It’s 21 years since the ‘Battle of Britpop’, which saw Blur and Oasis fighting for the top spot in the UK charts and generally slagging each other off. Our writers show equal love to both.
Twenty-one years ago this week, self-styled middle-class art-school pricks Blur and working-class meathead squabbling pricks Oasis had finally snorted enough overpriced 90s marching powder to fight to the DEATH for our entertainment.
Which sadly isn’t true, although the press around the event might have had you think so. Images of boxing rings and gladiatorial-style chants of “fight” rang through the high street record shops and bogstandard indie clubs of the land. Riding on concurrent and unprecedented waves of success (if you ignore that oxymoron and indeed, all previous yardsticks of waves of success by many other bands), both groups decided to release what can only be described as two truly terrible singles on the same day. Well done.
Nursery rhymes at best, neither record is anyone’s favourite, but still the tills chimed, the (international) headlines were made and those units were truly shifted. The real heroes of the day were the PR teams behind the whole affair (*waves at Johnny Hopkins*)… Although the literal winner was Blur, because they released two versions of their CD format so everyone bought both. How annoyingly simple is that?
Part of me will actually always enjoy the Blur v Oasis showdown, because to this day, me and a couple of friends have a lunch order called ‘the Gallagher’: soup and a roll with it.
“Oasis had me from the off. Noel Gallagher has an enviable talent for penning deceptively simple songs that connect with people right away.”
Blur – End of a Century and There’s No Other Way
Oasis – Rock ’n’ Roll Star and Half the World Away
The battle of the Britpop always confused me. Pulp were the clear winners and, more than that, Jarvis and his gang of talented dweebs were too (un)cool to give a monkey’s about the fight in the first place.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a lot of love for the Essex pretty boys and Burnage lads scrapping for top dog status. Blur always seemed too posh for me to truly *makes heart shape with hands*, but it didn’t stop me.
My errant father had bought me an LP (vinyl and everything) called Awesome!! 2 (such a class act), and I played There’s No Other Way until it was scratched. But it was Parklife that really grabbed me, particularly the beautifully woozy ode to life’s banalities, End of a Century.
Oasis had me from the off. Noel Gallagher has an enviable talent for penning deceptively simple songs that connect with people right away. You only need to hear it once for it to be lodged in your head. My favourite Oasis earworm is Live Forever, but we’ve already banged on about that elsewhere.
Oasis deliver rock’n’roll with melodies, and bags of character courtesy of the brothers Gallagher: working-class lads with the braggadocio and chops to pull off being bona fide rock’n’roll stars, they unite all sorts of music lovers from all walks of life. It seems fitting, then to pick the swagger-packed Rock ’n’ Roll Star that opens their 1994 debut album Definitely Maybe. “Toniiiight, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star”, yells Liam with not a smidge of irony.
Did Oasis reinvent the wheel? No. Are the lyrics genius? Nah. Were they as bold and experimental as Albarn et al? *shakes head* Did they write belting pop that still sounds fresh 20-odd years on? Fuck yeah.
The first time I heard of Blur was after a gig they’d played at The Pitz, a venue/college gym in Milton Keynes, a few miles from my house. Alex James, in a fit of poorly thought-through excitement, had thrown his guitar into the crowd for a grateful audience member to keep. And a then-friend of mine had caught it. With his head. Something that, at 17, we all found hilariously funny. His mum, not so much. Although he did have to go to hospital, so she had a point. (The full story is, I believe, in James’s autobiography.)
A few months later, Leisure was released and I loved it. In fact, I played, rewound and replayed Sing so much, the tape warped. And so, while I could pick almost anything (including Sing) as a favourite Blur track, I’ve got to go for For Tomorrow, since it’s the first track on their second album, and at a time when half an hour seemed like fricking ages, I felt like it was the new Blur song I’d waited forever to hear. And No Distance Left To Run, because it’s beautiful.
Oasis, I’m not that fussed by. Which I’m sure wouldn’t bother them as a lot of the time they don’t seem that fussed themselves. How else do you explain their two best songs – The Masterplan and Acquiesce – being B-sides?
Blur – To the End
Oasis – Cast No Shadow
As a 13-year-old growing up not far from Damon Albarn’s native Colchester, I had a sense of ownership of Blur, whose corner I fully backed in the Battle of Britpop.
Despite its jingly-jangly circus-esque crescendo that was a dominant theme of Parklife, Blur’s seminal 1994 theatre of the suburban absurd, To the End is a bit of a heartbreaker. Damon’s tale of “collapsing in love”, accompanied by whisperings of something not dissimilar to je t’aime (possibly not in French though, I still can’t tell), makes you want to, well, collapse in love. Especially when you’re 13 and the frontman wears his 90s curtains haircut to such devastating effect.
Of course I still had time for Oasis, but let’s be honest, the best songs were the ones sung by Noel since he could actually sing. The exception to that is Cast No Shadow, dedicated to “the genius of Richard Ashcroft [front man of fellow Britpoppers, The Verve]” in a sleeve note on the band’s 1995 album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.
I still don’t really know what it means, but “bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say, as he faced the sun he cast no shadow” remains an achingly beautiful lyric, that feels as relevant to the “male condition” today as it did 21 years ago. And in that context, I reckon we all know a Richard Ashcroft or two.
“The disorientated lyrics, distorted bass and Damon’s reckless ‘Woo-HOO!’ in Song 2 convey a more powerful sense of someone dangerously off his tits than anything dreamed up by Noel and Liam.”
Blur – Song 2
Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger
When I was in my 20s, I stopped listening to music. Instead, I bought a house, took my job far too seriously and turned my back on the kind of bloke who’d wooed me with mix tapes – inevitably an assortment of obscure musical genres with a Barry Manilow track thrown in for ironic effect – and married a man who considered the works of Toyah Wilcox to be the pinnacle of modern musical achievement.
I think I thought I was being grown up. Techno, house, trance, R&B and hip-hop passed me by. I didn’t go to clubs; I stayed at home and had babies. The very thought of a rave brought me out in Alan Partridge-esque tremors.
Britpop saved me. I had a brief flirtation with Roll With It then lost my heart to Don’t Look Back in Anger. Opening with pounding Beatles piano chords and Noel’s gravelly vocals, it twists into something surprisingly wistful, underpinned by Alan White’s drums sounding like he’s kicking a door down. The threat of violence is echoed in the lyrics (“Take that look from off your face”) but the song’s a wry reminder that being an Angry Young Man isn’t a wise move.
Meanwhile, Blur were supposed to be the good boys weren’t they? Glossy-haired southern suburbanites pitted against the Gallaghers’ council-estate swagger. But the disorientated lyrics, distorted bass and Damon’s reckless “Woo-HOO!” in Song 2 convey a more powerful sense of someone dangerously off his tits than anything dreamed up by Noel and Liam.
It’s difficult to remember how it felt back then. We all know now how Cool Britannia ended, but back in 1995, it genuinely seemed to be the start of something new and exciting.
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