In the fall of 1993 Seattle three-piece Nirvana was arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Their debut album Bleach had planted seeds of vehement potential, while everybody and his dog picked up a copy of its all-conquering follow-up Nevermind. Then came the eclectic rarities compilation Incesticide, before recently released third LP In Utero, an abrasive departure that further enhanced the band’s reputation as trailblazers.
I was deep into my Nirvana phase when a friend of mine suggested another American band I might enjoy, “They totally influenced Kurt Cobain!” he exclaimed with wide eyes. A few days later he personally hand delivered two CDs, a mini LP called Come on Pilgrim (1987) and a thirteen-track debut album by the name of Surfer Rosa (1988). “Alt-rock pioneers dude!” he told me with a face as serious as a car accident, “I’m telling you… alt-rock pioneers!’’
It took me a long time to get Bob Dylan. For years I was totally immune to his harmonica-laced charms, happy to tell anyone who would listen that I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. After all, the guy couldn’t even sing and having only been exposed to his protest song era, he didn’t seem like a barrel of laughs either. Later, as my music tastes became more discerning, I begrudgingly accepted that he’d written some classic tunes, though still felt he would never really be my cup of tea. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard Blood on the Tracks one day at a friend’s place, initially unaware of who I was listening to, that my attitude began to shift.
It’s easy to forget what an unparalleled tour de force Oasis were when they burst onto the scene in the summer of 1994. Dangerously cool, razor-edge witty and a whole new level of arrogant, they were impossible to ignore, the musical equivalent of Jack Nicholson smashing the door down with his axe in The Shining.
I was sixteen years old when their debut album Definitely Maybe hit the shelves and its impact on me was immeasurable. On the one hand it’s a record brazenly in debt to its influences, which ranged from T-Rex, The Stones, The Sex Pistols, The Jam and The Stone Roses. There’s even a tip of the hat to Gary Glitter, at a time when the man was yet to be declared persona non grata. But while their self-fuelled comparisons with The Beatles remained inescapable, the truth was Oasis sounded nothing like The Fab Four, while as an LP Definitely Maybe was much more than some heady nostalgia trip.
In the summer of 2000 I turned twenty-two and as per tradition back in those days I was treated to a bunch of CDs from my core group of music-loving friends. It was always exciting to receive a pile of albums all at once, even if I knew I’d be getting exactly what I’d asked for. There was Coldplay’s excellent debut Parachutes, Badly Drawn Boy’s Mercury Prize winner The Hour of Bewilderbeast and Super Furry Animals’ Welsh language delight Mwng. But then I unwrapped a title that took me by surprise. Lost Souls by Doves? Who the heck are Doves?
‘‘You’re a Neil Young fan?’’ a friend of a friend once asked me. ‘‘Really?”
‘‘LOVE Neil Young’’ I clarified, putting on my best ‘‘don’t **** with me!’’ look.
‘‘You don’t think his voice is annoyingly whiny?’’
‘‘You don’t find a lot of his music to be plodding, uninspiring dad-rock?’’
“Not in any way’’.
‘‘Hmm, ok. Well… Southern Man is a good track I guess’’.
‘‘Southern Man is a GREAT track!’’
If my memory serves me well the conversation petered out seconds later. ‘‘So, how about that weather?’’
I can’t put my finger on when exactly Britpop became such a dirty word. A genre that once channelled such an acute sense of hope and reinvention, today it’s often referred to with an acidic dismissiveness. Cock an ear to any non-believer and you’re likely to hear buzzwords like ‘‘derivative’’, ‘‘pedestrian’’ and ‘‘false dawn’’.
Britpop was the music of my youth, the soundtrack to my coming of age, so naturally I’m having none of it. Not that I don’t see where the naysayers are coming from. Admittedly there were countless bands that sounded like inferior laboratory clones of Shed Seven. Then you had acts such as Menswear, Cast, Space, Heavy Stereo and Embrace, all of whom released records that made you wanna turn your back on music and take up trainspotting. Hell, I’ll even begrudgingly accept that Oasis didn’t turn out to be the new Beatles after all, largely failing to fulfil their potential.