Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Where Britpop came from

I’ve been wondering what, if anything, to write about the 20th anniversary of Britpop and then Taylor Parkes comes up with his glorious more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece for The Quietus so I think I probably won’t bother. But one passing reference in Parkes’s piece does trigger a memory: the NME’s overview in the last issue of 1989, titled “The Eighties: Thank God It’s Over”.

Because, in so many ways, music in the 1980s was indeed horrid, especially the second half. Sure, there was Madchester and C86 and acid house and rare groove but the dominant note was a sort of bombastic, chest-beating post-Live-Aid earnestness with ghastly haircuts, as expressed in T’Pau’s China In Your Hand. I spent a year of the decade in Canada, which was at the time in thrall to the likes of Glass Tiger, Heart and the egregious Loverboy, responsible for this abomination...

In case you can’t bear to watch it, this is the gist: a louche, quirky lounge band performs a version of Loverboy’s earlier hit Working For The Weekend, to general indifference, so the venue manager calls up Loverboy themselves, who are variously partying with hot chicks, playing strip poker with hot chicks and jamming – without hot chicks, because hot chicks aren’t actually into music – and they come and redeem the situation, to the disgust of the lounge band.

The joke is (presumably) that first band is everything that is antithetical to great music, in that they are arch, laconic and include a female member who actually plays a proper instrument and probably doesn’t enjoy strip poker. Whereas the real Loverboy have big hair, tight jeans and huge, fistypumpy choruses. Oh, and did I mention those hot chicks? This was the triumph of jock rock over foppery, Top Gun over Blue Velvet, and the fact that I hated Loverboy’s preening, ball-grasping idiocy and rather liked the pink-suited geeks at the beginning – I rather thought they resembled the LA outfit known only as X – suggested that I was on the losing side.

Well, for the time being, at least. In the following decade two American bands – Nirvana and REM – that thrived on their outsider status and attracted fans who felt the same way, suddenly achieved massive worldwide acclaim and commercial success. They were followed in due course by British acts such as Oasis, Radiohead and Coldplay. Music that would once have been identified as indie or alternative, implying a certain otherness to the mainstream, was front and centre stage. The nasty strain of arrogance that Taylor Parkes identifies in Britpop was a sort of Revenge of the Nerds effect: suddenly the geeks in pink suits were playing strip poker with the hot chicks. Britpop, for all its ills, was about the skinny kids who’d finally got tired of having sand kicked in their faces and demanded their piece of the action. Even if we never actually wanted to go to the beach anyway, but you get my point.

The only problem was, as soon alt-rock became the dominant form of popular music, it ceased to be alt, ceased to be indie, ceased to be other and pretty much lost its reason to exist beyond offering a sense of beery camaraderie – I saw Oasis at Knebworth, I know of what I speak – that was eerily similar to the sort of crap that Loverboy had served up. Essentially, in order to save the pink-suited lounge band, it became necessary to destroy it. Loverboy lost a few battles but they ultimately won the war. And in a funny sort of way, that’s how I like it.


Brian Busby said...

Glass Tiger, Heart and Loverboy. Oh, dear. I'm going to place money on 1986 as your Canadian year. I'd just quit my student job at a Montreal Sam the Record Man, in part because I couldn't stand the soundtrack to my workday: Glass Tiger, Heart and Loverboy.

The 'eighties had started so strongly, but by the second half so many of my favourite bands were gone (Roxy Music, Gang of Four) or might as well be (The Clash). And Bowie, who I'd once held above all others… I just couldn't bring myself to buy Tonight despite my employee discount. To think that I'd once spent $25 to get his version of "Amsterdam".

Funny thing about that Loverboy video: the band is living the highlife in an airport Holiday Inn? Perhaps it all makes sense in the end, but I couldn't force myself to watch the whole thing.

That band of pink-suited geeks remind me of Condition more than anything else. If interested, here's a link to their song "It's Too Hot To" off the 1983 From Montreal EP. We didn't sell it at Sam's. Too alternative.

Rol said...

Yeah, but Loverboy were still much better than Oasis.

Martin said...

Just to point out, Tim, there appears to be a string of script trailing across your header.

Tim F said...

1986 is absolutely correct, Brian. Big, big hair and your namesake Mulroney. Thanks for the link to Condition - I like, a little bit ska-y. (One of the culture shocks when I rocked up in Canada was finding myself in the midst of a mini-TwoTone revival, with MuchMusic playing endless videos by bands from the English Midlands who'd split up acrimoniously a couple of years previously.)

Rol: you are of course right.

Thanks, Martin. Yes, it seems to have come from the post below. And has now affixed itself to the post above. Not quite sure what to do about it...