Manic Street Preachers – Resistance is Futile Review

Four years off the back of one of their most accomplished works in over a decade in Futurology, The Manics are back with their thirteenth studio album, the typically to-the-point titled Resistance Is Futile. Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield have already hinted at the album’s sound being influenced by bigger, stadium rock styles in what is evocative of Springsteen and War On Drugs. It suggests the album may not be as musically versatile and imaginative as their last album, perhaps more orientated around lyrical content and pure arrangement.

Within seconds of the ‘International Blue’ opening, Bradfield’s scratching guitar parts and scraping vocals instantly plunge you into familiar territory of early 90’s Manics. It’s typical of a Manics style largely omitted from their last album of the higher pitched strings or electronica acting as the uplifting trail against the heavier sounds around it. With lyrics in tribute to artist Yves Klein, the band lend several elements of their sound and methods over the years to this track with the hint of the heartland rock of Springsteen. In that sense it is not a song evocative of the variation and bold sound of Futurology, but for Manics fans it’s exactly what you’d want. ‘Distant Colours’. is another foray into their standard, earlier sound with this track not sounding out of place on Gold Against The Soul from 1993. With brushing percussion and light riffs against James Dean Bradfield’s subtle vocals, the track then opens into lighter shades with broad guitars and more powerful vocal for the chorus. This track does not surmount to anything special or surprising like Futurology, but remains faithful track unto themselves if nothing else. ‘Dylan and Caitin’ tells of the turbulent relationship between Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin with the song split between them. James Dean Bradfield sings Dylan’s hypothetical words whilst Welsh singer songwriter Anchoress sings Caitlin’s. This song is perhaps a more pedestrian version of ‘Your Love Alone’ with its 60’s Motown arrangement around Bradfield’s typical tearing guitar.

‘Hold Me Like A Heaven’ sees the Manics at the most euphoric and sees them utilise vocal harmonies and choruses which they have seldom used before. It certainly reapplied James Dean Bradfield’s 1995 mantra of ‘taking a breath and singing a line’ to a more modern arrangement. It’s a poignant sound to relay and wistful set of lyrics. One of the highlights of the album. ‘People Give In’ shows their willingness to sharpen up their trademark string arrangements for a greater contrast for when they turn the wick up. Despite this, they keep the song rooted to its fundamental sound as opposed to a steep incline of fruition. ‘Liverpool Revisited’ is a heart-felt ode to a the spirit of the city, but in this instance the lyrics are ill-fitted to the track which veers off in non-sensical directions a little too often. The long drawn out recitals of the song’s title in ‘Broken Algorithms’ become unnecessary and though a notably heavier track, it still lacks any common direction. That seems to be where the Manics are lacking with Resistance is Futile. Whilst stylistically achieving their broader, stadium rock sound certain some songs get lost in these aims where they become difficult to follow and unsettlingly unpredictable. Their messages are as strong as ever through and when they get the music right as they do often on this album, they’re able to show flashes of brilliance and vigour which is commendable for a thirteenth album and a third decade of work.

Manic Street Preachers – Resistance Is Futile = 6.5/10

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Manic Street Preachers – Dylan and Caitlin

As the Manics approach the April 13th release of their thirteenth studio album Resistance Is Futile they have released their third single from the album with ‘Dylan and Caitlin’. It tells of the turbulent relationship between Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his wife Caitlin with the song split between them. James Dean Bradfield sings Dylan’s hypothetical words whilst Welsh singer songwriter Anchoress sings Caitlin’s. This song is perhaps a more pedestrian version of ‘Your Love Alone’ with its 60’s Motown arrangement around Bradfield’s typical tearing guitar. Whilst it’s still a capable song, you do wonder where the Manics are trying to go with this album from its disparate singles. You wonder if Futurology might have been their last hurrah in terms of acclaim and that they’re now settling back into their comfort zone. We’ll see come April.

Owen Riddle

Single Review – Manic Street Preachers – International Blue

Three years off the back of one of their most accomplished works in in over a decade in Futurology, The Manics are back with their new single ‘International Single’ from their typically to-the-point album titled Resistance Is Futile which is due in April. Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield have already hinted at the album’s sound being influenced by bigger, stadium rock styles in what is evocative of Springsteen and War On Drugs. Within seconds of the songs opening however, Bradfield’s scratching guitar parts and scraping vocals instantly plunge you into familiar territory of early 90’s Manics. It’s typical of a Manics style largely omitted from their last album of the higher pitched strings or electronica acting as the uplifting trail against the heavier sounds around it. With lyrics in tribute to artist Yves Klein, the band lend several elements of their sound and methods over the years to this track with the hint of the heartland rock of Springsteen. In that sense it is not a song evocative of the variation and bold sound of Futurology, but for Manics fans it’s exactly what you’d want. It remains to be seen whether their thirteenth studio album will succeed in it’s creative aims, but at the very least we can enjoy the Manics just doing what they could do with their eyes closed.

Owen Riddle

Half Term Report – Top 10 albums of the year so far

For me 2014 has already eclipsed the previous year for musical diversity, creativity and innovation about all aspects of the craft; whether it’s through the production or lyrics, it has been a far better year already. The most obvious evidence is the lack of full marks in 2013 and the two full marks we’ve had already this year. On top of this, the average rating of 2013’s top 10 albums was 8.85 while the first half of 2014 has already produced a score of 9.05 and I’m sure that will rise by the time we get to December. So here are some of the contenders so far.

10. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

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Despite having a slight knack of becoming a little too bogged down in similar subdued moments, it bats those moments back with some wonderful atmospheric bursts and rhythms that encapsulate so many unexpected hooks. Another change of direction and one of their best yet.

9. Kasabian 48:13

Another marvellous piece of re-imagination after the false start of their last album; 48:13 delivers their vision almost perfectly. It’s bold, in your face and you can’t ignore it. At other times it’s unsettling and thought provoking. Whether it’s driven through eerie electronica or EDM-enthused hard rock, it works. This is even more true live.

8. Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots

Full of mystery, intrigue, reflection and honest cynicism. An album that remains slightly lost in the thoughts and feelings of Damon Albarn, but what a place to be lost in. It flows or even trickles along from one song into the next and through peek some moments of real beauty. For a debut album too? Remember the name…. he’ll go far this one….

7. Warpaint – Warpaint

An accomplished piece of expansive art rock. Despite it’s growing and expanding sounds that they produce with ease; this album usually incorporates a captivating central element to it’s songs that filter out a hopeful atmosphere into a murky and lingering gloom that keeps you perched on the edge of your seat. A perfect example of production discipline and manipulation.

6. Bastard Mountain – Farewell Bastard Mountain

Admittedly this album by the British folk collective was something I wasn’t expecting to blow me away and in reality it didn’t. It did, however immerse me into the raw and natural soundscapes that were produced by more traditional means. An album that is inherently beautiful and a credit to their capable musicianship. As simple as that.

5. The Horrors – Luminous

Luminous was a slightly odd turn for The Horrors to take but one you would have imagined was going to come. They stopped and pondered. They looked at Skying and thought they could make it better. They did. The added sense of rhythm and connection with these songs are brilliant along with the revelation that was Faris’ vocal development and added ability. It just about justified the three year wait and despite not having the effortless soars and sweeps of their previous album, nor the varied and innovative nature of the sublime Primary Colours; it is still a wondrous creation as you’d expect from The Horrors, even if it was weirdly familiar.

4. Wild Beasts – Present Tense

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Wild Beasts produced an album that remained close and intimate as it kept all the bursts, transitions and awesome shifts in sound right by you. Not in a distant and fading manner that is far off and out of reach, but something you felt coarse right through you as it bounces and shoots about your head with every synth glow and crisp riff. On top of this, it has an excellent lyrical dimension to it too which focuses it in even further.

3. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

All hail the Manics! For they are back and better than ever. These are words I’d never imagined uttering again as I witnessed one of the legendary British bands sink slowly into their comfort zone. Leaving their dynamism and lyrical daring safely in the 1990’s. If last year’s Rewind The Film gave us a clue to this album then it still caught me off guard. They deliver their European sound gloriously and in a fluctuating way with each song as it either enthuses and delights the senses or drops you from emotional highs. Lyrically relevant and challenging as they always have been too. They’ll have to clear a space next to the Holy Bible, Everything Must Go and This is my Truth Tell Me Yours  trio as Futurology is about to join them on that mantle.

2. Beck – Morning Phase

File:Beck Morning Phase.jpg

Beck makes a long awaited return to steal you dangerously from this planet and into the soaring and unfamiliar unknowns. You don’t pass through each song, but it passes through you. From the bold, roaring and frightful instrumentals to the warm and radiant expansive ballads and down to the comforting acoustic tracks; this album takes you on a journey like no other album has this year. It evokes so many different emotions that you almost feel empty and cold by the end of some tracks. The best vocal and instrumental delivery of any album so far this year.

1. St Vincent – St. Vincent

Annie Clark has always given off little bits of wonder and innovation but this album is those things through and through. It’s the only thing you can rely on in this album for it is not linear in any way at all. Whether it is her swooning and creepy harmonious tracks, her synth driven visions, her lyrically marvelling and vocally outlandish tracks or those songs with guitars that pick you up by your collar and throw you into a mass of undulation, fusion, blocky fuzz or melodic distortion; it’s always fresh, urgent and unrelenting. In a time when so many pretenders mindlessly recycle and replay well documented sounds of the past; here you have the sound of progress. The sound of modernity. The sound of 2014.

 

Manic Street Preachers – Futurology Review

The Manics have always generated a real sense of interest and expectation each time they announce a new album and this, their twelfth is no different in spite of many of their counterparts fading into some sort of middle aged obscurity by this stage of their careers; largely from typecasts they can no longer live up to or from simply a lack of any creation. With Postcards of a Young Man from 2010 you started to get the feeling that this was the destination that these legends of British music were heading. The trio of The Holy Bible, Everything Must Go and This is my Truth Tell me Yours were starting to become distant and closed memories. Though their 21st century form was a pleasant one, it wasn’t a daring or innovative one. There was even a suggestion that the Manics may end all together, but they announced early last year that they had two albums ready to go which was a bit of a shock. 2013’s Rewind The Film was a bit of a surprise too. It had a lyrical, musical and sobering feel not present in The Manics since 1998. It was one of the greatest achievements of last year’s music though it was only a hint or a clue that they still had what it took to lead the way and the lack of any leading and powerful albums that year had flattered it even more, as good as the album was. Futurology is perhaps the biggest test they have faced since the painful time of 1995 and 1996. Their last album has set them up to deliver like they used to again. Pushing boundaries and being dynamic, but now they will have their age being thrown back into their faces if they don’t. There are no excuses when you have achieved so much. This album has European blood running through its veins and Hansa studios in Berlin was used to record the album and given the political state these islands are in at the moment, it’s refreshing to have something representing unity instead of bitter division.

‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ is a track that opens with a wonderful jolting riff with an indelible canorous tinge, opening the track with slick tenacity and purpose. Alongside it runs with James Dean Bradfield’s close and slightly warm sounding vocal before it the bursts with the light of electronically charged pop chords set against the heavy beat, bass line and shimmering guitars along with the now razor sharp vocal from James. It’s by no means the greatest song they’ve ever produced but it has an infections rhythm and that added lyrical dimension that you can usually expect from a Manics track.The title track is full of the light and optimism of their music over the last decade, but this feels a lot less lost in itself and it has the direct kick to it that they deliver so well along with the gathering sound of the crashing percussion and rising riffs and vocals which fade slightly at the edges in an ominous fashion. It doesn’t predictably rise to a needless peak but still drives on with lyrics that hold interest and an extra contrast to themselves. “We’ll come back one day. We never really went away” and is sort of a confessional track lyrically. ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ was the second track to be unveiled from Futurology and is almost the epitome of the albums European construction and influence. Translated to Europe Goes Through Me;  it kicks off with a bouncing and deep lying riff that is accentuated by alarm type flashing and stocky percussion. The vocals deliver lyrics in a chant like fashion as they squeeze into the song’s thumping structure. This solid structure then goes on to dissipate and evaporate with glistening and far off riffs along with the delivering of the German lyrics from Nina Hoss in a gentle and delicate fashion before the thumping structure sets in again along with her more aggressive and purposeful vocal as the chant like song resumes. It is a little hard to connect with at first but once the unconventional rhythms and melodies are identified then it becomes a bold song with an even bolder message.

‘Dreaming a City (Hugeskova)’ is one of the most engaging instrumental tracks I have heard in a long, long while. James Dean Bradfield is again the star, but this time it’s solely with his guitar. The track opens with Wire’s rooted and heavy bass line which Bradfield’s tearing guitar fires high above of. On top of this, it’s boosted by the synth charged melodies that sound out and expand around the razor-like riff. It’s the sort of electronically powered rock that they were aiming for and it works. ‘Misguided Missile’ has a centred riff that is full of bounce and spring that has the other elements fall upon it. The isolated percussion and background scratches. It’s a song that constantly alters it’s make up with the darker undertones and lyrics of the verses that expand into optimism in the chorus before falling into the verse again, bit with the added lightweight feel of the delicate strings along with it. The song concludes with the gradual instrumental construction as the sounds build up to a conclusion from the lone vocal. A wonderful song both lyrically and musically. ‘The Next Jet To Leave Moscow’ has the similar light and shades to it, yet it is set around a more constant and engineered rotation. The album also has moments of paused consideration and reflection with tracks such as ‘Divine Youth’ which features the swooning and simply beautiful vocal of Georgia Ruth which set around the sweeping harp strings and simple bass lines. As she goes on, the music begins to flower and grow along with the vocal contributions of JDB. It’s a song that continues to bloom as It goes and is the most graceful moment of the album. ‘Sex, Power, Love and Money’ appears to be a more classic Manics sound with the screeching guitars along with the screaming vocals and this is true for the chorus, however for the verses it has a rhythmic rock pop dynamic about it that tee’s it up for the aggressive chorus. The album concludes with ‘Mayakovsky’. A track with looping and flashing sounds and rhythms that are slightly muted by the heavily distorted guitar that plays a tuneful and restrained riff until the piano gives it the signal to let itself go in a wild piece of guitar work. It then fades out into the distant and echoed messages of European unity. Perhaps ominous of the lack of unity and inclusiveness these islands have took on. It has lived up to the hype and expectation to my welcoming surprise. It delivers their long awaited ambitions of a Eurocentric sound and it sounds glorious. It’s fluctuating and dynamic with the moments of electronica and rock fusions, elements of beauty, rage and loss. on top of this it’s lyrical content is as relevant and meaningful as ever. The Manics have turned the tide of middle age obscurity and what a way to do it.

Manic Street Preachers – Futurology = 9.5/10

Images from www.entertainment-focus.com / fanart.tv

 

 

Sunday Suggestion – Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next

Here’s a little fun fact for you. In 1998 the Manic Street Preachers scored their first number one album with This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, despite the highly successful Everything Must Go in 1996. But they also grabbed their first number one single with If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next and it is the longest song title ever for a number one single (Have fun with that…). This was the first time since Richie’s disappearance back in February 1995, that none of his material featured on a Manics album, yet the political messages were still there. If not a little less brutal. I’ve always loved this song. I based my entire GCSE Art exam on the songs title and now the songs lyrical content leads me back to it in a more coincidental fashion with my university coursework I’m doing at the moment. It is based on the issues of the popular resistance of the Republican side of the Spanish Civil war as they tried to defeat the brutal fascist: General Francisco Franco. The Manics took the song’s title from a Republican poster warning about the aerial bombing raids Franco was using on the Republicans with great support from Hitler and Mussolini. The line ‘If I can shoot rabbits/then I can shoot fascists’ was taken from a remark made by one of the Republican fighters in a later interview; and it showed just how ill prepared they were in comparison. It also touches on the International Brigades full of people around the world who volunteered to try and stop the rapid spread of fascism that was taking over Europe in the 1930s. In particular the song looks at the Welsh miners who volunteered; relating to the working class ideals of the Spanish militias fighting Franco. George Orwell was one of those International Volunteers and his book Homage To Catalonia also plays a part in the songs lyrical structure. The laser like flashing of the reverbed guitars, the lightly layered solemn tune from the synths with the more fluctuating bass line all convey the sad and depressing atmosphere of the topic they are singing about. The song also gives lots of respect to those fighting that doomed conflict in the name of freedom, working class ideals and against tyranny. Will someone write a song about The Syrian Civil war in sixty years time? I doubt that they will. In many was though; the song and the conflict it is about can be used in the context of today’s doomed war. The fact of the matter was that the governments of the world did not care to help back in 1936. Apart from the reverb driven melody; maybe regret at the subject matter was part of the reason it went to the top of the charts. It wouldn’t today as the simple fact of the matter is that people don’t care anymore. They are more interested in clinging on to the hope that One Direction want to truly be their boyfriend, the size of Robin Thicke’s manhood or Rihanna’s sex life. A dying freedom fighter in Aleppo wont ever enter their minds ahead of that.

http://youtu.be/cX8szNPgrEs

Images from internetfm.com / www.deeppencil.com 

 

 

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film Review

The Manics are pure legends of British Music and are valued and respected for the content they’ve produced for over twenty years now. However they did seem to have lost their edge slightly with their last album Postcards of a Young Man from 2010 and there was almost the feeling they had lost their way with their next work.  Now we know that this is the first of two completed albums from the Manics with Rewind The Film being the acoustic and more considered and nostalgic album and another more rock orientated towards their earlier work. Initially I was sceptical of the word acoustic being linked with a band of 40 somethings as in many past cases it’s musically and lyrically very basic and often a list of covers ‘from the songs they listened to as a nipper’ and only succeeds in their old catalouges being dug out. However with ‘Rewind the Film’ they have been able to develop a distinct mood and tone while keeping that sense of nostalgia albeit at a slightly less positive angle. It’s by no means a nothing acoustic ballad from a fading star losing the best of his vocal or a pointless churning through guitar chords. This is also an album that I’ve featured twice already with the tracks ‘Rewind The Film’ and ‘Show Me The Wonder’ and from that it’s not fallen into any stereotypes of aging rockers and acoustic guitars but does the album maintain it? 

The Manics decided that only Richard Hawley could deliver the title track ‘Rewind The Film’ for them otherwise it would not be worth putting on the album. Having developed a friendship with lead singer James Dean Bradfield, Hawley was happy to do so and didn’t want to let them down and mentioned how much of an honour it was to record with the Manics. It’s very much his tune with the Manics acting as backing band while Hawley’s rich and deep vocal runs against the instrumentals to really create a sombre feel to the song. The drama comes in the form of James Dean Bradfield making the odd burst towards the end and his powerful and energetic vocal still sounds as good as it did back in 1992 so there are no problems on that front. Of course musically it’s pretty basic, but the length of the song allows for a subtle but noticeable build up in sound from something sombre and considered to something grand and dramatic. Generally the track has been well received and perhaps taken a few critics by surprise due to wow they’ve utilised the acoustic sound in their own way.  ’Show Me The Wonder’ is the Manics taking the lead. It’s much more the positive, light hearted ballad they’ve been plugging for the last few years but’s been very much refreshed by the acoustic sound… yes I said refreshed. In addition to this it’s just a lot more catchy too with the trumpets giving the melody.  On the flipside to the title track its much more hopeful and optimistic in a sense lyrically; but also in the general tone and musicality of the song. The powerful and joyful vocals, the trumpets and the catchy riffs, percussion and bass lines.

’30-Year War’ is an odd song in principle to the acoustic sound with the synth beats and effects fused with it. As well as the vocal echo and isolation effects. Its almost Manics circa 2004 and it does start to work and gel together as a concept the more you listen to it. Perhaps this is helped as its something they’ve done before with Lifeblood. The lyrics and general message is an anti-Thatcher one. Including what she did to the working classes and her actions after Hillsborough etc. ‘(I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline’ is the epitome of the album with the way they’ve worked and manipulated the acoustic sound in much of the same way as ‘My Little Empire’ or ‘Ready For Drowning’ from 1998’s This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and that is why it works so well as it did in 1998. ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ is probably more akin to the standard acoustic album and this has probably been tailored to Lucy Rose’s contribution but it’s a nice track and contrast between J.D.B’s more rough edged vocal against Lucy’s softer and more delicate sound. Rewind The Film is not too generic and its by no means so experimental and conceptualized that it isn’t relatable or translatable. The lyrics are and music share equal footing and in general it just shows that the Manics are still capable of being truly creative.

Manic Street Preachers – Rewind The Film = 8.5/10

Images from something-gold-something-new.com / www.amazon.co.uk 

 

Single Review – Manic Street Preachers – Show Me The Wonder

Everyone listen up! Single of the week is no more! I thought ‘why just have one when I could have so many more?’ So yeah, now I’m treating them like the album reviews which have no rules but of course the reviews will be a lot more snappy than that of an album. To start this off, I chose the Manic Street Preachers. The legends that they are. I did an album taster on them a month ago for the ‘Rewind The Film’ track off the album of the same name. It was quite intriguing and exciting that they were doing the acoustic sound justice and making it all dramatic as they do. Richard Hawely conveyed a sort of nostalgic yet bleak picture in the song. However ‘Show Me The Wonder’ is the Manics taking the lead. It’s much more the positive, light hearted ballad they’ve been plugging for the last few years but’s been very much refreshed by the acoustic sound… yes I said refreshed. In addition to this it’s just a lot more catchy too with the trumpets giving the melody and shows that they are still hoping for a decent chart showing perhaps. Or maybe there was no intention with this song. They hardly need anymore chart success which they were still getting into their forties. I’m not saying much on that subject other than I hope it does well in the charts. Though I doubt it will, the charts are fast becoming a waste of space anyway.  I wasn’t really expecting the light hearted musicality of this song but it’s by no means a bad thing either and the video too still evokes that nostalgic feel to the album.

http://youtu.be/J9L-jyFEsK4

Image from www.likeanegg.com 

Album Taster – Rewind the Film – Manic Street Preachers feat Richard Hawley

The Manics are pure legends of British Music and are pretty widely respected and valued in that light. However they did seem to have lost their edge slightly with their last album Postcards of a Young Man from 2010 and there was much confusion with what their next move would be after that. Then a few weeks ago they revealed that they had recorded two whole albums! One acoustic and another more rock orientated. It would seem that they have chosen to release the acoustic album first under the title Rewind the Film which is also the name of the track they are using for the album taster. Initially I was sceptical of the word acoustic being linked with a band of 40 somethings as in many past cases it’s by musically and lyrically very basic and often a list of covers ‘from the songs they listened to as a nipper’ and only succeeds in their old catalouges bing dug out. However with ‘Rewind the Film’ they have been able to develop a distinct mood and tone while keeping that sense of nostalgia albeit at a slightly less positive angle. It’s by no means a nothing acoustic ballad from a fading star losing the best of his vocal or a pointless churning through guitar chords. The three boys from Blackwood decided that only Richard Hawley could deliver this song for them otherwise it would not be worth putting on the album. Having devloped a friendship with lead singer James Dean Bradfield, Hawley was happy to do so and didn’t want to let them down and mentioned how much of an honour it was to record with the Manics. It’s very much his tune with the Manics becoming his backing band as Hawley’s rich and deep vocal runs against the instrumentals to really create a sombre and considered song. The drama is presented when James Dean Bradfield makes the odd contribution towards the end and his powerful and energetic vocal still sounds as good as it did back in 1992 so there are no problems on that front. Generally the track has been well recienved and perhaps taken a few critics by suprise. The Manics don’t seem content with toning down their creativity as perhaps some might have thought and have shown they are capable of writing more thought provoking and challenging songs. I hope this is a true indicator of their 12th album and a hopeful sign for their 13th but there is still some questions lingering as this was more a Richard Hawley song rather than a Manics song so wait and see.

http://youtu.be/PwwtOd3pMlk

Image from http://www.gigwise.com/

The Rise and Fall of Britpop – British Music in the 90’s and it’s last musical movement…

Let me take you back to a glorious time in the History of Great Britain. A time when we stopped fearing the Russians. A time when we stuck two fingers up at our American cousins. A time when we told those Australian soap stars to go back to their acting careers. A time when as a nation, we cast aside our Japanese video games, rubbed our eyes, and turned on the radio. In this decade we reclaimed our identity while embracing our diversity. We looked to the past and realised how bloody great we were and how it could be combined into a 60’s-glam-punk-mod-rock hybrid. With it we took back the charts, took back our culture and even changed our government.

I’m talking about Britpop of course! The explosion of not only British music but also fashion, film, art and so much more. The British Indie and Madchester scenes had spawned this generation of musical legends. The Smiths had picked up the match and The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, The Charlatans and Happy Mondays had lit the fuse. Thatcher was gone and these bands were introducing the U.K to a new genre of music but it appeared to be a false dawn. The Stone Roses went into hiding and the others were knocked back by the grunge revolution that was reverberating across the world from Seattle. Instead of Ian Brown and Tim Burgees we were hearing Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. British music needed it’s own Seattle to re-ignite it’s fuse. That would be be done in the form of Camden Town in London. From it came a band at war with itself but also a band that would be the first to flick the musical switch of the nation off auto-pilot. Suede released singles such as ‘The Drowners’ and ‘Metal Mickey’ in 1992 which had sparked an increased interest which expanded rapidly when they released ‘Animal Nitrate’. The loud, grinding and sharp guitar riffs and the bold lyrics were hard to ignore and as a result the producers of the BRIT Awards decided to throw them into the 1993 ceremony last minute. In their attempts to revive the fading and irrelevant awards ceremony they left the nation in shock and awe of Suede’s performance. Their debut album became the fastest selling debut album in the U.K for a decade. While this was going on; Blur had started to re-evaluate their approach from the psychedelic, shoegaze band they were and into a band that would take note of the ‘Americanisation’ of the U.K with Modern Life is Rubbish. But that would only serve as a pre-cursor to what was to come from them. Meanwhile in Wales a reinvention was underway. It had the style and flare of Glam Rock yet the grit of punk. It was portrayed by a band called the Manic Street Preachers and they began to inflitrate the charts with ‘Motorcyle Emptiness’ and a cover of ‘Suicide is Painless’  In 1993 a defining moment occured on the cover of the Select magazine that would officially spark the movement. It recognised the new sound of bands like Suede and how unique it was to Britian. They featured Suede frontman Bret Anderson on the cover with a Union Jack in the background along with a subtle message. Also mentioned on that very cover were a Sheffield band that had been plugging away un-noticed throughout the 80’s and had also started to make new waves in the British music scene. Singles such as ‘Lipgloss’ and ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ lead the newly christened Britpop scene into 1994. The band was Pulp and their His ‘n’ Hers album was as bold and as bright as Suede’s debut but tinged with a Northern feel provided by Jarvis Cocker and the inclusion of keyboards that made them a little more ‘funkier’ and saw them begin to take the lead of the Britpop scene. However they, along with the rest of the country; had no idea of what was to come over the next few months.

 

The first number one song for the movement came from the three quarters female group: Elastica. The grinding and slightly distorted guitars were a feature as were Justine Frischmann’s shouty and almost spoken vocals. Blur would emerge as a stronger and bolder force than the year before with their album Parklife. On it featured ‘Girls and boys’ and ‘Parklife’. One was almost like a dance track complimented by Graham Coxon’s agressive riffs. The other was a much more guitar driven song which oddly featured spoken verses from actor Phil Daniels but which worked to great effect; especially when it lead to Blur taking over fully in the chorus. With this many critics had claimed the the grunge revolution was being defeated and these comments seemed more ominous upon Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The world and the nation mourned the loss of a musical legend and icons in Nivarna. But little did they know, another was about to smash it’s way onto the scene and raise the stakes in what was fast becoming a British free for all in the charts. Oasis introduced themselves to the nation with ‘Supersonic’. A track that teases the listener with a simple drum intro and then with that definitive grinding guitar but it was done with such flow and effortlessness it was hard to place it with the others. The bass featured more prominently and of course Liam Gallaghers vocals the most prominent of the 90’s with his down your throat and in yer face style to deliver Noel Gallagher’s well crafted and British lyrics. With this,’Supersonic’,’Shakermaker’,Liver Forever’ and so many others they had thrown away the gloves in the fight supremacy and Britpop had just turned nasty as Oasis took the Britpop scene back to it’s origins. Back in Wales, the Manics dropped all the American influences that had featured heavily on their second album and picked up their Joy Division, PiL and Gang of Four influences to create a Hard Rock, Punk masterpiece to much critical acclaim with The Holy Bible. The album perhaps had some of the strongest anti-american messages out of all the British groups from the 90’s and though it wasn’t a massive commercial success, they did appear on Top of the Pops to perform ‘Faster’ in which the BBC suffered a raft of complaints from disgruntled viewers who had witnessed the Manics all in military attire with frontman James Dean Bradfield wearing a balaclava. These would be their last performances as a quartet as their guitarist and lead lyricist Richie Edwards would suffer a breakdown and later go missing for which he still hasn’t been found to this day. The Manics would spend 1995 considering their future and revaluating as a band.

 

1995 would very much see the movement at it’s peak with all the various groups trampling over each other in the charts in order to get number one singles and albums. The nation would soon find itself gripped by it all and Oasis would trigger the fight with their single ‘Some Might Say’ from thier huge album (What’s the story) Morning Glory. It would be their first number one single and came only a few days after the Conservatives heavy defeat in the local elections. It signalled the beginning of the end of a difficult era under Conservative rule that stretched right back to 1979 and many started to endorse Tony Blair; especially Noel Gallagher. He descibes the song as the definitive Oasis song and it certainly saw Oasis win the upper hand in the chart battle with their British counter-parts, mainly Blur. It would commence the fierce battle between the two which was mainly provoked by the NME. Blur too, played to it and delayed the release of the first single off their album Great Escape to coincide with Oasis’ second release from Morning Glory: ‘Roll With it’. It was released August 14th 1995 as was ‘Country House’ from Blur and the nation stopped to find out the outcome of the ‘Battle of Britain’ or ‘Battle of Britpop’. It was even reported on the Ten o’clock news ahead of The Bosnia crisis and Iraq’s supposed possession of WMD’s. It was dubbed by the press as a battle between Working and Middle class, North and South and it was Blur who won that Battle to knock Take That off the top of the charts. However it was very much as case of Blur winning only the battle and not the war. While other Blur releases from The Great Escape would chart highly, they wouldn’t eclipse Oasis releases from Morning Glory that were arriving 13 months after the release of the albums first single. They wouldn’t have it all their own way though. The Verve from Wigan showed much promise on their album A Northern Soul and had close ties to Oasis. Pulp were back with their legendary album Different Class which spawned the singles ‘Disco 2000’, ‘Mis-shapes’ which reached number 7 and 2 respectively. The Britpop anthem that was ‘Common People’ also reached the number 2 spot and the song is often hailed as the epitome of the Britpop movement with it’s class messages. Supergrass too emerged with their hit single ‘Alright’ which was a more upbeat Britpop event. Even the Modfather that was Paul Weller was getting in on the act with his solo album Stanley Road which spawned the singles ‘Changingman’ and ‘You do something to me’.

1996 would tie up any loose ends left over from 1995 and would feature some of the greatest British anthems of all time and some sensational returns. Morning Glory was still releasing singles off what was to become the third greatest selling album in U.K chart history. From it they would get their second number one single with perhaps one of the greatest tracks in U.K chart history in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ This was the first time Noel took the lead vocal on an Oasis single despite being the chief writer of the band. His delivery, especially in the chorus is the sort of vocal that gets a nation singing along with you and the exstensive use of guitar solo’s of which Oasis always featured more prominently than others gave the hook for what is primarliy a Noel Gallagher song. But it was a song that showed another level for Oasis. A level that Blur couldn’t replicate and one they were not willing to as they began to depart from their typical Britpop like sound that they had used for the last four to five years. Liverpool had a small part to play with the band Cast who released the hit single ‘Walk Away’ from their 1995 album All Change. Another of the great British anthems was released in April that year as the Manic Street Preachers returned with the epic ‘Design For Life’ which was much more akin to Britpop and propelled the boys from Blackwood back into the spotlight with the Manics on their emotional return after the disappearence of guitarist Richie Edwards in February 1995. The song was one last blow to the class system and it charted at number two for a lengthy period as did the album Everything Must Go. The title track and all the singles from that album charted very well and was commerically, the bands most successful album. Another player would emerge in 1996 to further clog up the charts full of British music. This time from Birmingham and their answer to Oasis with Ocean Colour Scene. Along with The Boo Radleys and Cast from Merseyside they were labelled as ‘Noel Rock’ groups due to the heavy Oasis influences, particularly from Noel Gallagher in terms of vocal, lyrical and musical style. ‘The Riverboat song’ from Ocean Colour Scene pushed them up to fifthteenth spot in the charts while ‘The Day we Caught the Train’ would give them their best chart showing coming in at number four. The song was heavily influenced by The Who and the cult film Quadrophenia from 1979 which starred Phil Daniels and Sting amongst others. The band would give the Midlands it’s best representation thoughout the movement and they would win the approval of those such as Noel Gallagher. He made sure that they would be on the roll call of British groups on show at the famous Knebworth concert in August 1996. It broke the record for free standing attendance in the U.K and Oasis were the centrepiece. The Manics would also gain a lot of respect as now being part of the movement as it’s Hard Rock representatives while the ‘Noel Rock’ groups such as Ocean Colour Scene and Cast would also feature. It is often cited as the ultimate peak of the Britpop era and of British music in the 90s. Many thought that an event of such scale would never occur again and it wouldn’t. From this point the whole Britpop era was only set for a tumble and tumble it did. One of the first Britpop acts in Suede were back with their thrid album Coming Up. It was a much more melodic and considered affair than their debut album and featured much more long and drawn out chords and riffs and more drawn out and ambitious vocals from Bret Anderson. The album was a critical and commercial success with great singles like ‘Beautiful Ones’ and the simple contented love song that is ‘Saturday Night’ but it was in no way an attempt to re-ignite Britpop and more of a signal of it’s change and the Post-Britpop groups that were on their way. 1997 would be the year that everyone realised Britpop was changing and that in some respects, there was nothing left to moan about and little lyrical fuel for the movement.

 

1997 would start with the return of Blur and the signal of a different approach from the group. Guitarist Graham Coxon had suggested they should stop their approach of the last three albums and start to embrace American culture a little more rather than countering it. They adopted a more alternative and indie rock style that resulted in the album called Blur. Many thought that the abandonment of their general fanbase would see the album be a critical success but a commerical flop. However when ‘Beetlebum’ was released in January 1997, it went straight in at number one. The more at ease and considered style worked well with Damon Albarn’s deeper and more meaningful lyrics and this was followed by the alternative rock classic that is ‘Song 2’ In much of the opposite effect of Beetlebum it had raging instumentals and the simple Woohoo as the vocal hook and the album was seen a general triumph at redefining Britpop. But Coxon was growing weary of the other members of the band. He grew tired of Alex James and his disinterest in the process and Damon Albarn’s attempts to control the whole creative process. Nevertheless everyone would await the response from Oasis. Meanwhile the group that would become the Post-Britpop pioneers were starting to make themselves heard to represent the Cardiff music scene alongside their psychedelic counterparts Super Furry Animals and the Cerys Matthews led Catatonia who go on to claim the number one album in 1998 and 1999. The group was Stereophonics and they would claim several top 40 hits with their debut album Word Gets Around. The best and most successful single would be ‘Local Boy in a photograph’ that would showcase Kelly Jones and his gravelely vocal style. The instrumentals would feature much more disstortion and were lyrically more generalised with more agressive drumming and maybe even a little more optimistic than those groups that inspired them. Meanwhile on a politcal level the Britpop movement had achieved it’s goal. John Major was defeated by a Labour and Blair landslide and in that sense they had done what they had intended. Noel Gallagher would go on to attend Blair’s victory dinner after endorsing him so heavily. Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker and others would refuse their invites. However the Blair campaign had no use for the movement anymore either. They had utilised it to get power and now they had it for the first time since 1979. This would go on to see a devaluation of both Blair and Britpop. However the movement wasn’t over just yet and The Verve would come to refresh the more traditional ideals of Britpop with some extra production. Bittersweet Symphony was a masterpiece of British music instumentally with the orchesteral elements and lyrically and had an iconic video too. It would go on to reach number two in the charts while it’s follow up ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ which was released the day after Princess Diana had died and the sombre and reflective mood of the song and of the nation was the most likely the reason why it got to number one. a few days before Oasis released the highly anticipated Be Here Now. It was so highly anticipated due to Blur’s redirection that it was decided that there should be very limited promotion for the album in fear of over-hyping it and the fact that Oasis were now probably the biggest band in the world at that point and even America couldn’t keep ignoring them. However the tension between Blur’s band members was typically nothing compared to the Gallagher brothers. Tension wasn’t the word. Their producer Owen Morris had stated by that time “Noel had decided Liam was a shit singer. Liam had decided he hated Noel’s songs” and with Liam’s behaviour growing more erratic, Noel had decided to leave but was convinced to come back. The album features two lenghty songs that weren’t just for the album but were two of their singles as well. Many had also criticised them for ‘Trying too hard to be The Beatles’ and for the massive over-production on the album. The large length of their first single D’You Know What I Mean? clocking in at nearly eight minutes did nothing to stop them from getting to number one however. The same is true for their 1998 single ‘All around the World’ at nearly nine minutes but still getting number one. However it now seemed that the general support for Oasis had gone as it had done for Blur. Now Oasis records were only being bought by proper Oasis fans and they had polarised their audience in that sense from that of the rest of the country and it can even be seen in the lyrics. “All my people right here, right now; D’You Know What I Mean?” or the title of the single “Stand By Me” all had supported the idea of influencing their followers and they had more than enough to still get to number one. More than what Blur could call on. Pulp would be back again with their album This is Hardcore and featured the lead single ‘Help The Aged’ which got to number eight in the charts. It’s lyrics too were inadvertedley signaling the end of the Britpop movement in saying “Nothing lasts forever. No big deal…” or “Funny how it all falls away”. The B-side for this song ‘Tomorrow Never Lies’ was also chosen as the themesong for the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies but was replaced by a song from Sheryl Crow. That perhaps a sign that British music was becoming less valued in Britain.

The remainder of the period saw the winding down of Britpop. The Manics would utilise it one last time to great commercial success with the album This is my Truth Tell me Yours which got to number one along with the single ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’ which was a big hit despite holding the record for the longest song title to get to number one. Oasis would release the live album Masterplan and Blur would go on to have another critically acclaimed album with Tender which spawned two great songs with ‘Coffee and TV’ and ‘Tender’ yet they would never top the charts again. Meanwhile Stereophonics had another successful album but were often unfairly cast aside with the likes of Travis and mainly Coldplay in taking their Britpop influences and abusing them to no end. This is something Coldplay would go on to do for the next decade and in some ways it was those sorts of bands who were seen as the legacy of Britpop which may have tarnished the period as a whole.

The Britpop legacy instilled a long term sense of pride throughout the 90’s in British culture and tradition. Something which has never occured in such a way since apart from one month in 2012 during the Olympics. But how can a long lasting feeling of national pride exist in Britain when it’s soundtrack is Emeli Sande? It took an American band from New York to save guitar music in the Strokes and we can thank them for the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys and other great British bands. We should be very gratetful to our American cousins who stepped in when as a nation we were and still are destroying ourselves. That’s why no musical movement has grown again and I doubt there will never be another. How can there be? In the 21st Century it’s fine to have Simon Cowell alone be the judge of your music on behalf of the nation. It’s ok that he acts as some master dictator of mainstream British music. It’s fine that you can’t sing these days and that you try to hide it. It’s fine to have a team of writers for you. Heaven forbid you would actually try and write your own song! Even the election of David Cameron isn’t creating any genuine creativity in spite of him. These days people have become so polarised into their own musical groups and genres that even if a truly talented musician comes around and has some chart success, they will tagged as being too commercial and too ‘mainstream’ or ‘indie’ or whatever crap term people have for them. To us now whatever music makes it into the charts is crap. No matter who they are or what they sound like. Granted many of them are but that’s the culture and that’s what people have grew up with. In a way it’s hard to blame people if that’s all they know. It’s suggested that this culture and those people such as Cowell are on the way out and for the sake of music in this country I hope it’s true. Maybe people will wake up and make their own choices and their own music, maybe we need a shove in the right direction from another country or maybe that is it. For good. Im very proud to say I was born in the middle of the 90s and the Britpop movement but im ashamed to say I now live an era where music is an after thought. I hope this will change for future generations but ours is a lost one.