WEEKENDER: Britpop: Look back in anger - and fear and loathing
IF THE Government is looking for more ways to raise extra cash to pay off the national debt, it could do worse than put a tax on nostalgia.
Were any music or book or reheated fashion from say, more than 15 years ago – on a rolling scale – to be priced an extra few pennies higher under this nostalgia tax, the Treasury would be quids in.
And the current cash cow would undoubtedly be Britpop. Twenty years ago, as John Major’s Government slouched toward its demise, the nation’s youth was lapping up new releases by a whole crop of artists pretty much instantly labelled with the aforementioned tag.
Damon Albarn, Liam and Noel Gallagher, and their ilk were plastered across the pages of the music press and the tabloids, full of laddish pranks and lager. Back then, we Brits knew how to bash out a good tune. Except, by and large, we didn’t.
Because Britpop, like most of the labels stuck on any youth movement or collection of allegedly like-minded and similar-sounding bands or recording artists before or since, didn’t really exist.
At the moment, as 2014’s nostalgia porn of choice, Britpop is all around us. You can’t move for documentaries about it, exhibitions, deluxe re-releases, band reformations, one-off gigs or tours, souvenir magazines. BBC Radio Six Music, normally a beacon of taste, has gone Britpop bonkers, playlists full to bursting with, well, rubbish.
Oasis? Yawn. Pulp? An anomaly, in that they had been going for more than 10 years by then and their acclaim was hard-earned. Blur? A pop-minded curate’s egg, by turns infuriatingly retro and wonderfully inspired. The rest? Oh dear – Sleeper, Menswear, Supergrass, Ocean Colour Scene, Echobelly... I could go on, but this is a family newspaper and I don’t want to offend. Basically, this wasn’t a scene, it was a rabble. Now, however, it is being subjected to the process of mental sepia-tinting through which things that happened in the past become somehow more palatable than they were at the time.
The blessing and the curse of our digital and downloadable age is that at the push of a button we can mixtape and playlist our musical preferences into neatly digestible chunks. This is fantastic on the one hand, because the magpies and scene-deniers among us can combine our favourite sounds from whatever era into one sequence.
This can produce wildly eclectic tracklists that should not work, but very often do, unleashing music’s unique ability to trigger unexpected physical and emotional reactions. Also, however, it enables us to produce one-dimensional playlists of ‘scene’ music - punk, new wave, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, hip-hop and of course, the dreaded Britpop.
For the purposes of this column, I have attempted to imagine what a Britpop mixtape might sound like, but I find it emotionally distressing. From nowhere, I have conjured up an image of a loping, scowling Liam Gallagher screeching out the lyrics to Cigarettes And Alcohol, that I am trying to consign to the farthest corners of my mind. I hope I have encouraged my children into an appreciation of a wide range of musical genres, but sadly, this open-mindedness does not extend to Britpop. Individual British artists of the mid-1990s yes, but not a scene that I still refuse to accept actually existed. But they have heard about it, especially recently – and when, wide-eyed, they ask “which side were you on in the Britpop Wars, daddy?” I take a deep breath and say: “Boys, despite what TV, radio, newspapers, the internet and all other forms of mass communication would have you believe, Britpop never happened.
“It was a vacuous, commercially greedy attempt to pin a meaningful label on a loose conglomeration of musicians from these septic isles, to try to make us out to be more artistically cutting edge than we were.” Then I go up into the attic and bring down the special, double locked box.
“What’s in there, dad?” they ask, fear in their eyes, a whimper in their voices.
“It’s a Shed Seven album, boys. I saw them on Top Of The Pops once and had to spend three weeks in hospital. You can listen to it if you want to, but I warn you – you’ll never be the same again.”
“No thanks, dad,” backing away now, “we’ll er, go and tidy our rooms.”
The lengths we have to go to to keep our kids on the straight and narrow, eh? As Liam is still screeching in my head, “it’s a cray-zee situ-ayshii-un...”
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