Twenty years ago the Britpop movement was at its peak, with many of its bands performing on Top Of The Pops and becoming embroiled in some of the fiercest chart battles of recent memory.
But while we all know about Blur, Pulp, Suede and Oasis, the scene was a lot more diverse than you might remember.
It seems that over the years our memories have unjustly filtered out some terrific bands. So, with the dust settling once again, here are ten albums from the era that have been criminally forgotten, but are well worth listening to again.
1. Sleeper – Smart
Original release date: March 14, 1995
The spark for this article, Sleeper’s debut was released the very same day as Elastica’s. While Justine Frischmann and co went on to score a number one album and the fastest selling debut record since Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Sleeper reached a comparatively paltry No.5. For most, a career-defining high point, but the shadow cast by Britpop royalty like Elastica is dark and obscuring. The London band fronted by Louise Wener went on to release two other albums: 1996’s The It Girl and 1997’s Pleased To Meet You. Both worth listening to, though this wry debut is the best.
2. Space – Spiders
Original release date: September 16, 1996
You’ll know ‘em when you hear ‘em. One of those bands that escapes recollection, Space nonetheless scored a Top 20 hit with ‘Female of the Species’. Ahh yes. That song. Spiders contains a slew of indie-pop gems like ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Me And You Vs The World’, and peaked at a rather respectable number five in the albums chart. It was the first of two Top 10 LPs for the Liverpudlian band (the second being 1998’s Tin Planet), who reformed in 2011 and released the PledgeMusic funded Attack of the 50ft Kebab last year. Arachnophobes need not apply.
3. Ride – Carnival Of Light
Original release date: June 20, 1994
Ride’s heyday came in the early-90s before Britpop had truly exploded across the music press, and they’ll perhaps be more remembered for their contributions to the shoegaze sound through their first two albums. However, Carnival Of Light saw them step – gingerly – towards a more traditional rock sound that would ultimately be their downfall. Pay minimal attention to the critical panning the record received upon release, and the band’s ‘affectionate’ nickname for the album (Carnival Of Shite); while it may signal the beginning of the end for the Oxfordshire band, it’s a great place to start for new fans. Plus, Ride’s Andy Bell went on to play guitar in Oasis. It doesn’t get much more Britpop than that.
4. Black Grape – It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah
Original release date: October 10, 1995
Black Grape is what Shaun Ryder got up to after The Happy Mondays parted ways in 1993. This record was seen as a bit of a comeback for both he and madcap dancer (now political activist) Bez, and built upon the pair’s history of baggy, layering in more traditional dance structures and even a hip-hop influence through member Kermit, formerly of the band The Ruthless Rap Assassins. The record went on to receive great critical praise, even going so far as to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize (ultimately losing to Pulp’s Different Class), and the song ‘Yeah Yeah Brother’ features in laugh-an-hour fashion romp The Devil Wears Prada.
5. The Auteurs – Now I’m A Cowboy
Original release date: May 9, 1994
The Auteurs are an oft-forgotten alternative rock band of the ’90s, who formed in London back in 1991. It’s perhaps their second album Now I’m A Cowboy that received the biggest critical and commercial success, and is best remembered for containing the song ‘Lenny Valentino’. The band would – off the back of the record’s success – go on to release albums produced by legendary noisenik Steve Albini, recorded at the world famous Abbey Road Studios, and frontman Luke Haines has gone on to become a prolific songwriter very much in his own mould. This album remains one of his highlights.
6. Gay Dad – Leisure Noise
Original release date: June 7, 1999
Gay Dad are a band that allow me to keep my dreams of rock stardom alive, despite choosing to pursue a career in the more critical side of the music business. Fronted by Cliff Jones, music journo aficionado with once influential magazine The Face, the band’s debut album saw them chart at number 14, and score important performance time on Top of the Pops, TFI Friday and CD:UK (at a time when music on television was much more buoyant than it is now). Jones’ history in rock literature is prevalent throughout the lyrics, though the band’s whole authenticity was questioned due to the frontman’s connections with the music press. Still, cracking album.
7. Everything But The Girl – Walking Wounded
Original release date: May 21, 1996
Everything But The Girl formed waaay before anyone was bandying around portmanteaus like Britpop; all the way back in Hull, 1982. But Walking Wounded (their penultimate album of an eleven-record strong career), brought their trip-hop sound kicking and screaming to the outer fringes of the mid-90s music scene. If you thought the Britpop era was defined purely by brash guitars and a cocksure swagger, think again. And listen to this album.
8. Marion – This World And Body
Original release date: February 17, 1996
Marion are arguably the most tragic (if that’s not too heavy a word in this context) case of an act who were overlooked in the Britpop era. Embracing the same glam-tinged aesthetic as Suede and writing belters that proved they could hang with the big boys (see: ‘Sleep’ and ‘Time’ as particularly catchy examples), the Manchester band’s star seemed to shine significantly less brightly than their counterparts. Perhaps their regionalism made them less viable as music paper heroes than the cheeky London crop of bands, but either way This World And Body is a solid debut providing some of the most under-appreciated tunes of the decade. Give it a listen and see for yourself.
9. Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Original release date: April 1996
Stereolab are by no means the first band you think of when you think of Britpop. The experimental rock band didn’t quite fit into the traditional mold the music press had carved out for itself, and the wonky electronics of singles like ‘The Noise of Carpet’ and ‘Metronomic Underground’ would be unlikely to grace Top of the Pops’ stage, even if it was still going today. Add to that the fact that nobody seems to remember Stereolab were actually British, and you have a quirky little band that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. It’s for that reason that Emperor Tomato Ketchup (perhaps the best named album on this list) is worth delving into.
10. Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix
Original release date: May 29, 1995
Another influential record on this list from the Creation Records stable (but then, they were knocking them out left, right and centre), Grand Prix is often considered the magnum opus of the Scottish rockers’ fusion of power-pop and jangly guitars. ‘Sparky’s Dream’ is perhaps their greatest creation – at least their most well known – and carries with it the same sense of optimism that permeated the popular culture of the time.
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