Be Here Now | The End of Britpop?

col mk_be-here-nowThe Brothers Gallagher always championed themselves as the saviors of rock and the biggest band since the Beatles, and for a short time, they were.




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Wait, what?! Oh, yeah: I still can write. Well, hell—it’s been over a year since I’ve produced a column. The real world pretty much has been kicking my ass, as well, as I’ve been fighting just a terrible case of writer’s block. But I actually have something to say this time.

col mk_pulp-poster_150In a previous column, I wrote about my love of Britpop; anyone who personally knows me is well aware of this fact. How many people do you know who have a hand-drawn Pulp poster? Oh, wait: That would just be me. [Editor’s note: Jim Dunn has one as well. Framed. Full disclosure, though: He got it from Mike Koehler who, in all modesty, neglected to mention that he drew the posters himself. Talented guy, that one.] Most articles, books, and reviews you read point at Oasis’s much-maligned 1997 release Be Here Now as being the death of Britpop. As with most things in life, the downfall of Britpop is not a simple case. You cannot point to one album as being the death blow to an entire scene that was on a global scale.

So is Be Here Now the reason? God, no. It’s just convenient to point the finger because there are many more complicated reasons that are not simple to explain. Initially, the album received glowing reviews and strong sales, but over the years it’s come under fire as being severally bloated and overindulgent, starting the end of the meteoric rise of the Britpop movement in general. Bloated, self-serving, and overindulgent? Have you listened to any Oasis album? And did you expect anything different, for fuck’s sake? That is what Oasis is known for! All of their releases have a certain degree of being so full of themselves, you can’t tell if they are being sincere or just Beatles rip-offs.

col mk_2-albumsSure, Be Here Now is not as brilliant as Definitely Maybe or (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, but it really is not a bad album. In fact, there are quite a few excellent songs on it, including their last major U.S. hit for 10 years, “Don’t Go Away.” “D’You Know What I Mean,” “My Big Mouth,” and Magic Pie” are three great, rocking tracks to start things off. A better producer may have pared back some of the jam on “D’You Know” a bit, but I’ve heard much worse and more overindulgent. “Stand by Me” is another great song that never gets much credit. “I Hope, I Think, I Know,” “Fade in-out,” and the aforementioned “Don’t Go Away” are middle record standouts. The title track is a fun, playful cut and “It’s Getting Better [Man!!]” is a great way to round out the album. The only tracks I normally skip are “All around the World” and the reprise that closes the album. When you speak of being just overdone, yes, this would be a good example. The song really isn’t overly bad, but my issue stems more from overhearing it on AT&T commercials a couple years ago—that, and it’s just too long. Oasis really didn’t need the reprise and should have closed with “It’s Getting Better.”

Over the years, even the band has said they hate the album, but it has aged fairly well and sounds pretty damn great today. Go back and listen and you will find that it really is a very enjoyable album. Sure, there is a certain overblown-ness more prevalent here than on their previous two releases. The Brothers Gallagher always championed themselves as the saviors of rock and the biggest band since the Beatles, and for a short time, they were. This is an album of them trying to be even bigger. It doesn’t col mk_bluralways hit home, but it’s good, and when it does hit home, it’s very good. Oasis has always unabashedly worshipped the Beatles and never more so on this album, which they wanted to be their Sgt. Pepper’s. But to point to it and say, “You fucking did this; you killed Britpop” is just ludicrous.

The number one reason for the downfall starting in 1997? Drugs. That is the culprit for the end of many a career and scenes. Cocaine was the Gallaghers’ poison of choice. Heroin was also a major problem in the Britpop world, especially with the likes of Suede’s Brett Anderson. Drugs more than anything stifled the creativity of many of these bands, as it was so readily available. Overexposure is another huge reason for the downfall. Britpop from 1944 to 1997 was the “it” thing, the new revolution, the hot commodity that record labels and music moguls wanted to glom on to. You know, the same fucks that ruined college rock—I mean alternative rock, punk, techno, the British invasion, etc., etc.

Greed is not good; it ruins scenes like this. You start getting acts thrown into the mix after the initial explosion that would never have been heard of if it wasn’t for the trailblazers of the scene. Hey, if they sound like Blur/Oasis/Pulp, let’s sign them and cram them down everyone’s throats until we’ve squeezed out every dime we can and move on. Ugh. We needed Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Supergrass, Super Furry Animals, Suede, and The Verve, but we didn’t need many of the second and third wave acts that came along; too often, they just were not that great and only served to dilute the scene. Some of them had a good single or two in them, but that was it. Too much mediocrity from some of these acts weakened the col mk_britpopbrilliance of others. Even overexposure of “Cool Britannia” can be blamed partially for the downfall. Oasis was huge here and their constant bickering with each other was often hilarious but very off-putting. Then there was the Spice Girls. Their massive success exposed many in the U.S., who were unfamiliar with Britpop, to a certain degree of English pride, yet it ended up breeding contempt in many Americans—well, at least the glossed-over Spice Girls and Austin Powers version of Cool Britannia.

And really, was 1997 the end of Britpop? Not entirely. Most of the second- and third-tier acts had one, maybe two albums total in their career, and were gone by 1999. Several of the major acts carried on well past 1997, making great music, including Oasis. They went on to record four additional albums, two of which were fantastic and two of which were very hit or miss, in my opinion. Pulp went on to record its 1998 wildly dark masterpiece This Is Hardcore, an album essentially about the coming down and dealing with the repercussions of what you have done—very poignant. They would carry on until 2001. Supergrass would carry on until 2010, releasing four very good albums post-1997, with 2002’s Life on Other Planets being pretty brilliant.

col mk_bloc-partyIn the early- to mid-2000s, we saw the rise of many new young English acts influenced by Britpop of the middle and late ’90s. Bands like Arctic Monkeys, Doves, Elbow, Starsailor, Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, Maxïmo Park, and Bloc Party all achieved success in the mid Aughts as a direct result of Britpop’s success. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in reunions of several of the bands that led the Britpop movement or were forerunners to it. Blur, Pulp, The Verve, and Suede all have had successful reunions (and tours), with Blur, The Verve, and Suede releasing excellent comeback albums. And Pulp went on to make an outstanding documentary about their reunion tour.

So is it fair to say that Be Here Now is the reason for the decline and end of Britpop in 1997? No, it really isn’t; it was a mere coincidence in timing. The scene collapsed on itself for many reasons, a few of which I’ve mentioned. Is Britpop still around? Yes, but is a very limited form now and certainly nowhere near where it was. With so many acts getting back together for that vaunted reunion album and tour money, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a growing interest in one of my favorite musical periods and movements. My only regret is I was never able to make it over to England during that time. That might have been too much for me to handle, actually… | Mike Koehler

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