FEATURE: Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore: Britpop’s Best Ten Albums




Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore

IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Britpop’s Best Ten Albums


I would not normally...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Supergrass (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

do a feature of the best Britpop albums but, because one of its leaders, Parklife, is twenty-five on Thursday, I felt it was only right to have a look at this time in British music (between 1993 and 1998). Some people dismiss Britpop and see it as a fad or a bit overrated. It was a time when celebratory and uplifting albums mixed alongside some a bit darker and bristling. Not only was there a lot of bombast and anthemic bliss but there were these great bands hitting their peak and exploring new ground. It is a shame we do not have the same kind of movement as Britpop now because, with the tension we live around, it would give us something to cheer about. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Blur’s third album, I have been looking at the other albums released around this time (some a year or two earlier, a few a bit later) and deciding which were genius and which were merely promising. Say what you like about Britpop but, as these ten albums prove (and whether you class them as purely Britpop), there was a lot of brilliance sparking around during this epic time. Have a look at the albums listed and I know some will have their own views as to some big releases missing. Not only has compiling a top-ten allowed me to reinvestigate a wonderful time for British music but, digging deep into the albums themselves, I have discovered new light and brilliance I missed…

IN THIS PHOTO: Blur (circa 1997)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

THE first time around.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Spotify



Release Date: 25th April, 1994

Labels: Food/SBK

Producers: Stephen Street/Stephen Hague/John Smith/Blur

Standout Tracks: Girls & Boys/End of a Century/Parklife/To the End

Key Cut: This Is a Low


The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record” – AllMusic

The VerveUrban Hymns

Release Date: 29th September, 1997

Label: Hut

Producers: The Verve/Chris Potter/Youth

Standout Tracks: Sonnet/The Drugs Don’t Work/Lucky Man/Velvet Morning

Key Cut: Bitter Sweet Symphony


For all the inter- and intra-band drama that fueled its creation, Urban Hymns ultimately centered around a very basic, universal theme: live for the moment and give it all you got, because we’ve only got one shot at this thing called life. It’s a sentiment that would seem terribly cornball and clichéd—if the Verve’s subsequent history didn’t so thoroughly reinforce its veracity. Less than a month after their Haigh Hall coronation, a disgruntled McCabe left the band once again, prior to a North American summer arena tour. What should’ve been a victory lap instead became a funeral procession, with Ashcroft and co. dutifully going through the motions alongside a session-player replacement before calling it a day once again. Of course, as the lyrics to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” attested, the Verve had at that point become well accustomed to life’s cruel twists and unforgiving ironies” – Pitchfork

PulpDifferent Class

Release Date: 30th October, 1995

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Mis-Shapes/Disco 2000/Something Changed/Sorted for E’s & Whizz

Key Cut: Common People


Obviously, there are much more unpleasant depths to the songs on 'Different Class' than the mere audacity of mentioning drugs in a title. Indeed, the attitude to narcotics throughout is curiously moralistic: from the monumental come-downs of 'Sorted For E's and Wizz'; via the vacuous club-bunnies who populate 'Monday Morning' (Pulp do ska! And get away with it, more or less); through to the "broken people" clustering in 'Bar Italia' at dawn, when, "You can't go to bed because it hasn't worn off yet."

No. Cocker's sins against the tabloid-trusting masses are much more pernicious than calculated drug scares. The roles he takes for much of 'Different Class' exploit the fears of the generations-that-never-inhaled in a far more real and frightening way. He is the voyeur who dreams of being caught, the swinger who's "kissed your mother twice and now I'm working on your dad," and, worst of all, the adulterer” – NME

Oasis(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Release Date: 2nd October, 1995

Label: Creation

Producers: Owen Morris/Noel Gallagher

Standout Tracks: Roll with It/Wonderwall/Some Might Say/Morning Glory

Key Cut: Don’t Look Back in Anger


Likewise, as musicians, Oasis are hardly innovators, yet they have a majestic grandeur in their sound that makes ballads like "Wonderwall" or rockers like "Some Might Say" positively transcendent. Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section, but the most noticeable change is in Liam Gallagher. His voice sneered throughout Definitely Maybe, but on Morning Glory his singing has become more textured and skillful. He gives the lyric in the raging title track a hint of regret, is sympathetic on "Wonderwall," defiant on "Some Might Say," and humorous on "She's Electric," a bawdy rewrite of "Digsy's Diner." It might not have the immediate impact of Definitely Maybe, but Morning Glory is just as exciting and compulsively listenable” – AllMusic


Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Deceptive (U.K.)/Geffen (U.S.)

Producers: Mark Waterman/Elastica

Standout Tracks: Line Up/Car Song/Waking Up/Stutter

Key Cut: Connection


The pithy songs on Elastica, with their searing lyrics about sex, groupies, and ennui, capture the whirlwind of the early-’90s Britpop explosion. Instead of worshiping the Beatlesthe Kinks, and Bowie, Elastica blended the jagged guitars of WireBuzzcocks, and other English punks with the pop hooks of American new wave acts like Blondie and Talking Heads. The band didn’t have a full-time keyboard player until Dave Bush joined the lineup in 1996, but Albarn (credited as Dan Abnormal) punched up some of the melodies on their debut with scratchy synth lines” – Pitchfork

RadioheadThe Bends

Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Parlophone/Capitol

Producer: John Leckie

Standout Tracks: The Bends/Fake Plastic Trees/Just/My Iron Lung

Key Cut: Street Spirit (Fade Out)


The album proved to be a success and even though no single became as popular as “Creep”, five of the singles did chart and more importantly, the album garnered the high critical acclaim missing from Pablo. This surprise reception is due in part to The Bends distinct sonic delivery, it drifts through its 12 tracks in extended deep space and while the songs are accessible and catchy they are elevated by their density, featuring a distinct Wall of Sound production. Songs like "Planet Telex," "High and Dry" and "Black Star" stand high above their precursors on Pablo, both for their scope and their high altitude themes.

The only apparent drawback is a few of the tracks do suffer some residual grunge influence, in very minor details throughout the album. Although this can somewhat date tracks like "The Bends" and "Black Star," they help to bind the album to its predecessor and to a movement that may not be contemporary but certainly isn’t bad. The Bends is a triumphant release, an album that began one of the best track records in Rock music” – SoundKite


Release Date: 29th March, 1993

Label: Nude

Producer: Ed Buller

Standout Tracks: So Young/The Drowners/Sleeping Pills/Metal Mickey

Key Cut: Animal Nitrate


Suede hit hard and fast with a trio of tremendous singles (The Drowners, Metal MickeyAnimal Nitrate), then dealt the coup de grace with their debut album, a record ripe with the promise of forbidden fruit and filled with songs of transgressive acts and confused teenage sexuality, including So YoungSleeping Pills and The Next Life. It won the Mercury Music Prize in 1993, and Suede were credited with kickstarting Britpop” – The Irish Times

Pulp This Is Hardcore

Release Date: 30th March, 1998

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Party Hard/This Is Hardcore/A Little Soul/I’m a Man

Key Cut: Help the Aged


“Different Class” was a debauched update of vintage new wave styles. “This Is Hardcore” is more expansive and more stylish than its predecessor, integrating sweeping string sections and over-the-top, big-rock production touches. “Help the Aged,” Cocker’s ode to lessons gleaned from the elderly, deftly leaps from an after-hours fragility to arena roar. In “Dishes,” Cocker attempts to comfort his mate after a hard days’ work. “I’d like to make this water wine, but it’s impossible/I’ve got to get these dishes dry,” he sings, voice on the verge of cracking, as the music surges into sublime cabaret-pop beauty” – Entertainment Weekly

Supergrass I Should Coco

Release Date: 15th May, 1995

Labels: Parlophone (U.K.)/Capitol (U.S.)

Producer: Sam Williams

Standout Tracks: Caught by the Fuzz/Mansize Rooster/Lose It/Lenny

Key Cut: Alright


The way the grinning choruses of 'Lose It' and 'She's So Loose' scramble out of the punky rush, the way 'Mansize Rooster' plays tag with Madness and Bowie, the way 'We're Not Supposed To' comes strumming at us at - literally - 78rpm in a weird helium homage to Syd Barrett are all the hallmarks of a band totally in love with music. And the way in which their influences aren't just cobbled together but assimilated and made their own, suggests that listening to 'Revolver' or 'Hunky Dory' or 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' played as much a part in building their formative characters as that first shag or that first fag.

In that sense, 'I Should Coco' is a beautifully honest album of, and about, its time. This is their generation - wide (sometimes wild)-eyed, determined not to let anybody else's bastard moral standards grind them down. They look at the adult world - the one that their talent is about to take to the cleaners - and they giggle” – NME

Blur Blur


Release Date: 10th February, 1997

Label: Food

Producers: Stephen Street/Blur

Standout Tracks: Song 2/On Your Own/Death of a Party/Look Inside America

Key Cut: Beetlebum


What makes it exceptional is how hard the band tries to reinvent itself within its own framework, and the level of which it succeeds."Beetlebum" runs through the White Album in the space of five minutes; "M.O.R." reinterprets Berlin-era Bowie; "You're So Great," despite the corny title, is affecting lo-fi from Graham Coxon; "Country Sad Ballad Man" is bizarrely affecting, strangled lo-fi psychedelia; "Death of a Party" is an affecting resignation; "On Your Own" is an incredible slice of singalong pop spiked with winding, fluid guitar and synth eruptions; while "Look Inside America" cleverly subverts the traditional Blur song, complete with strings.

And "Essex Dogs" is a six-minute slab of free verse and rattling guitar noise. Blur might be self-consciously eclectic, but Blur are at their best when they are trying to live up to their own pretensions, because of Damon Albarn's exceptional sense of songcraft and the band's knack for detailed arrangements that flesh out the songs to their fullest. There might be dark overtones to the record, but the band sounds positively joyous, not only in making noise but wreaking havoc with the expectations of its audience and critics” – AllMusic