Special Disco Mention #26: Brit Pop
This morning I was surprised to hear John Humphries waste a good 10 minutes of Radio 4’s Today show with a gushing eulogy for Brit Pop. He’d invited the chattering corpse of man/boy Steve Lamacq along, and the two chortled and simpered over the arbitrarally chosen 20th anniversary of Brit Pop, a genre that – by and large – has contributed less than my cat to the development of music. And my cat is a lazy fucker.
Put it this way – You’d find more musical innovation, influence and imagination in the 232 seconds that make up the radio edit of Baby D’s Let Me Be Your Fantasy– which also topped the charts in 1994 – than you would in the careers of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Echobelly, Sleeper, and yes, even Northern Uproar, combined. However, I’m yet to hear John Humphries invite Carl Cox onto the Today show to wax lyrical about the golden age of hardcore. Humphries is also yet to invite Shy FX and M Beat to talk about how they wrote Original Nuttah and Incredible respectively in 1994. He’s yet to invite Richard D. James to talk about how a beardy acid freak managed to break into the UK top 20 with an album of untitled lysergic electronica soundscapes in 1994. He’s yet to speak to Geoff Barrow, Daddy G, 3D, Beth Gibbons or any of the many other Bristolians about the trip hop explosion that they sparked in 1994. And, let's get real, he’s probably not going to. On the other hand, the BBC have found the time to give the bloke from Menswear a slot, on 6Music, to talk about Menswear. I kid you not.
Before I’m forever barred from the streets of Camden, I’m not saying all Brit Pop bands made bad songs. I think Jarvis Cocker is up there with the greatest lyricists England has produced, and it’d take a maniac to argue against the unity of pop, theme, content and execution that makes Parklife such a perfect album. But musically? These bands did nothing that hadn’t been done a hundred, thousand times before. Brit Pop was a backwards looking scene, desperately celebrating a jolly hockeysticks fantasy of England that was long dead – had it ever existed in the first place. Brit Pop was the brainfart of an Alf Garnett nation, a place struggling with future shock, with immigration, with changing technology, and crucially, with the dawning realisation that the England of Empire, of world power, of high tea and Benny Hill and stiff upper lip and Queen Victoria and two world wars and one world cup didn’t mean shit anymore. The amorphous multi-cultural hydra of dance culture was proving too much, too new, too different, and Brit Pop was a stilted small island response, resplendent in ironic Fred Perry.
The one thing Brit Pop had going for it – and as it turned out this was a pretty big thing – was that, on the whole it was made by people who looked just like the people who decide what goes in the papers and what goes on the telly. The mainstream media, still wobbly over how to document a supposedly juvenile dance scene, was enthralled by familiar paradigms they could force into the well worn narratives of rock n' roll. So, during the 90s, as the country at large was gripped with a love of rave culture that went on to indelibly shift the lexicon of pop music, the UK mainstream spent a bizarre amount of time widdling on about whether Country House was a shitter record than Roll With It. Now these same media chancers are still trying to rewrite the 90s as some sort of Cool Britannia fairy tale, a Carry On film set in the Good Mixer which ends with Tony Blair being crowned God by Noel Gallagher.
So I raise a glass to you Brit Pop. You are the least important genre to have ever existed. I’m not even sure if you’re actually a genre. You’re more of a psychotic breakdown turned into a marketing exercise, and a bloody well executed one at that. 20 years later, and we’re still stuck with you punching way above your weight. Still, let’s meet again in another 30, when it’s the 50th anniversary of the birth of jungle, trip hop, acid techno, the ambient long player, and all that jazz… then we’ll see who’s taking up the column inches…