4
Sep 20

#8: It’s got leather seats, it’s got a CD player

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We’ve already had a look at the scrappy, self-sufficient, grass-roots corner of indie. Of course that’s only part of the story. There’s also the parts of what used to be “indie” that were happening in, more or less, the mainstream. But that didn’t mean what it had even a few years before.

British guitar rock and pop had been at the centre of Radio 1’s makeover in the early 90s; that in turn had fed back into the Britpop phenomenon, which had given Oasis the platform they needed to become the country’s biggest band and inspire many, many others. Factor in the surge of interest in festivals, the Blair-era expansion of higher education, the continued interest of previous generations of indie fans in guitar rock, and a whole new media sector in the form of lads’ monthlies and weeklies, and you had an entire ecosystem which required a steady flow of band-shaped content.

Now while it’s never been the case that the demand for British guitar bands has exceeded the supply (which is endless), meeting that demand has sometimes meant a certain amount of compromise vis-a-vis quality. The nominators, in their mercy and wisdom, have spared us the dregs of early-00s British guitar rock – no Travis, no Starsailor, no JJ72 or “New Acoustic”. 

What we have in this bracket is more interesting and generally better – a bunch of Britpop-era survivors and former hypes trying to adjust to life in a post-indie world, where they weren’t providing an alternative, more servicing a demographic niche.

The newer and younger bands adapted with the best grace. Feeder’s “Buck Rogers” is a guilt-free pop-punk winner, the type of thing Ash were meant to be making (instead they’re a kind of British Foo Fighters, which has its own appeal I guess). British Sea Power, just starting out, don’t have the sonic oddness their eccentric set dressing promised, but they do a solid Chameleons impression. 

Some of the bands here are just getting on with what they’d always done – New Order, the Divine Comedy, and I suppose Pulp, though the dying embers of Pulp are more interesting than most bands’ prime. What’s more intriguing to me is the way in which some of the groups are messing around again with rhythm, maybe following in the footsteps of Radiohead (who crop up here with a savage live version of 2000’s “Idiotheque”).

Obviously the most commercially successful of them was Damon Albarn, whose Gorillaz project has mostly been shunted into the next bracket. But there’s also the wayward Ian Brown and his very odd trip-hoppy “F.E.A.R.”, The Charlatans doing an odd, scratchy take on funk-rock, Super Furry Animals’ shimmery ersatz disco, and best of all, The Beta Band getting a UK garage producer to screw and chop the beats of their folk-rock while leaving its hippie soul intact.

It’s not exactly a movement, more a bunch of creative musicians trying to do something interesting in a world that’s getting more rigid for them. It couldn’t last – we’re a couple of years from Britpop II: The Landfill Years. But it’s more intriguing than I thought it would be.

POTENTIAL WINNER: There will come a point where people of good conscience won’t be able to vote for “Buck Rogers” and its dumb, shiny mosh-a-long hooks. But I think that point might be really far into the competition. This poll’s EMF?

BEST TRACK: It could be doomed but The Beta Band’s “Eclipse” might be the best thing they ever did, a rambling campfire parable which keeps finding new hooks and odd directions, building to the tour-de-force last minute.

DARK HORSE: Pulp’s “Wickerman” is probably too far out/up itself for contention but their migrant anthem “Weeds” is darkly catchy and horribly relevant and could go a distance.

DISCOVERY: I dimly remember it from the time, so this is a bit of a cheat, but Ian Brown’s “F.E.A.R.” was at least a strange and entertaining rediscovery, a frazzled oulipo pop record that’s pointless and somehow epic at the same time.

Comments

  1. 1
    Fivelongdays on 9 Sep 2020 #

    I’d argue that Ash were pop-punk and a specifically British (or even more specifically, Northern Irish) kind of way, and it was Feeder who were our Foos.

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