IT WAS APRIL 25, 1994, and after it, things were never quite the same. Presaged by the knowing Doc Marten disco of March single Girls & Boys, Blur’s Parklife album debuted at Number 1 in the UK charts. Destined to rack up 4x platinum sales in the UK, plus (as singer and main songwriter Damon Albarn was later keen to point out) four – count ’em – Brit awards, Parklife was just the latest and most glaring symptom of something that had been bubbling under in Britain for a good 18 months.
“The new British groups wanted to engage with a world beyond their John Peel ghetto.”
With late-’80s Madchester laying the groundwork and Nirvana’s Nevermind breakthrough providing proof that an underground scene could explode in an instant, the mainstream emergence of Britain’s alternative rock and pop culture had suddenly surged. The new British pop groups wanted to engage with a world beyond their John Peel-soundtracked student ghetto and were bored of taking second place to grunge’s scruffy Gen X moaners. Crucial to the marketing muscle soon to be made available, many of them were signed to major labels, or pretend indies. Even Creation – the most belligerent of the indie flag-wavers, and home to the looming Oasis – were bankrolled by Sony.
So: Britpop. Less a genre; more a time and a place and – perhaps all too briefly – a commitment to causing a fuss, to liven the stiffs up a little with some spunk and (mostly) guitars. Steeped in specifically British experience and pop values – irony, camp, Mod – it looked back to the ’60s, a time when British guitar groups with mass audiences called the shots and spoke to the times. The Kinks, Small Faces, Bowie, Syd-era Floyd, British punk and new wave were the oft-referenced pantheon, and for the first time in decades the Beatles were talked of as godfathers to it all. (And The Beatles responded – with the timely auto-archaeology of the Anthologies 1-3.)
Some of the albums it left behind were great. Some – looking back – not so much. Some are arguably not Britpop at all. But all played their part in an unfolding narrative that put British music centre stage, for a bit. We start in 1990 with the protean, pre-Britpop stirrings of The La’s and end with the post-Verve vinegar strokes of Embrace – and if we've missed anything substantial in-between, we know you’ll put us right, on Facebook and Twitter.