For many, 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of Britpop. 1994 gave us genre-defining albums including Suede’s Dog Man Star, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Blur’s Parklife, and Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers, and Cool Britannia reached mainstream appeal across the United Kingdom. But for many bands, the best was yet to come.
Several classic albums in the Britpop genre are turning 20 in 2015, and these albums helped further entrench the sound into a cultural movement. It was in 1995, after all, that Britpop really reached its peak, and that year gave us classic long-players from the Verve, Elastica, Sleeper, Menswe@r, and Pulp’s grand masterpiece, Different Class.
Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite Britpop records turning the big 2-0 in the year ahead.
Sleeper — Smart (Released 13 February 1995)
Before Louise Wener and the Sleeperblokes wrote the Britpop anthems found on their 1996 release The It Girl, the band was finding its sound on the plucky Smart, a rock-oriented record in contrast to more well-rounded pop of the prior release. Refreshing tracks like “Bedhead,” “Delicious,” and “Swallow” showed Wener owning her sexuality in the pre-Girl Power era.
Britpop was largely a boys’ club, but Justine Frischmann, Donna Matthews, and Annie Holland gave the scene a kick up the arse (with help from drummer Justin Welch) with their Doc Martens and Wire “inspired” riffs. The spiky Elastica LP has aged surprisingly well, with its tracks sounding just as cool today as they did in 1995.
Right from the start, Gene drew comparisons to the Smiths. While many Britpop bands sang about drinking, shagging, and taking drugs, Gene represented the genre’s sensitive side (with frontman Martin Rossiter also singing about drinking and shagging). Olympian is full of great melodies and thoughtful lyrics, and remains one of the most underrated Britpop albums ever.
Supergrass represented Britpop’s kookier side. Like many of their contemporaries, the band sang about taking drugs and partying but did so with a sound that was less mainstream, from the brash lad-punk of “Caught By The Fuzz” to the feel-good jam “Alright.” This approach — in addition to killer musicianship — would help Supergrass survive longer than most Britpop groups.
After 1993’s A Storm In Heaven, A Northern Soul saw the Verve bid farewell to their shoegaze roots. The band embraced the guitar-heavy pop-rock sound that was synonymous with Britpop and even gave us “Bittersweet Symphony’s” cooler older brother in “History.” Songs like “On Your Own” still hold up, proving Mad Richard Ashcroft’s unlikely genius.
Blur followed up 1994’s Parklife with another album filled with Britpop anthems, and another solid “piss off” declaration to any possible attempts at breaking in America. “Country House” battled Oasis’ “Roll With It” in the charts for the great Britpop showdown, with Blur ultimately winning, but The Great Escape has become more of a fan’s album.
Oasis — (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (2 October 1995)
Morning Glory is hot on Different Class‘ heels as a Britpop-defining record. The Gallagher brothers managed to break America with Morning Glory singles including “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” thanks to their less England-centric lyrical content. This is the record that continues to inspire countless guitar bands worldwide, and cemented Oasis’ legacy as UK rock royalty.
Fronted by former La’s bassist John Power, Cast created sunny, guitar-driven Britpop with a mod influence. All Change’s singles, including “Finetime” and “Alright,” became Britpop hits, though the band never reached the commercial peaks of its Cool Britannia comrades.
Unfortunately for Menswe@r, very few critics took their debut album Nuisance seriously. The band appeared on the cover of Melody Maker before ever releasing any material, and tales of being signed at Camden’s Good Mixer stacked the odds against Johnny Dean and crew before they even began. Sure they were more style than substance, by design, but the ‘Swe@r also had some damn good pop tunes up their tailored sleeves. Nuisance still sounds like a Greatest Hits record.
Pulp had been around for nearly two decades before topping the charts with the Different Class single that epitomized Britpop, “Common People.” Building upon 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers, Different Class sums up the Britpop party with tales of seedy love, class warfare, and drugs. It’s a true masterpiece with absolutely no weak link.