Twenty-three years after Blur’s Parklife, Britpop doesn’t need another takedown, or commemoration, or really anything more said about it. Which makes Pitchfork’s list of the 50 Best Britpop Albums an odd document: Why now? Does anyone in the world need to be reminded of the ultimate mediocrity of Oasis, or the fact that Blur’s best work was actually in the 2000s, or the existence of Suede?
The answer may just be existential. Since being bought by Condé Nast, Pitchfork has continued its stylistic evolution. Its reviews have gotten sharper and less irritating and the site has published some truly outstanding features, but it’s also leaned into more questionable, click-driven content like the completely baffling and extraneous “50 Best Indie Albums of the Pacific Northwest” and the culturally damaging “Here Is the Scandalous Father John Misty Interview You’ve Been Waiting For.” This is, of course, what digital publications do.
Pitchfork knows that its lists—many of which are good!—prime the pump. Could they have waited until the 25th anniversary of Parklife? Probably! But that would mean that Britpop’s waning influence would have been waning for two more years.
Anyway, back to Britpop. Part of the weirdness of the list is that 50 whole albums stretches things way too far. Including The Bends as a Britpop album is a pretty great neg of Radiohead, even if it would have been better if The Bends had been beaten out by either of Oasis’s two not-terrible albums. (The fact that Oasis is perhaps the least charismatic band in rock history is not addressed by Pitchfork. Neither is their strange devotion to parkas—they’re weirdly depicted wearing trenchcoats in the Sgt. Pepper-ish art accopmanying the feature.) Morrissey has not one but two albums in the top 50! While “Tomorrow” sounds like Morrissey doing Britpop, it also sounds like Morrissey, who is not Britpop—this is definitely a category error.
The accompanying playlist does a decent job arguing that Britpop was more than a marketing gimmick for Britain’s fading glory, Union Jack-themed merchandise, and the Glastonbury tourism board, but it still struggles to make the case that Britpop was a genre and not an irritating mix of shoegaze flange and power pop songcraft.
The other problem is that most of the music is bad. I was watching the video for Cornershop’s annoying “Brimful of Asha,” only for Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffanys” to autoplay when the song finished—as if YouTube really wanted to make it clear that “Brimful of Asha” was a bad song. Ash sounds like if the Ramones had frontal lobotomies; you can hear Coldplay being born in the Verve’s depthless self-importance; and a surprising number of these bands sound like the Goo Goo Dolls. If Anton Newcombe, the insane frontman of the mediocre Brian Jonestown Massacre, had founded the band in Surrey instead of San Francisco, he would have released a string of #1 records and live in a giant penthouse apartment in Kensington, instead of doing whatever it is he’s doing now.
There are some highlights. Elastica’s first album rules and so does most of Blur (though Blur doesn’t get really good until after Britpop was buried in a shallow grave). Oasis’s popularity makes sense when put in the context of the mediocrity of mid-90s music. And when Pulp, the British LCD Soundsystem, are good, they are really fucking good.
Sleeper also remains underrated. But that doesn’t change the fact that Britpop sucks.