Pretty Green

1993: The Year Britpop Began

suede-cd-cover-artIt was twenty years ago today that Suede released their electrifying debut album. Suede opened at number one on the UK album chart and broke records for the fastest-selling debut (beating out Frankie Goes To Hollywood!) in the UK. The band, epitomized by their animalistic, arse-slapping performance of ‘Animal Nitrate’ in front of a room of conservative record label execs at the Brit Awards, was like an atomic bomb annihilating the bland and timid from the musical wasteland of England. That’s the kind of impact they had during the early years. While many bands claimed to be the first, or the most influential, Britpop band, Suede actually were at the core of the mania. A significant aspect of their legacy consists of kickstarting the movement, eventually overshadowing their own achievements according to public perception. But the gritty glamour of their first album combined with the infamous Brits performance and 1993’s Mercury Music Prize win, put Suede on the map as one of the brightest hopes for English music, and it set the rest of the world up for a modern British invasion.

Suede were just one of the new generation of bands looking to define themselves through their cultural identity, and it was this year that laid the foundation for Britpop, a reaction against the proliferation of American music overtaking England at the time. While 1993 surely wasn’t the height of Britpop, it was its most significant year since many of the key players followed Suede’s 29 March 1993 debut with their own notable contributions. Here is a look back at some of the highlights of British pop in 1993. Can you believe it’s been twenty years already?

Nearly a month before Suede was released, the Auteur’s New Wave and Radiohead’s Pablo Honey arrived (both on February 22). New Wave lurked on the periphery with its brilliantly lush arrangements and Luke Haines’ razor sharp lyrics. It included songs like ‘American Guitars,’ which was itself a reaction against the popularity of American rock music. While the band remained on the fringe, they were one of the high points of the burgeoning Britpop scene, but they could not compete with the ubiquitous Suede hype at the time. By comparison, Pablo Honey was an introduction to, what would become, one of the most influential English bands of the past twenty years. Much more mainstream rock than their later output, Pablo Honey went platinum and included three charting singles: ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar,’ ‘Stop Whispering,’ and its biggest radio hit, ‘Creep.’ The sound might be far more derivative than their later albums, but it was a fine starting point for their increasingly experimental recordings and has been deemed by critics and fans alike one of the better debut albums of recent years. Saint Etienne’s sixties-influenced stunner, So Tough, was released weeks before Suede. The infectious pop melodies and danceable Eurodisco beat made this their highest-charting album. ‘You’re In A Bad Way’ is positively irresistible with Sarah Cracknell’s dreamy vocals sending us straight to heaven.

The next defining Britpop record came a few months later. Modern Life Is Rubbish was very much a soundtrack for its time and place. Blur’s second album was an image makeover due to their declining popularity after the lukewarm response to their first album and a spate of unsuccessful tours. Flirting with more Anglocentric lyrics, and with a nod to musical influences like the Kinks and Small Faces, the group’s popularity began to climb with songs like ‘Popscene.’ Modern Life.. was responsible for a whole new wave of Britpop bands flaunting their Englishness. This goes to show the shift in public opinion: when Modern Life.. was released, critics dismissed it as being too English, but its follow-up, Parklife, was embraced for exactly the same reason. Around the time of Modern Life.., Alan McGee of Creation Records discovered a little-known band called Oasis opening up for 18 Wheeler at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. He offered them their first recording contract after the show. All three major Britpop players achieved major milestones during the first half of the year.

Slowdive were considered a shoegaze hangover by the time their album Souvlaki was released in June. Souvlaki was a blissed-out collaboration with Brian Eno playing synthesizers on ‘Sing’ and ‘Here She Comes.’ Reviews were generally negative, but, in retrospect, this is considered their finest album and a classic for shoegaze fans. The album title comes from a Jerky Boys prank call. The Jerky Boys must have been the most influential entertainers in 1993 since both this album and Pablo Honey are named after their skits. The Manic Street Preachers’ Gold Against the Soul was considered an anomaly when it was released in June. After the political glam of Generation Terrorists, this was a detour into more mellow, radio-friendly territory. Gold.. might have seemed at odds with their earlier work, but tracks like ‘From Despair To Where’ and ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)‘ hinted at the general evolution the band’s sound would later take. Many critics who initially panned Gold.. have reevaluated the album more favorably. (The) Verve’s debut, A Storm in Heaven, was released the same day as the Manic’s album. Richard Ashcroft’s neo-psychedelic space rock was a grand departure from the other English shoegaze bands. This album, a strong beginning for a consistent band, stormed to 27 in the UK charts supported by songs like ‘Blue’ and ‘Slide Away.’ The summer ended with the Boo Radleys’ Giant Steps. The Boo Radleys took their shoegaze and psychedelia influences, tossed in some dreamy pop and orchestrals, and created a totally unique hybrid of these sounds. Both the NME and Select named Giant Steps album of the year, but it had no charting single. ‘Lazarus‘ should have charted.

Teenage Fanclub’s fourth album, Thirteen, was unjustly criticized by the music press, yet once again, in hindsight, it revealed itself to be a slice of British indie pop heaven. This album has dirtier sounding guitars than its predecessor, Bandwagonesque, but that darker sound is embellished with lilting string arrangements and vocals in songs such as ‘Hang On.’ James released their fifth album, Laid, in October. The album is remarkable for featuring three of their biggest singles, ‘Laid,’ ‘Say Something,’ and ‘Sometimes (Lester Piggott).’ Finally, shoegaze superstars Swervedriver released Mezcal Head, their second album, which boasted their most successful single, ‘Duel.’ They also toured America with the Smashing Pumpkins in late 1993.

By the end of 1993, the foundation for the giddy highs of Britpop was in place. With hit albums from the likes of Suede and Blur, strong albums from many other influential English bands, and the signing of Oasis, England was on the verge of a musical renaissance. This renaissance has continued to produce some of the most exciting music for the past twenty years.

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Britpopping since I first heard 'Animal Nitrate' in 1993

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