Giant Steps, 1993 – The Boo Radleys
It is one of the great tragedies of pop music history that The Boo Radleys are remembered by most people for the travesty that was “Wake Up Boo!”.
A song constructed, quite wilfully, to show how easy it is to have a hit single if you have a modicum of talent. The problem is that that one single now hangs like the corpse of a particularly unattractive Albatross around the neck of everyone involved. It is the “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” of Britpop…and that’s saying something when you consider “Country House” is a thing.
“Giant Steps” is a different beast.
It is an eccentric, experimental, expansive and eclectic body of work that highlights the myriad talents of the band. More intimate and less deliberate than “Wake Up…” it is the sound of British guitar pop in the netherworld between shoegaze and Britpop proper. It is peculiar and unsettling at times (opener “I Hang Suspended” is a fine example of this) and delicate and familiar at other moments such as the magnificent high point “Wish I Was Skinny”.
Radiator, 1997 – Super Furry Animals
Don’t panic…that Super Furry Animals features higher up the list.
We’ll get to it.
The truth about SFA is that you could pick any album, any song, from any point in their career and in any language and it would sound like the best thing they had done.
They are that sort of a band.
Veering wildly from pop to rock, from shambolic to polished and from seventies glam stompers to classic Brit-poppers…they can do it all and always sound exactly like the Super Furry Animals, which is the same thing as saying they don’t sound like anyone else.
The best band to come out of Wales in the Britpop era?
The Sound of McAlmont & Butler, 1995 – McAlmont & Butler
As a solo artist Bernard Butler delivered two perfectly lovely albums.
As a member of Suede he contributed to two of the most important British albums of all time.
David McAlmont as a member of Thieves recorded a couple of singles, one of which (Through the Door) saw him hit an F#.
He, McAlmont, has gone on to record some beautiful, achingly so at times, music and work with a range of musicians and composers. My personal McAlmont favourite moment is “The Glare” with Michael Nyman.
One of the best guitarists in British popular music history.
One of the best male vocalists in British popular music history.
Together they made sweet soul music or, at least, sweet music for the soul.
From the Smokey Robinson and the Miracles wonders of “What’s the Excuse This Time?” to the country rock glories of “The Right Thing”.
From the orchestral manoeuvres in the dark of “How About You?” to the jazz heartbreak of “Tonight”.
“The Sound of McAlmont & Butler” is an album of unique and carefully crafted beauty.
Oh…it also includes this;
Which automatically makes it one of the best albums of the decade.
The It Girl, 1996 – Sleeper
Another of the most instantly recognisable voices in Britpop and another gaggle of gifted guys and gals who understood that making pop music didn’t mean having to make pap music.
Lyrics so clever they could beat the Eggheads.
In so many ways Sleeper are the perfect pop group.
Did you know they are about to release a new album?
Well, they are.
“The IT Girl” is a great album but I’m going to go out on a limb and say, despite having heard only a couple of tracks, that “The Modern Age” is going to be their best album…yet.
Grand Prix, 1995 – Teenage Fanclub
I am going to be a lone voice in the Britpop wilderness here…
I don’t see the Fannies as a Britpop band and, less controversially, I don’t think they see themselves that way either.
Much like James and The Charlatans they are a band who pre-date the scene and who transcend labels of any sort.
That said “Grand Prix” is a fabulous collection of songs and is deserving of a place in a list of best albums from British bands in the nineties…but this isn’t what the Pitchfork list is so it doesn’t belong here.
It’s Great When You’re Straight, 1995 – Black Grape
Black Grape played the Star Shaped Festival in London last year and blew me away.
Beautifully controlled chaos.
Wonderfully messy chaos.
Shaun Ryder is a poet…only a fool would suggest otherwise. It is not clear whether or not he is in control of his own lyrical genius or if it is a glorious combination of natural talent, drug induced creativity or blind luck but a lyrical genius he is.
Black Grape would deserve their place in the best of British on the strength of “Reverend Black Grape” alone with Kermit and Ryder leading the congregation of mixed up, messed up, muddled up faithful in a hymn for the damned. The album is more than that though…it is a funky, soulful, wacky, demented, deranged, storm of sounds and visions.
1977, 1996 – Ash
Can I level with you all.
I don’t get it with Ash.
I know a lot of people love them but it just leaves me cold.
Can’t think of a single song that I like.
Didn’t like them at the time and time has done nothing to change that.
It’s all just a bit…meh.
I especially loathe “Oh Yeah”.
I’m sure they will be devastated by this news.
England Made Me, 1998 – Black Box Recorder
What is it with people like this?
“Hey guys, do you like Britpop?”
“What is your favourite Britpop album?”
“Oh, I dunno…maybe “Parklife” or “Dog Man Star” or that “Lux” album by Thurman, do you know that one? It’s great.”
“No. Do you want to know mine?”
“Ask me then.”
“Ask me what my favourite Britpop album is.”
“OK. What is your favourite Britpop album?”
“But you just told me to ask.”
“Guess. Go on. Guess.”
“OK…”Different Class” maybe?”
“Guess again. Go on. Guess.”
“Um…”What’s the Story?” is that it?”
“Nope. You’ll never guess. Just ask me.”
“I did ask you then you made me…”
“ENGLAND MADE ME”
“England Made Me…by Black Box Recorder.”
“What, Luke Haines band?”
“Yeah. It’s my favourite Britpop album.”
“But…it’s not really a Britpop album is it? I mean, it arrives a bit late…and then there is the whole Luke Haines despising Britpop thing…and the fact that it doesn’t “feel” like a Britpop album. It’s a great album. Haines is bloody brilliant. But it’s not, you know, a Britpop album.”
“It’s my favourite Britpop album. I’m going to include it in a piece for Pitchfork.”
“A piece on hidden gems of British nineties music?”
“Np. The TOP FIFTY Britpop albums.”
“But it’s not a…”
“I’m a journalist.”
It’s not like you couldn’t get fifty albums without including something like this.
You’ve got Toploader and Texas and Reef…
Also…what is with that awful artwork?
Is that the US cover?
Everything Must Go, 1996 – Manic Street Preachers
We don’t have the time to get into the back story here.
Let’s just say that this is a bold, and brilliant, statement of intent and reinvention.
From glam rock, hair metal, punk provocateurs to stadium friendly, authors of anthems the Manics have remained true to the essence of themselves…political, passionate, polemicists.
There are possibly too many perfect moments on this album.
Manics obsessives and purists will tell you that “The Holy Bible” is a better album (and I happen to agree) but this was a more important album because it allowed them to deal with, well you know what, and to position themselves as a band with mass appeal without sacrificing their principles.
Foxbase Alpha, 1991 – Saint Etienne
I’ll keep this brief.
A great album.
A wonderful album.
An album that you should own.
Not a Britpop album.
You know because Britpop didn’t start until about two years later.
I’ll say more about Saint Etienne and “Fox Base Alpha” at some point but for now…not a Britpop album.