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Napster University: Britpop 101

by Stephanie Benson

Napster University: Britpop 101


For the entire month of September, Napster is offering our Music 101 course, a 30-day deep dive into everything from early jazz to the rise of hip-hop to the hottest new global sensations. Each day we'll provide you with a fascinating new listening experience and a quick education on the origins and significance of a different musical genre, subgenre, scene, trend or fad.

Future Anglophiles, this here is just a mere introduction to the great alternative music that came out of the U.K. at the end of the 20th century. The term "Britpop" may be somewhat self-explanatory, but, in essence, this subgenre has its roots planted all over English pop culture. Its most direct familial line, however, is linked to 1980s Manchester, the "Rainy City" in northwestern England that birthed iconic record label Factory Records, gloomy post-punk icons like Joy Division and gloomy indie rockers like The Smiths. Toward the end of the '80s, however, that gloom began to be masked by the drug-fueled excesses of the "Madchester" scene that was dominated by rave-rock titans like the Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. The latter's 1989 self-titled debut could arguably be considered the light that ignited the Britpop movement, its dance sensibility shot through with a rich neo-psych-pop sound largely influenced by the great British guitar bands of the '60s.

Soon after, a little Liverpudlian outfit known as The La's further brought '60s pop melodies into the British indie fold with their first and only album in 1991. London bands Suede and Blur would eventually follow suit, both releasing powerful anti-grunge statements in 1993: Suede's self-titled debut wrapped up The Smiths' guitar rock in Bowie-brazen glam; Blur's Modern Life Is Rubbish championed both the poppy styles of bands like The Kinks and middle-class English life. Blur would eventually dominate, though, as they continued to fine-tune their catchy pop brew with Parklife and The Great Escape, all while making a case against nemeses Oasis in the great media-fueled Britpop war. Oasis, with their Beatlemania bluster, eventually won that battle, at least monetarily (and in the States), when 1995's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? became the fastest-selling album in British history.

But it was never just about Blur vs. Oasis. Britpop covered a much wider spectrum, including the kinky, arty alt rock of Pulp; the Wire-inspired femme-fatale punk of Elastica; the spacey, narcotic rock of The Verve; the playful Mod-pop/Buzzcocks punk of Supergrass; and the psychedelic-blues groove of The Charlatans. These albums will get you started.

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