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Six of the Best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era

30 September, 2015 — by Leon Barton0

Here’s my guide to the best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era, including Therapy? Super Furry Animals, Portishead and more.

super furry animals fuzzy logic album cover

Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl recently wrote an excellent piece for the New Statesman in which she bemoaned what was described as the Stalinist revision of the 80s. It was inspired by her teenage son’s 80s-themed end of term school disco…

“Now, personally I wouldn’t mind going to an 80s disco, all Smiths records and ‘Coal Not Dole’ badges, Go-Betweens B-sides and Red Wedge banners. What’s that you say? You don’t think that’s what it would be like? No, you’re probably right. That was my 80s, maybe yours too, but it’s not the official version of the decade, is it? The official version is – yawn – spandex leggings and Duran Duran, puffball skirts and mullets, shoulder pads, Dynasty, yuppies and Tories, Tories, Tories.”

Thorn went on to say,

“Similarly I can see how the story of the 90s is gradually shrinking and contracting, until pretty soon all that’ll be left will be Britpop, and a party that once happened at 10 Downing Street; everything else just a blur, or omitted completely.”

I wanted to shout, “Yes, Tracey! It’s already happening!” As someone aged 15 when we entered the Britpop-era (end of ‘93) and 18 when we left it (beginning of ’97), I feel fairly well placed to judge. I’ve seen it happening with my own eyes and heard it happening with my own ears. It really does seem that for the majority of Britain’s mainstream media, the music that I – and thousands of other 90’s teenagers – loved most, doesn’t even register.

American punk and hardcore (Bad Religion, Sick of it All), metal and hard rock (Pantera, Faith No More), hip hop (Ice Cube, The Goats) and alternative rock (Soundgarden, Screaming Trees)… nobody in the UK was into this stuff were they? Everyone a few years older than the Spice Girls’ target audience (10 year-olds) spent the mid-90s listening to Britpop (or if you were particularly angsty for a week, possibly Alanis) didn’t they?

Well, no. But even leaving aside American music, I can feel the cultural story of the mid-90s contracting to the point where great British albums of that time are now seemingly being airbrushed out of musical history. So to try and redress the balance, here’s my guide to the best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era.

Super Furry Animals – Fuzzy Logic [1996]

Although signed by Alan McGee to Creation records, making them label-mates with Oasis and being very much a pop band, SFA were always far too eccentric to be true Britpop. Their Welshness also didn’t sit easily with the prevailing cultural winds, not just because as a group of Welsh speakers they were unlikely to ever be seen waving a union jack, but also because weed and mushrooms in the woods always seemed more their vibe, rather than the cocaine and champagne in the VIP corner of the club enjoyed by their peers.

McGee said upon signing the band that he imagined them being ‘his Blur’, and if you listen to ‘Something for the Weekend’ you can certainly hear where he was coming from.

“I didn’t realise I’d actually signed a group of mad Welsh anarchists” he states in the highly entertaining Creation records documentary ‘Upside Down’.

As wonderful a debut as Fuzzy Logic is, the group actually got better as they headed further ‘out there’. Second LP Radiator is probably their masterpiece (it’s certainly the SFA album I’ve listened to most), but that was released in the summer of ’97 so outside of our Britpop timeline. 2000’s entirely Welsh language Mwng is also an absolute joy and amazingly it’s their best selling album in the United States.

Nearly 20 years on from their debut, the Super Furries remain cult heroes, especially in their homeland. Wales may have produced bigger and better known musical acts, but I’d argue none have ever been quite as loved and appreciated for bringing a Welsh-cool (far beyond the sheep, coal, choirs and rugby clichés) to the world stage.

Therapy? – Troublegum [1994]

Did I say that the Super Furries were a band unlikely to be seen waving the union jack around? Well for Belfast based Therapy? it would have been even more unlikely.

Troublegum was their pop-metal-punk breakthrough, a much more accessible affair than previous album Nurse. The melodies were strong, the production cleaner and the structures more conventional but beneath it all, there was a darkness to Threrapy? that underpinned even their most commercial material. When it came to Troublegum that darkness was rooted in more universal themes: feelings of paranoia, alienation, aimlessness and teen-angst. “Masturbation saved my life” sings Andy Cairns on the first verse of ‘Femtex’. Not a line Noel Gallagher would ever have penned, one feels.

Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix [1995]

We’ve been to Wales and Northern Ireland, so now let’s head to Scotland. That’s the thing, Britpop really should have been called Engpop, or even Lonpop. And yes, I know, the biggest Britpop band was from Manchester, but Oasis moved to London pretty much as soon as they signed to Creation. Pulp were as much a London band as they were a Sheffield band (all those lyrics about St. Martins college and filthy squats in Mile End). Maybe that’s why I had such trouble relating to most of it. I’ve never lived in London, and never had any desire to. I like to visit, but don’t have any of the reverence for the place that so many of my friends seem to, or indeed the other big Britpop bands. Suede’s lyrical content seemed nearly 100% inspired by the experience of leaving behind a dead end town (in their case Haywards Heath) for the bright lights of the big city and all the casual sex and cheap drugs involved in that.

Teenage Fanclub were, and still are, a defiantly Glasgow-based. I used to see Gerry Love from the band DJ-ing in clubs around the city when I lived there for a short time in the late-90s. He’s the guy who wrote the best power pop track of the past 30 years, ‘Sparky’s Dream’.

Teenage Fanclub were more influenced by North American acts like Neil Young and (especially) Big Star than the typical Beatles/Kinks/Jam/Bowie/Smiths lineage that provided the Britpop blueprint, so they were never really a part of Cool Britannia, despite also being signed to Creation and Liam Gallagher once calling them, “The second best band in the world.” (I believe Blur were his top favourites).

Leftfield – Leftism [1995]

Okay we get to England at last. Although it’s a struggle to get past the ‘mid 90s UK music = Britpop’ stereotype, I would however argue that the period ’94-96 was also the golden age of Brit-electronica.

I considered writing about The Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation [1994], Chemical Brothers’ debut Exit Planet Dust [1995] or Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman [1994] but it’s Leftism that remains the biggy for me.

I was previously a bit of a guitar-snob when it came to modern music.Leftism changed all that. It’s the first dance/electronica album that I ever truly loved and 20 years on, I’d still say it’s my favourite of the genre. Of course it helped that John Lydon appeared on the excellent ‘Open Up’, making stark the link between late 70s punk and early/mid 90s UK dance culture’s air of rebellious energy.

Having said that, my favourite track is the utterly gorgeous, slow-burning, beautiful ‘Melt’, the audio equivalent of a starry night gradually replacing the brilliant blue sky of a hot summer’s day, campfire burning, surrounded by frie… sorry, just had a nostalgic moment there.

Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup [1996]

I didn’t actually discover this album until the end of the 90s. I had a housemate called Paul when I lived in the Peak district (if you’re reading this Paul, get in touch) who played it over and over, and I was drawn in by its hypnotic rhythms. Resistance proved futile. What an amazing album.

Although formed in London by Essex boy Tim Gane, singer Lætitia Sadier is French and Stereolab’s main influences seemed to be continental too, whether the classic Krautrock of Neu and Can or the arch French pop of Francois Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. Obviously Stereolab sat very much outside the Britpop circle.

Although they were always critical darlings, the fact they were so far removed from the Britpop zeitgeist was probably the reason commercial success eluded them. But hey, Emperor Tomato Ketchup still sounds brilliant (I’ve just listened to the whole thing again, beaming) and when was the last time anyone in the world listened to a fucking Menswear album all the way through? Not even Menswear, I imagine.

Portishead – Dummy [1994]

This Life has a lot to answer for. If you’re wondering kids, This Life was a godawful but unfathomably loved 90s BBC TV drama about a house full of unpleasant lawyers (described memorably and accurately by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow as “a bunch of odious cunts”) fucking each other and fucking each other over. I watched about two episodes because all my friends seemed to be watching it and I was getting left out of conversations, but that’s all I could take.

“What’s this got to do with Portishead?” I hear you ask. Well, as they were doing all this fucking and fucking over, the odious cunts always seemed to be playing Dummy on constant rotation in the background. So now I struggle to hear ‘Sour Times’ or ‘Glory Box’ without picturing these bastards. Fucking This Life Bastards. I find it hard to love this album now like I did when I was 16 and I listened to it over and over again. Cunts. I’ll think I’ll finish up now before I end up bringing the swearpocalypse.

I considered writing about Manic Street Preachers’ extraordinary The Holy Bible [1994] or Radiohead’s magnificent The Bends [1995] but figured enough has already been said about those. When I‘ve calmed down about ‘This Life’ I might start on a part two.

Follow Methods Unsound on Twitter: @MethodsUnsound


Six of the Best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era
Six of the Best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era
Here's my guide to the best British non-Britpop albums of the Britpop era, including Therapy? Super Furry Animals, Portishead and Stereolab
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