10 Best Britpop Albums
Perhaps as a reaction to America’s fascination with the grunge scene in the early to mid-‘90s, the U.K. fell hard for the Britpop movement. Where the grunge sound took cues from punk, garage rock and heavy metal, the groups that fell under the Britpop umbrella looked to the British beat groups of the ‘60s for their inspiration. The parallels between the British Invasion and Britpop don’t end there. While the ‘60s had the infamous Beatles vs. Rolling Stones debate, the Britpop scene had the Blur/Oasis chart battle of 1995.
Whether you’re English or just an anglophile like us, you’ll bloody well agree the Britpop era left behind some cracking music. Diffuser.fm celebrates the period today with a countdown of the 10 Best Britpop Albums. (Disclaimer: The Verve, Radiohead, Lush, the Stone Roses and the Charlatans are not Britpop.)
‘I Should Coco’
The most unashamedly pop-minded of the groups on this list, Oxford trio Supergrass mined ‘60s British Invasion acts like the Zombies and Gerry & the Pacemakers for melodic inspiration and married it with the youthful punked-up energy of early Buzzcocks. ‘I Should Coco,’ Supergrass’ debut album, was a smash across the pond, yielding five hit singles including ‘Alright,’ a piano-led cut that is so hopelessly infectious that even Alvin and the Chipmunks had to cover it.
Speaking of catchy, Elastica’s 1995 eponymous debut album is also a pop-crusted affair. Instead of the ‘60s touchstones beloved by Supergrass, this foursome favored for the swagger of late-‘70s and early-‘80s post-punk. Lead by former Suede guitarist Justine Frischmann, Elastica hit the top spot of the U.K. album chart and even achieved gold status in a market infamous for its apathy towards most Britpop releases: America.
Championed by the Modfather himself, ex-Jam leader Paul Weller, and Oasis loudmouth Noel Gallagher, Ocean Colour Scene is the only American-sounding group of the Britpop movement. ‘Moseley Shoals,’ the quartet’s second album, has the kind of warm, worn-in sonic quality that owes a debt to late producer Tom Dowd’s ‘70s work with Southern Rock gods the Allman Brothers and Lynryd Skynyrd, while its songwriting struts with the American R&B swagger British ‘60s influences like the Small Faces and the Creation also favored. There’s a song on the album called ‘The Circle’ that could/should have been massive here in the States. Well, if it had been released in 1968 instead of the tail end of the grunge era, that is.
‘The Great Escape’
Released after the commercial breakthrough of their ‘Parklife’ album, ‘The Great Escape’ finds Blur striking a winning balance between the experimentation of their later material and the poppier, more accessible aspects of the their earlier work. Blur’s stylistic dexterity on ‘The Great Escape’ is quite impressive, as the band shifts from ‘80s-style New Wave (‘Charmless Man’) to Burt Bacharach-like melancholia (‘The Universal’). Album closer ‘Yuko and Hiro,’ meanwhile, is the kind of space-age lounge music that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Stereolab record. It’s crazy to think an album this adventurous could top the charts, but that’s exactly what it did in the U.K. when it was released in 1995.
OK, let’s get it out the way… Though they might have played it down in the press, Gene singer Martin Rossiter and guitarist Steve Mason are big fans of the Smiths’ Morrissey and Johnny Marr, respectively. Featuring one Dramatic (note the capital D) vocal performance from Rossiter after another and Mason’s jangly guitar guiding him the entire way, ‘Olympian’ sounds like it could have been the follow-up to the Smiths’ farewell album, 1987’s ‘Strangeways, Here We Come.’ The thing is, ‘Olympian’ is such a superb collection – boasting 11 haunting tracks that lodge themselves into your head from the onset – that it’s easy to forgive Gene’s case of hero worship.
Like Gene’s Martin Rossiter, Suede frontman Brett Anderson also took lessons from the Morrissey School of Vocal Theatrics. What makes Suede’s eponymous debut album so intoxicating is the union of Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler. Butler evokes the bombastic spirit of golden era British glam rock, firing off riffs that late David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson wouldn’t have kicked out of bed circa ’72.
By the time Pulp got around to releasing ‘Different Class,’ the Sheffield combo had already issued four albums. But where their prior work showed brief flashes of greatness, ‘Different Class’ was filled with them. Whether it’s the dance floor-ready euphoria of ‘Disco 2000’ or singer Jarvis Cocker’s biting social commentary in the now classic ‘Common People,’ Pulp deliver one of Britpop’s finest hours.
Unapologetically wearing his influences on his sleeves, guitarist/vocalist Noel Gallagher took over his younger brother Liam’s bar band and transformed them into the most commercially successful band of the entire Britpop period. Speaking of influences, they aren’t tough to spot on ‘Definitely Maybe,’ Oasis’ debut album. T. Rex (‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’) and the Beatles (‘Up in the Sky’) are just two of the groups Gallagher nicks melody and riff ideas from, forever annoying stuffy rock critics but at least proving that he had impeccable taste in the process. Borrowing aside, Gallagher still emerged as his generation’s best songwriter. If you need proof of that, just listen to ‘Live Forever,’ a bona fide anthem and one of the greatest songs of the ‘90s.
Blur singer Damon Albarn described ‘Parklife,’ the band’s crowning glory, as, “a loosely linked concept album involving all these different stories.” Indeed, Albarn brings to mind Ray Davies and the adept way he wove social commentary into the Kinks’ seminal ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ album. Musically speaking, ‘Parklife’ features some of Blur’s most memorable melodies. Leadoff track ‘Girls & Boys’ became the group’s first huge hit, reaching the top 5 in the U.K. and also grabbing Single of the Year honors from music mags the NME and Melody Maker in 1994.
‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’
While many rock scribes hold ‘Definitely Maybe’ in higher regard than ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ the latter album includes Noel Gallagher’s most timeless songwriting efforts. Featuring ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger,’ ‘Morning Glory,’ ‘Champagne Supernova,’ ‘Some Might Say’ and the American crossover hit ‘Wonderwall,’ the album packs the punch of a greatest-hits record. Oasis’ subsequent record would include some fantastic moments, but ‘Morning Glory’ remains their creative and commercial apex.