were obnoxious or cynical .So were The Who and The Pistols.Blur bashing is too popular.So what did you expect from the 90s?80s anarchos had already had a good go at Thatcher.Why should 90s bands carry that on? Slagging Britpop is a form of Britpop nostalgia in itself

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Apr 29, 2014 2:08am

I think Britpop looks really horrible in retrospect, and it was - but as the article alludes, there was no internet and few mobiles. It was the beginning of now, but it was also the end of then. Britpop lived in a cultural bubble of racially filtered values, but it was the last hurrah of something like that really being sustainable. Indie kids and musicians hadn't worked out how to make interesting music with computers yet, so the bands that just didn't bother did the best. Its parochialness looks irredeemable in 2014, but viewed in context I think it is more forgiveable. It was when Melody Maker ran a free 'Born To Do It Better' Schmindie CD in 2000 as a sort of swipe against the UK Garage scene that the fridge got well and truly nuked in the here and now.

I think there is some salvageable music, but Britpop did also drag some bands down. I mean, in retrospect, it's diffficult to view 'Coming Up' by Suede as anything other than a tragedy in light of how good 'Dog Man Star' was. And a band like Echobelly who were making great music seemed to get dragged down into playing the likes of Sleeper's games. *whisper* I also think a couple of Shed Seven's early singles were kinda alright :-O

Parklife was a mixed bag, but 53 minutes is not an epic and they were a good band. Arguably better musicians than their *immediate* peers, but certainly wider in range than most - I think the album retains some charm. 'Trouble In The Message Centre' is still really great.

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Apr 29, 2014 6:14am

I wonder what Stefan Collini has to say about all this.

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Nigel Hussain
Apr 29, 2014 7:37am

It's dangerous and misguided to suggest that Britpop had a racist or sexist subtext. Whatever you thought of the music Mr. Parkes, the Britpop scene had a disproportionate and positively refreshing number of girls (both fans and players) than in previous years, and a good number of Asian and Black fans and players. If there are accusations to be made let them be made in the direction of the Melody Maker, an almost exclusively white boys club (a few girls i admit): Self loathing white boys with nothing but contempt for their readership and the bands that kept them in jobs. Oh yes, you might read about a gushing review of public enemy by some lipstick smeared fat white chump of a writer, but secretly we all knew it was just a pretence, and the sad fact remained that they would listen to their lumpen Manics and Suede records given half a chance. Two whiter and straighter bands you’d never find. While over in the authentic corner you have Ocean Colour scene – a shit band granted, but no worse than the three chord turnarounds and lyrically embarrassing Manics and Suede. At least OCS had a genuine Homosexual and Black man in the group. For that they must be applauded

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Tracy Jackoff
Apr 29, 2014 7:43am

The problem with this feature is that it should have been a Black Sky Thinking piece on Britpop and not an anniversary feature. Parklife is barely mentioned at all as Taylor Parkes rants and raves like some care in the community case screaming at traffic. Britpop didn't exist when this record came out and from where I'm sitting to review it the context of what came after is wrong. It would probably work better if applied to the truly dreadful The Great Escape, an album that really did play up to the worst of what Britpop became. Anyway, roll on the Romo feature - or perhaps not as that's likely to be lauded as the greatest thing to have happened in the 90s.

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Apr 29, 2014 8:43am

There's so much bile in this piece that I can't even be bother to pick it a part so I'll just leave my thoughts-what a load of sh*te.

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Tracy Jackoff
Apr 29, 2014 9:18am

In reply to Nigel Hussain:

I think you've really hit on something here Nigel. The problem with the writers that you mention is that they spent way too much time projecting their image of what black and gay people should be like rather than accepting the prosaic truth that they're like everyone else. And 'fat chump smeared in lipstick' is the best thing I've read all year!

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Apr 29, 2014 9:31am

Aah memories of locking myself in my room listening to Wolverine Blues, Demanufacture and Nightside Eclipse whilst the country pretended they were re-living Beatlemania.

By the late nineties I did become more accepting of Britpop as jukebox fodder if only to improve my chances with girls at college. This of course backfired monumentally when Nu-Metal kicked off.

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Apr 29, 2014 11:18am

In reply to John Doran:

Roger that, chief. I think this is a fantastic, blistering piece of writing; but one of the reasons for this - contra TP's recollections - is that it reminds me of the things I loved in Melody Maker in this period. Perhaps I stopped buying it when the populism/triumphalism Taylor recalls sunk it. But my abiding memory of MM, in this period, is its championing of a range of aesthetics - slamming way-out stuff like Third Eye Foundation and No U Turn up against throwaway pop (didn't they interview Shampoo?) and loving it all, matching the delight in eclecticism with a powerful critical intelligence. A review of East 17 on one page, and on the next, a review of Tricky. Yeah, no doubt the bog-standard guitar bands were all in there too, but that just wasn't what I was taking from it. It was all about Taylor, Simon Price, Neil Kulkarni, Simon Reynolds. And I still think with pleasure, with excitement, of a review of The Style Council Collection by Dickon from Orlando, championing this young, international Weller over the muso bore he'd turned into, and which seemed emblematic of Britpop's low ambitions.

It wasn't all bad, Taylor. You were doing good work in there, and so much of it still means a lot to me.

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Finger Prince
Apr 29, 2014 11:41am

In reply to Tracy Jackoff:

I was just thinking about Romo reading that piece. MM journos, Simon Price and Taylor Parkes were partly responsible for Romo. I remember around 1996This Morning doing a whole piece about how New Romantics are back and trendy Londoners are partying like it was 1981 again at the club, Arcadia.
And why not? They had fun like I did, pretending it was 1967 at Blow Up, Camden, a year earlier.
It's a bit rum though?

Although I did discover Add N To X from the free tape.

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Apr 29, 2014 11:51am

Bravo, sir - a fantastic article. I used to think I was the only person that held similar views.

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Mark Pringle
Apr 29, 2014 12:19pm

Proper music writing. If you want the "objective" history, whatever the fuck that is, you can probably get it in Classic Mojo or Uncut Rock or wherever, but we need polemical writing like this regardless of whether you agree with it or not.

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Han Ki
Apr 29, 2014 1:25pm

Methinks the lady doth protest too much. I hate that shit too, but couldn't muster up the energy to write 7,000 (well-crafted) words on the topic. Taylor Parkes, Britpop loves you back.

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Apr 29, 2014 2:36pm

I heard someone almost complimented Ocean Colour Scene, so I immediately came over to rubberneck.

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Apr 29, 2014 8:34pm

An article on Britpop that doesn't even mention the fantastic Supergrass is just as shite as the author makes out Britpop to be.

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Apr 29, 2014 8:56pm

Articles like this are important for good music journalism, but they rarely have to do anything with music. Blur's reputation as the more accomplished band of their generation will remain intact , no matter what Taylor makes of the lyrics. Leftfield music journalism is important but it does not necessarily come with progressive taste. If you want people fighting over something , yes Taylor Parkes can make it happen and that is important. But in the end if I want a recommendation of a provoking jazz record, I will take Maconie's (blur's biographer) opinion into consideration more.

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Carl Taylor
Apr 29, 2014 10:30pm

Blair and his manipulative cohorts ushered in a period of vacuity, and the pathway was paved by those loveable Britpop pups mentioned in this excellent article. Britpop was a reaction against the earnestness of British indie music in the early 90's and a recliaming of the pop landscape from those awful, e-addled dance heads who emerged from the acid house scene a few years earlier. We can never escape our past, just as the Beatles begat Hermans Hermits so the Smiths begat Blur...

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Randy Quim
Apr 29, 2014 10:40pm

The blame for Britpop must be put squarely at the feet of John Peel. One look at his sessions reveals plenty of evidence that all the major (and minor) Britpop players were given repeated radio time - Fucken Peel, sell out white boy cultural abomination that he is ,

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Apr 29, 2014 10:50pm

In reply to jezzamy:

You didn't read it all, then?

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Apr 30, 2014 7:42am

In reply to Jude:

Grunge in it's way was similar to Britpop......shit.

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Apr 30, 2014 10:59am

This has to be one of Taylor Parkes' worst articles. Incredibly negative and overbearing, written like a teenager who's just broken a silence pact for all the wrong reasons. As someone who wasn't there at the time, I looked at the headline hoping for something hearty, informative and nuanced, instead I got something reedy, patchy and a bitch for the eyes.

Even if it the period was full of doggerel, the writing didn't have to be. Shame considering the warm and spirited piece the author wrote about the Cavern Club a few years back.

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Apr 30, 2014 11:16am

This is shallower than the shallowest britpop bands. Predictable self-important writing that has nothing to do with music. And this is why Blur are the band they are. You can write a billion words against them withour having anything bad to say about the musicianship and the songs.

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Daveid P
Apr 30, 2014 2:18pm

I was going to propose marriage until the line, 'I mean, anyone who can't see that Blur were a talented band...
but I can forgive Taylor Parkes because this article made my day.

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Ted G
Apr 30, 2014 11:28pm

Did anyone get any further than the picture of Tim Brooke-Taylor? I mean it's quite interesting but it's repeating itself already at that stage. WAY too long.

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Boris Putin
May 1, 2014 1:35am

Great article mate, you should be Knighted! Nailed it hook, line and sinker. You should have been going to drum n' bass massives instead of wasting your time with Status Quo cover bands!

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May 1, 2014 10:59am

WOW: Thank you - i feel less alone in the world.
Having been alive then and young I thought I was the only person to be thinking why is everyone so fucking blind as to see what was really happening - the death of culture and a place for our voices to be heard. It was utterly depressing.

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Sotirios Siminas
May 1, 2014 10:05pm

Utterly unreadable... Congrats to all readers managing to swallow it in one gulp. Classic Brit umbilicoscopy. Were they really all that or where they really not all that? If the view of someone not British and not living in Britain in the particular era has any relevance, a discussion on the importance of the impact or non-impact of this trend is rather boring. For the global listener, not biased by the waves of British media analysis (imagine something like all the discussions before the English lions prepare for a football World Cup, if you are not British you stand amazed at the sheer joke of the self-importance attributed to all that), these groups were rather OK but other much more interesting things were happening and in the end of the day nobody gave a shit whether Blur were "artistic" (hahaha) or Oasis were the working-class heroes or whatever. Music memory or insomnia is the true fate of good or bad music and each one of us has or has not a place in his temporal lobes for these tunes.

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May 2, 2014 8:22pm

Ben Scott and all of you who dislike this article are clearly a part of the mainstream herd. I second the notion that as much as all of these musicians were indeed very skilled and clever enough to dupe all of you into believing they were "influential" and "important" rather than the mainstream regurgitation that they factually are, they did, as is stated, refuse to intelligently comment on the social issues that they purported to allude to. They were if anything anti-alternative (seeing as 'alternative' in my mind is counter-cultural (early punk, anarcho-punk). You can whine and moan all you want, but facts speak for themselves. You wouldn't be listening to them if they weren't "mainstream", because I can see that most of you as the reader says only listen to 'easy-listening' melodies; music which is essentially like a nursery rhyme: simple, catchy and rhythmic. This music doesn't say anything about our generation, it doesn't speak up for the proletariat and you are all morons :)

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May 3, 2014 10:03am

A pleasing mixture of music industry regrets and midlife crises. More amusing to laugh at than with, though. Seeing as the author was in his mid-20s back then, I'd just point out he was towards the older end of the demographic: britpop was intelligent chart music, and therefore aimed at the 12-20 demographic. The bitterness is more self-reflexive than outward looking throughout the article.

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Graeme F'Tang
May 4, 2014 4:50am

Oh dear, Taylor; 17 years later and you're still bitter nobody bought Romo.

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Grant P
May 6, 2014 7:58am

Taylor Parkes - provincial British music hack, desperately insecure, utterly terrified at being "uncool", jumping from bandwagon to bandwagon with nary a glance towards hypocrisy, sneering at those who dare to like what he once loved.

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May 7, 2014 5:29pm

Wow, I actually read the whole thing. Wonderful writing, Taylor.

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dicky mcgee
May 7, 2014 8:56pm

In reply to :

fat white family are just as pastichey! they're actually a shit version of what was going on around the fringes of 90's mainstream indie!

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May 8, 2014 12:20pm

"...knowing we're probably going to die somewhere that's even worse than this." Hahahahaha, top stuff!

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May 9, 2014 9:29pm

Splendid ariticle! I'm wracking mye brains every week why the 90s turned out so opposite to all my expectations. Where is the universal psychedelic black sabbath? Most of my neighbours don't even know the word "psychedelic".
Not sarcastic

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May 10, 2014 8:51pm

I call bullshit, sorry. You want a scapegoat for Union Jack guitars, 90 minute albums and cocaine? Look in the mirror. Most of the musicians in the early 90s would have been putting out bad material - the way they do in EVERY decade. A few British bands do better than usual by a more overt copying of Kinks references and it's the press that makes the movement. Using the invisible hand of evolution - highlighting the bands that are 'British' and tick the criteria for identification with a movement that will sell albums to patriotic music listeners and ignoring others, the music media can be held accountable for the shape of Britpop. "But those bands sell more!" Of course, because they get the magazine covers. Oasis might have been a kick-ass pub band with a strong following in Manchester, but when Q magazine devoted AN ENTIRE EDITION to the release of Be Here Now...who can blame Liam for being a tosser?
Look. Ultimately every generation has good music, bad music and mediocre music. The press was looking after its own interest every bit as much as the bands by clinging to the coattails of Britpop, even when it was going down the plughole. A lot of mediocre bands got column inches that wouldn't have if not for the Britpop franchise, like they got the NME Seal of Approval. The fact that I even have heard of Kula Shaker is evidence of that.

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May 11, 2014 4:26pm

In reply to Anarcho-com:

You are clearly middle class.

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May 11, 2014 9:52pm

Disclaimer up front I am not British. However I did live in London in 1993-4, white & aged 22, this meant I casually saw the media hype of Suede & then Blur & Elastica in youth orientated media. I didn't think much of Suedes's pitch at sexuality (scrawny Bowie knock off), Blur seemed far better with 'For Tomorrow', until they started speaking about American culture (err, hang your beloved Kinks had been avid devourers of it)& Elastica looked like self appointed cool kids with one idea, lets do 1978. Blur were the best of the batch, but I agree they were hollow, author mentions song End of Century - starts off with casual observational lyrics about his girlfriend & then goes onto say we are all the same blah blah, it's a lyrical mess with no coherent point, style over substance. But worst were Elastica, they took source music that had biting political lyrics, and replaced them with lame attempt at female sexuality, they literally took the politics out of a British rock sound. At time I saw couple of bands in London but ironically best was actually American, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, rock & roll with genre mixing, yes even some hip hop elements. NB & no I'm not an American!

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May 13, 2014 8:54am

Sour grapes music journalism...the middle class music media never liked it when the working class bands dominated pop culture...

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May 13, 2014 2:52pm

The first Brit Pop band were... The Beatles! And then The Kinks, The Who, Small Faces, etc...!!!

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Pin Ball
May 14, 2014 12:09am

If The Cure had disbanded after releasing - and touring - this monolithic masterpiece of an album, their recorded legacy would, arguably, have been far greater [in its compactness and consistency] than it is now. There are only so many times you can keep reworking the same formula, peddling the same existential angst, and revisiting the same musical / lyrical ideas, without the law of diminishing returns becoming more of a noose around your neck ……not to mention coming across like a tired self parody, forever serving up ever more tepid rehashes of former glories.

Sadly, this is what Robert Smith appears to have done, ever since he achieved his high commercial and critical watermark with this incredibly intense and emotional record. I still remember very clearly a quote of his in one of the music papers when he declared that "if [The Cure] ever had a Number 1 record, he would disband them immediately...", continuing further that.. "he would hate to see them competing in that kind of arena..." or words to that effect. Fast forward three years, one ill-advised remix album [1990's rather pointless "Mixed Up"] and another studio album [1992's patchy - as in half-decent and half-forgettable - "Wish"] which DID make it to number one and guess what? He reneged on his word…. and half a dozen more unremarkable albums later, they're still at it….

Anyway…… the magnificently glacial opener "Plainsong" is worth the admission price alone - it's still my favourite Cure song EVER … just goose-pimple-inducing, a colossal wash of keyboards suggesting a huge Alpine waterfall, cascading in slow motion. Just utterly gorgeous. There are so many MASSIVE songs on this album it would be churlish to start dissecting each one, so I won't, suffice to say that I think the original 10-track [vinyl] running order (minus the two 'weaker' links: "Last Dance" and "Homesick") for me works best.

1989 was also the best ever year of my adult life. Just started a new job at the beginning of the year, was in a wonderful relationship with a girl, a true soulmate, spent a good part of it travelling together and exploring places I'd never been to, we then had the first of two gloriously hot and prolonged summers (the following 1990 was even hotter!), and to cap that, there were so many brilliant records which came out this year too. Everything was looking rosy and I was in the prime of my life….aged 24….
This album was one of about a dozen which perfectly soundtracked the amazing 12 months I had…..and yet "Disintegration" was - paradoxically -my favourite 'mood' record above all the rest. It was the one record to have a good mope to when things DID start to go pear shaped. It was a perfect form of catharsis.

I also caught the band live during that year's "Prayer Tour" - and saw them at Birmingham NEC….on a gloriously hot July day. They played for THREE hours - 90 minutes comprising the main set, then the other 90 minutes devoted to five lots of encores from every single Cure incarnation ever. Absolutely incredible. Back then, The Cure playing for 3 hours seemed like the most luxurious thing ever. And of course it was bittersweet for Robert because he made out that this was their last ever tour, the choice of encores indeed suggesting that - maybe - this would be the last time. WE believed him too….but what a night. What a tour. What a record. And what a year.

Oh….and "Fascination Street" absolutely fucking ROCKS !!!!

Ahhhhh.... did we love [or hate] thee so? My god.....20 years already! I mean, 25 years since glorious 1989 the second [long hot] summer of love (for many of us who'd just finished being students - ha!)...and already two decades since "Parklife" and "Definitely Maybe". But then it's also two decades since the death of Cobain and the masterpiece that is NIN's "The Downward Spiral" - and no prizes for guessing which one I still enjoy listening to on a regular basis.

Let's face it..... Britpop [the mid-90's model] was just embarrassing.....all that jingoistic bollocks and misplaced patriotism - and then, to rub even more rancid sputum into the wounds, the excruciatingly vacuous likes of the Spice Girls would be jumping aboard the 'Cool Britannia' bandwagon a couple of years later, along with all that cosying up to Blair's New Labour just to score some cheap political cred points ...… yuck.

And those [other 2nd division] bands!! Menswear! Echobelly! Gene! Cast! Sleeper! Elastica! Bluetones! Dodgy! Reef! Ocean Duller Scene! Who else have I forgotten? Oh, does it matter? Must admit to liking - and buying - both "Parklife" and "Definitely Maybe" when they initially came out, but when all that contrived Blur vs Oasis bullshit started to rage out of control, that was when I wanted to reach for the revolver (and I don't mean the overrated 1966 album either).

Thank goodness one band who could teach ALL of these third-rate, turd-brained charlatans a thing or two about classic British Pop Sensibility were conspicuous by their total absence during the whole 'Britpop circus' that was 1994-1997. They wisely kept their heads down after releasing their album at the start of the year - and then waited for the whole charade to blow over before re-emerging fully revitalised. Who, I hear you ask? Saint Etienne. Now THAT'S what I call Cool Britannia incarnate.

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Pin Ball
May 14, 2014 1:20am

In reply to Pin Ball:

WHOOOPS! Pesky auto-cut-and-paste again!!! I APPEAR TO HAVE POSTED TWO ARTICLES IN MY LAST REPLY ABOVE (ONE OF THEM WAS ALREADY PUBLISHED UNDER "THE CURE'S DISINTEGRATION 25 YEARS ON" ARTICLE ELSEWHERE.) ....WHAT A DOOFUS I AM!! SORRY...... ignore ^^THAT huge slab of text and skip to what I *should* have posted up.......

Ahhhhh.... did we love [or hate] thee so? My god.....20 years already! I mean, 25 years since glorious 1989 the second [long hot] summer of love (for many of us who'd just finished being students - ha!)...and already two decades since "Parklife" and "Definitely Maybe". But then it's also two decades since the death of Cobain and the masterpiece that is NIN's "The Downward Spiral" - and no prizes for guessing which one I still enjoy listening to on a regular basis.

Let's face it..... Britpop [the mid-90's model] was just embarrassing.....all that jingoistic bollocks and misplaced patriotism - and then, to rub even more rancid sputum into the wounds, the excruciatingly vacuous likes of the Spice Girls would be jumping aboard the 'Cool Britannia' bandwagon a couple of years later, along with all that cosying up to Blair's New Labour just to score some cheap political cred points ...… yuck.

And those [other 2nd division] bands!! Menswear! Echobelly! Gene! Cast! Sleeper! Elastica! Bluetones! Dodgy! Reef! Ocean Duller Scene! Who else have I forgotten? Oh, does it matter? Must admit to liking - and buying - both "Parklife" and "Definitely Maybe" when they initially came out, but when all that contrived Blur vs Oasis bullshit started to rage out of control, that was when I wanted to reach for the revolver (and I don't mean the overrated 1966 album either).

Thank goodness one band who could teach ALL of these third-rate, turd-brained charlatans a thing or two about classic British Pop Sensibility were conspicuous by their total absence during the whole 'Britpop circus' that was 1994-1997. They wisely kept their heads down after releasing their album at the start of the year - and then waited for the whole charade to blow over before re-emerging fully revitalised. Who, I hear you ask? Saint Etienne. Now THAT'S what I call Cool Britannia incarnate.

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May 14, 2014 1:50pm

My take is that it was the same old industry standard of selling duff chuff to the next line of suckers whilst telling them how great it all is and aren't they lucky to be British etc etc.
Beery laddish mockney cockney / northern wanker bollocks sold to suckers who weren't too bothered about music but wanted to be in the gang.

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Joe Bleazard
May 14, 2014 4:57pm

Brilliant article, it really hits on the difficulty of that label britpop, and the problems attached to the rock snobbism of the now defunct music press.

However, in some ways it didn't quite relate to my own experience as a teenager in the nineties. I was too young for the first generation of britpop bands and so I really just thought I was listening to rock music. There were a number of great bands coming through then and being played in accessible places like radio 1 by lamacq and John Peel. We could all listen to Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Manic Street Preachers, Delgados, Super Furry Animals, Life without Buildings, Spiritualised, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky and of course Radiohead. It was the triumph of these bands (in particular and stupidly belle and Sebastian winning a brit award) that led me to a feeling that intelligent music was taking over from crap. I would also like to point out that pop was in a far more backwards state at that point than now (it had very little r and b or electronic influence at that stage), and it was really something to be fought against. We were also all provincial and shorn of choices enough that things like radio playlists were important battlegrounds for us.

So, I'd say that this is bang on as an article about the specifically britpop bands and britpop nostalgia, and also in its comments on the state of britain, but I want to defend nineties alternative music and culture to some extent

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May 14, 2014 8:33pm

In reply to Joe Bleazard:

I think when the Spice Girls won the Brit award for Contribution to Music (yeah!) I stopped caring. I mean, Madness never got it. Nor Erasure. Nor Status Quo. But the Spice Girls did. Unforgivable. Geri looked horny though.

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May 14, 2014 11:00pm

Modern Life Is Rubbish is the ONE AND ONLY album I have ever bought and NOT listened to. Got about half way through it and never went back to it.

A bit of Britpop was great (can I include Pulp in there), but truly 80% of it was utter sh*t. What a perfect time to be a student...pretending to like such rubbish...

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May 15, 2014 12:19am

this is excellent. thanks.

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May 15, 2014 11:33am

In addition to previous. I have never called any girlfriend or mate my 'Wonderwall.' What was all that about? Just because some mouthy Manc wrote the lyric it's seen as genius. I think it's a tedious song that gets played to death that you are expected to like...similar songs are Hey Jude, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joyless Division or Country House by aforementioned overrated crap band. Rant over.

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May 15, 2014 5:20pm

I'm not sure everybody loved Nirvana, I fucking hated it: just fucking heavy metal and terrible clothes, and basically "american"

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Eric Din
May 17, 2014 4:41am

Thoroughly enjoyed this post. Excellent writing. Bleak. Hilarious. Painful. In many ways true. The angry and appalled comments below are great entertainment also. I love me some Britpop. But I'm a yankee who grew up on Beatles and Stones and Kinks, then on Jam and Clash and Buzzcocks and 2-Tone ska, all of which, frankly, were better than anything Oasis ever did. By far. "Common People" by Pulp pretty well obliterated everything else from that period, and it stands up to the 60's, 70's, and 80's material that set the stage for it. Ah, our opinions. So perfectly irrelevant. I linked to this from my blog post about the Stone Roses debut turning 25 years old. I still love it.

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Kevin Kavanagh
May 18, 2014 7:26am

There are some interesting points here but I kept on waiting for the explanation of how Britpop destroyed the country, and it never really arrived. The music wasn't 'socially conscious', but then you could say the same for virtually everything else in British pop music since the heyday of Paul Weller and Billy Bragg. The writer has some valid points about modern Britain but I think he overrates the importance of pop music in getting us here.

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Kevin Kavanagh
May 18, 2014 7:27am

There are some interesting points here but I kept on waiting for the explanation of how Britpop destroyed the country, and it never really arrived. The music wasn't 'socially conscious', but then you could say the same for virtually everything else in British pop music since the heyday of Paul Weller and Billy Bragg. The writer has some valid points about modern Britain but I think he overrates the importance of pop music in getting us here.

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Gordon Zola
May 21, 2014 10:06pm

Just because there are potentially no limits to the word count online, it doesn't mean you should publish this sort of stream of pretentiousness cobblers in its entirety. What the fuck has the death of Di - an event that meant very little to most of the UK - got to do with music?

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Robert Exley
May 25, 2014 8:22am

The trouble with Britpop wasn't that its bands eulogized the 60s - most bands are influenced by something else when they start, but that it never went beyond that to find a sound of its own

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Robert Exley
May 25, 2014 8:22am

The trouble with Britpop wasn't that its bands eulogized the 60s - most bands are influenced by something else when they start, but that it never went beyond that to find a sound of its own

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nick talbot
May 27, 2014 1:16pm

This is really interesting, but it need be said that while I and many others were enjoying Suede and Pulp, we were also enjoying Stereolab and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, and probably more to the point, Portishead (selling HUGE amounts - everyone I slept with at uni had Dummy), Tricky, Massive Attack, Photek (the Burial of the day - go back and check out the complexity and depth of Hidden Camera), everything on Warp and Ninja Tune and a fucking load of amazing dance records. Britpop was about England, and especially London (as Taylor points out) and it makes sense that the Welsh Gorky's and multinational Stereolab, and the West Country Portishead et al felt they had no part in it and no particular interest in it. Britpop dominated the media but arguably Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack and Photek had a more lasting influence on new music.

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May 29, 2014 10:19pm


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May 29, 2014 10:20pm

Ben P Scott, collect your comments and publish them NOW, damn you.

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Jul 2, 2014 7:21am

Britpop? Shitpop more like.

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Jul 23, 2014 11:21am

Great article, I never trusted Britpop. There was something tepidly sinister about it and the music just ended up being really disappointing...pure simulacra. But, you should divorce Britpop from 90s music. There were many things happening on this island that were fucking impressive musically. They just didn't involve the middle class, indie rock or Melody Maker. The legacy of Britpop is the death of British guitar oriented music no doubt, but the legacy of the 90s is the rise of a globalized musical perspective that's far more democratic than you think. And I'm not talking only about popular music.
Also, London is nowhere near being the cultural wasteland that Manhattan has become. Parts of London are definite cultural no go areas: The West End, all of Zone 1, most parts of Hackney and most of the outer suburbs. But music is still alive thank goodness, there just happen to be a few micro-epicentres that's all. Oases do exist in the cultural desert that is London, no pun.

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Campbell T
Oct 26, 2014 8:29pm

So you don't like Blur. But it's a bit rich to indict Damon Albarn for the collapse of the postwar consensus and rise of the far right.

This really is the worst kind of bloated, vacuous rock journalism. You use terms like 'dehumanisation' and cite the likes of Tom Nairn as handy signifiers for some kind of vaguely Adornian-sounding "intellectualism", yet fail to provide meaningful critique of any musical, lyrical, thematic content of any "Britpop" act, song; anything. Going through the track list of Parklife and going 'this one's shit, this one's shit, this one's alright' doesn't really pass for music criticism.

Nor do you really connect the dots vis a vis Princess Diana, New Labour Blair etc., beyond a kind of potted history of things you don't like vs. things you do: idealised sacred cows like '60s "youth culture".

I saw Paul Morley's angling for a new gig doing classical music for the Guardian. Think you could get down the job centre as well.

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Steve Kirby
Nov 13, 2014 11:46am

"notional nerd in a box room full of hard sums and crispy tissues" - WANK ON DUDES!

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Bill Balfour
Nov 13, 2014 6:43pm

Hi Taylor, long time no see. Hope you're well. I'm back here at my old address so pop round sometime. BTW, I really enjoyed the article. Keep up the good work ! Bill

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Dec 6, 2014 6:53am

Two words: FUCK YOU

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Apr 7, 2015 8:42am

A joyous read and superb summary of the vacuousness of both the times and the music.The accessible and life affirming idiosyncracies of Morrissey/Marr,Fall,Cocteaus etc replaced by some of the most insipid, retrogressive and meaningless music ever committed to vinyl.The phrase was coined by Stuart Maconie to describe the perculiarly detailed (certainly in 92/93)English lyricism of bands like St Etienne, Pulp (when they actually made some good records), Denim and the Auteurs, with Suede at the apex. What happened in 1994 was a travesty of its' early potential that British independent music has never fully recovered from, the idea that a nod to the obvious and popularly accessible trumps any kind of independently spirited artistic endeavour.

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Jun 12, 2015 6:23pm

I'm actually shaken reading this. As a young kid in the 1990s I saw right through Britpop and grunge, and it was blindingly horrific. I knew that these parallel, supposedly contrarian movements, would not and could endure - they were never intended to. Nor was there anything to sustain them, bar post-Cold War victory obsessed mass media Philistines high on power, righteousness and self-loathing. It was all about believing the hype. Which one? Didn't matter then and it sure as hell doesn't matter now. Blink and you'll miss a revolution - but not to worry, there's another one waiting just around the corner. Authenticity is now an aesthetic, not a struggle, and culture is worse than dead, it's a zombie. And there are vastly more zombies today then there are living (thinking) humans left in this world. Thank you Taylor Parkes, you have saved me.

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Sep 4, 2015 11:15pm

Are you always so miserable? Blur wote some great songs, the end.

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Jan 2, 2016 1:00am

i really relished this article and didnt want it to end.i was 18 when britpop came about and was an avid nme reader .i noticed the change in journalistic style. i remember how richard ashcroft went from wide eyedflower child to swaggering "ave it" terrace terrace almostovernight and it just seemed so fake,thats how i felt certain magazines became. it would be great to have all those back issues now eh? taylor parkes you are great.

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Graham Davey
Apr 28, 2016 1:47pm

Some great rock n roll. Kids had been raving in the 80's. Alot of great & obscure music from 60's 70's had been sampled. The kids dug it up. Started rocking out again with some top results. But this time the moneymen were waiting. They had it captured, tamed, wrapped & labeled just in time for a certain twat to declare himself their messiah. Full of empty promises & barely disguised neoliberal agenda. Vast amounts of good quality charlie really helped the whole debacle along nicely. Leaving us with D.I.Y. events criminalised & the rise of M.O.S. and soul crushing corperate music festivals were, if u step outa line security will give u a kickin' Along with a welfare system that prohibits anyone of school leaving age the time or money to explore creativley unless mum n dad support 'em.

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Aug 25, 2016 12:41pm

Wow, Parkes you remind me of how different headspaces can be.

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Oct 6, 2016 5:25pm

When did we become so good at producing humorless drones, Oh yes I remember, 20 years after punk, 20 years after the Beatles, 20 AFTER rock and roll, 20 years after! Fuck off, you weren't there.

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Dec 9, 2016 5:39pm

Felt compelled to comment despite the age of this article - Jesus Christ. A reductive term created by an industry that your paper was no small part of to make more money is still being manipulated to make a living for journalists like you two decades later. Yes, some bought into the hype of 'Britpop' and took the more shallow and meaningless elements of the "movement" with them, and some bands bought too easily into their own hype - but there were plenty of music fans who were simply coming of age and waking up to their first experiences in guitar music. We were early into our education and had much to learn, but this is nothing to bitterly revile. Everyone influences everyone, nothing is original after it happens once. Who gives a shit? There are good bands and songs, there are shit bands and songs. That never changes. And it is pretty mental to try and associate such tastes in music with the fall of British culture etc. An entertaining but over wrought article.

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James H
Jan 1, 2017 12:20pm

That’s a good piece. Must admit I skim read sections as it was so long but I like the thrust. You’re too kind to Oasis though. Appallingly dull, reactionary working class Tories (who knew they’d align with Weller eh?) who IMHO did a lot more damage to perceptions of music – that is, they made it OK to bash middle class artists who didn’t “repent” or something (which tQ has itself also been guilty of for me) and also pretty much single-handedly soundtracked the retrogressive Loaded era. I remember a quote from Noel Gallagher that said it all: “I want people to look at me and think ‘I could never do that’” That totally summed him up for me. Hobnobbing with Blair quaffing champagne was totally his level and their blanket acceptance by NME/MM (my recollection is that only Neil Kulkarni of that era attempted any resistance) was redolent of a middle class guilt that seemed to arise within music journalism around then and has remained with us ever since. You could slag off Blur (as now) as they were posh boys pretending to be working class but Oasis? Oof! Don’t go there dude – Noel might remind you you didn’t grow up on a council estate and thus can’t comment. Game over. And he’s only “funny” and “irreverent” (or whatever) because you guys – like everyone else in the music industry – allow him this absolute critical free rein denied to pretty much every other artist I can think of (look at his angry, blundering reaction to Sleaford Mods’ brilliantly astute recent retorts, by contrast). So yeah, good piece but I look forward more to the long-overdue Oasis savaging (which would have to come from someone less complicit).

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James H
Jan 1, 2017 12:59pm

Also: “Anyone [in London in 2016] not gainfully employed in the manufacture of human misery can get the fuck out, while those who stay must pay for the purchase of water cannons, meant for them, in case they have too much to say for themselves.” An excellent summing up sir. However, I’m moved to ask if the people you’re defending here might include working class inner city residents of London being evicted by Labour councils selling off their social housing stock to private landlords who might just – shock horror – have voted Leave in June by way of 2 fingered retort (and utterly correctly in the eyes of most socialists like myself). Yet again, even whilst writing erudite, perceptive stuff does tQ reveal its glaring political laziness/inconsistency around Brexit. [I’m aware this piece was written pre-Brexit and if Taylor P doesn’t share the tQ liberal Remain line then I withdraw it (although somehow I suspect he does)]

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James H
Jan 2, 2017 12:33pm

OK I’ve gone back and read that in full now. It’s really good but crushingly fatalistic and I think also makes the mistake of assigning far too much power to these bourgeois no marks who fuelled this cultural “counter-revolution” in the first place. Do you not have any belief in the working class Taylor? We can win all of this back mate. Have some faith. I totally agree with your assessment of the collapse of NME/MM – for what it’s worth I did a little presentation thing at the branch meeting of the political group I’m involved with the other week about the left wing in music and charted that collapse in the same way (ie that NME in particular owed a lot of its success to its political content and thirst for innovation and with the loss of these became a vacuous shell) – however, as per my 1st comment here I drew a different turning point – Oasis.

I note you expanded on the social conditions thing I mentioned a bit as well in one section I missed with my first skim read but I still can’t fathom how you can say all of this and take a liberal position (assuming you do align with tQ on this, especially around Brexit). You seem to chart the real course of events socio-politically but then only react in the accepted outraged tone of the liberal media-sphere, ie as though you lack either the courage of your convictions or confidence in “the people” or both. Use your knowledge and position to write something more inspiring and progressive fella – something that those of us who agree with you can actually use in the fight.

Finally I love this bit: “But there we are: a Syd Barrett pastiche. Syd Barrett, composer of some of the most unnervingly beautiful, strangely affecting music in history. Pastiched. Welcome to the 90s.” And give you 1 word in reply (and also another artist the music glitterati seem bafflingly loathe to pummel) – Beck. Oasis, Beck and Pink Floyd (post-Barrett) - for so many years been my triumvirate “axis of evil”. Blur? Yeah they’re up there I suppose.

To sum up: good analysis, some wrong conclusions (IMHO), far too defeatist. Keep the faith lad.

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Squeegee 3rd eye
Mar 11, 2017 1:52am

Good article - "Britpop" was a phoney pile of media driven sh*te -A collective smoke and mirrors operation by overwhelming white middle class journalists who had been slagging off the REAL sound of 90s youth - Dance music, for years, but then found themselves hopelessly out of step, and utterly clueless about it - I actually liked a few of those bands tracks, but don't delude yourself-Dance music in all its forms was the ONLY sound of youth driven Rock n Roll rebellion in the UK 1990s- Anyone talking about " Britpop in the same way, is simply delusional, Or -Like the indie Journos back then, trying desperately to stay relevant.

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Blair G
Apr 25, 2017 1:22pm

what a colossal plume of bullshit. it's funny the writer complains about CD bloat "just cos the space is there!" when this oh-so-hot take only exists to fill up infinite digital column inches.

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