The 20 Best Britpop Albums of 1995
While the U.S. was deep in flannel in the early '90s, the UK developed its own scene, also steeped in alt rock and indie but instead of grunge it favored bright guitar pop that recalled the heyday of the first British invasion and the '70s glam movement, with Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Suede leading the charge. Britpop reached its zenith in 1995, when just about every major player released a new album. It was also the time of the Blur Vs Oasis feud, mostly created by the music press but definitely egged on with headlinable quotes from Oasis' Noel and Liam Gallagher and Blur's Damon Albarn.
On August 14, 1995 both Blur and Oasis released new singles -- "Country House" and "Roll With It" -- as precursors to their respective new albums. It was dubbed the "Battle of Britpop," which grew beyond hype-prone music weeklies and into the UK national news. Who would debut at #1?
1995 was also a year where some artists who were previously part of other genres (punk, shoegaze) jumped on the Cool Britannia bandwagon, and other artists who were never really part of the scene made a record that somehow aligned with the zeitgeist. It was all part of a Union Jack colored venn diagram.
With Peak Britpop having just celebrated its 25th anniversary, we're taking a look at the best the genre had to offer in 1995. The UK was also doing new and exciting things with dance music and the burgeoning trip hop scene, but those fell outside our parameters. Quality of the album was first and foremost in the rankings, but its essential Britishness also figured into the tabulation.
20. Echobelly - On
Where Echobelly's debut album (1994's Everybody's Got One) was as shiny as Britpop got, the band scuffed things up just a little for its follow-up, and made On with American production team Sean Slade and Paul Q Kolderie (Buffalo Tom, Hole, Radiohead's The Bends). The guitars rip and roar a touch more, but songs like "Great Things," "King of the Kerb," and "Pantyhose and Roses" remain chipper, sugar-sweet and ridiculously catchy. Like on their debut, On's most distinctive feature remains singer Sonya Aurora Madan whose crystal clear voice really makes things soar.
19. Salad - Drink Me
London group Salad was led by Dutch musician and model Marijne van der Vlugt who was also a VJ for MTV Europe at the same time she was in the band. She was a striking presence in the band with a clear, powerful voice that cut through the often jagged guitars --- all of which set them apart from the rest of the Britpop pack. Certainly no other group was releasing anything quite as wonderfully odd as "Motorbike to Heaven" or "Drink the Elixir" at the time. Despite being on a major label (Island Records subsidiary Red), Salad were just a little too odd for mainstream popularity -- though Drink Me did briefly enter the UK Top 20 -- but it does, however, make the album ripe for rediscovery (they're also back in action).
18. Menswe@r - Nuisance
Every genre seems to have its blatantly commercial group that pays close attention to the competition, trying to beat them at their own game while proclaiming what they really want to be is famous. Menswe@r were that band for Britpop, a group that felt like they were conceived in the pages of the hype-heavy British music press or at a scene-y Camden pub like The Good Mixer. In fact, the band's Johnny Dean and Chris Gentry managed to get a quote about Menswe@r in an issue of Select when the band was just an idea in their head, and Melody Maker put them on the cover before they'd released a single. (MM did the same for Suede.) Musically, the group swiped ideas from all the other popular bands: Like Elastica, they ripped off Wire ("Daydreamer") and brought in a string section a la Oasis or Blur for swoony ballad "Being Brave." Pulp and Suede are also clearly points of reference from the hairstyles down. But as far as style-forward disposable pop goes, Nuisance is enjoyable fluff and, unlike some groups, Menswe@r don't attempt to hide what they're doing.
17. Various Artists - The Help Album
Some of the biggest artists in the UK and Ireland, including most of the Britpop Elite, contributed new songs to this high concept benefit album aiding the War Child charity. The concept was inspired by John Lennon's "Instant Karma" -- the idea that all art should be released to the world as soon as it's made. So 20 artists went into the studio on September 4, 1995 and the album was in the shops five days later. Some of the Britpop highlights: Radiohead's "Lucky," which would appear two years later on OK Computer; a new, terrific acoustic version of Oasis b-side "Fade Away" featuring Johnny Depp and Kate Moss; Suede covering Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" (also famously covered by Robert Wyatt); Blur in playful instrumental mode on "Eine kleine Lift Musik"; The KLF's Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty as The One World Orchestra with a cover of The Magnificent Seven theme (their first music in four years); Salad and Specials frontman Terry Hall covering "Dream a Little Dream of Me"; and The Charlatans covering Sly & The Family Stone's "Time for Livin'." The biggest deal was a cover of The Beatles' "Come Together" by The Smokin' Mojo Filters (aka Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller), but the secret best song is Sinead O'Connor's cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe."
16. Shack - Waterpistol
Shack were one of those bands who seemed poised for stardom but just couldn't catch a break or get out of their own way. Led by brothers Michael and John Head, who spent most of the '80s in orchestral indie band The Pale Fountains, Shack updated the '60s merseybeat sounds of their Liverpool hometown, which landed them sonically somewhere between The La's and The Stone Roses. Recording of their second album took place in 1991, but went over schedule as Michael Head struggled to finish songs; when the album was finished, the studio burned down along with the album's masters. The only finished copy of the record was in the possession of producer Chris Allison...who accidentally left the tape in a rental car. The DAT tape was eventually tracked down but by the time it was back in the hands of the group, their label had folded. Waterpistol finally saw release in 1995, by which time Shack had been broken up for a couple years already, with Michael Head falling into heroin addiction. Drama and back luck aside, Waterpistol is a fantastic record that felt very of the moment in 1995, full of shoulda-been-hits like "Dragonfly," "Mood of the Morning" and "Walter's Song." A lost classic that is well worth seeking out.
15. The Verve - A Northern Soul
The Verve started off as a deeply psychedelic band, known more for Nick McCabe's awesome, tripped out guitar pyrotechnics and frontman Richard Ashcroft's million-mile stare than catchy melodies. That all changed with The Verve's second album, which they made with Oasis producer Owen Morris. McCabe's playing was still very cosmic but was now in service of hooky rock songs that also made better use of Ashcroft's powerful pipes. (Drummer Pete Salisbury and bassist Simon Jones, meanwhile, were one of the best rhythm sections of the '90s.) Tracks like "This is Music" and "A New Decade" were still pretty far out, but it was singles "On Your Own" and "History" that proved The Verve could give the Gallaghers a run for their money in the sweeping ballad department.
14. Blur - The Great Escape
After the one-two punch of 1993's Modern Life is Rubbish and 1994's Parklife, there was a lot of pressure on Blur to one up themselves again. Of course, anything short of amazing was gonna be a letdown, and at the time this third serving of quirky British life felt like one Full English Breakfast too many. (Blur were full, too; the band looked to Magic America for 1997's self titled album which, woohoo, gave them their first U.S. hit.) But with the distance of 25 years, The Great Escape is actually a really good album, from singalong hits "Stereotypes" and "Charmless Man" (one of the great Blur singles), to the swaying "Best Days" and bouncing "Top Man." Blur and The Great Escape really excel at sweeping mood pieces and three of their best are here: "The Universal," "He Thought of Cars" and "Yuko and Hiro." Even the none-more-Blur "Country House" sounds pretty good now.
13. Paul Weller - Stanley Road
Never one to get too comfortable with his surroundings, Paul Weller has had a pathological need to reinvent himself over the years. He broke up The Jam at the height of their stardom to form the politically active, suave pop group The Style Council, which he then disbanded in 1989 just after turning 30. He changed things up again for his '90s solo career, making the kind of earthy, soulful rock you might expect from Traffic or Joe Cocker. At the same time a new crop of British groups (Supergrass, Blur, Pulp) looked to The Jam and The Style Council for inspiration. It all made it a perfect time for a Weller comeback. Having primed things with 1993's Wild Wood, Paul really delivered with the million-selling Stanley Road that featured a host of collaborators, including Steve Winwood, his old Style Council cohort Mick Talbot and big fan Noel Gallagher. Stanley Road's sound fit right in between Oasis and The Charlatans and on the album's lead single, "Changing Man," he even addressed his need to blow things up and start again -- "Numbed by the effect, aware of the muse, too in touch with myself, I light the fuse" -- all while cementing his Modfather status.
12. Sleeper - Smart
Louise Wener and Jon Stewart, who had been in a number of college bands together before moving to London, took out an ad in Melody Maker: "Bass player and drummer wanted. Influences The Pixies and The Partridge Family." Sleeper were born. Wener was a charismatic frontwoman and an even better lyricist, riviling Jarvis Cocker with witty, relatable tales of romantic angst, mid-20s ennui and sex in the suburbs. All that can be found on Sleeper's debut album, Smart, which kicks off with three fantastic singles: love-the-one-you're-with Top 20 UK hit "Inbetweener," the Pixies-ish "Swallow," and decidedly randy "Delicious." The nine songs that follow are nearly as good. The IT Girl, released in 1996, is even better but Sleeper wouldn't last much longer, breaking up in 1998 after their third album; Wener then put her observational talents to good use as a novelist (her debut, 2002's Goodnight Steve McQueen, is terrific). Sleeper reformed in 2017 and released the very good The Modern Age in 2019.
11. Gene - Olympian
London group Gene were dogged by comparisons to The Smiths, due mostly to frontman Martin Rossitter's at times uncanny vocal resemblance to Morrissey, but also their purple-prosed lyrics and a propensity for sticking some of their best songs on b-sides. Those comparisons were fairly superficial, though, with guitarist Steve Mason drawing more from Small Faces' Steve Marriott or Paul Weller than Johnny Marr, and Rossitter offering a more positive, romantic, us-vs-the-world outlook than Moz. Gene also tended to swing for the fences with big riffs and bigger anthemic choruses, and their debut album, Olympian, finds them connecting with real power, whether it was swaggering rock like "Haunted by You," "Car That Sped" and "To the City," or more windswept numbers like "London, Can You Wait" and the title track. To See the Sights, released the next year, collects non-LP singles and b-sides from this era and is, to further that Smiths comparison, their Hatful of Hollow and a great companion to Olympian.
10. The Charlatans - The Charlatans
The Charlatans are survivors, having started as part of the Manchester music scene in the wake of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. But they have managed to change with the changing times, surviving a few major setbacks and tragedies, while maintaining their own identity and Hammond organ-led sound. As Madchester's high faded, guitars began figuring in a little more prominently into their sound. While 1994's Up to Our Hips stumbled, The Charlatans sorted themselves out by the time of their self-titled fourth album, which found them sounding more confident than ever, adopting a Stones-y Exile on Main Street vibe that put them right in heart of Britpop. The Charlatans was a #1 album for them, with terrific hit singles "Crashin' In," "Just When You're Thinkin Things Over" and "Just Lookin'." Another impressive pivot for one of the UK's most resilient bands of the last 30 years.
9. Teenage Fanclub - Grand Prix
Glasgow's Teenage Fanclub haven't altered their musical course much since forming in the late '80s, making a brand of jangly guitar pop that owes much to Big Star, Beach Boys and The Byrds. With a high level of quality that continues to this day, Teenage Fanclub have done it without ever really playing music industry games, just happy to crank out good record after good record. But in the mid-'90s, the Fannies' classic sound fit right in with the Britpop revival. It also coincided with the release of what is arguably their best album, Grand Prix, which to play off the album's Formula One cover art, has them firing on all cylinders. It helps to have three very good songwriters, and Grand Prix was their first record where guitarist Raymond McGinley's work rose to the level of his bandmates Norman Blake and Gerrard Love. Some of Teenage Fanclub's all-time best songs are here: Love's "Sparky's Dream" and "Don't Look Back," Blake's "Mellow Doubt" and "Neil Jung" and McGinley's "About You" and "Verisimilitude."
8. Boo Radleys - Wake Up!
The Boo Radleys began life as died-in-the-wool, noise-loving shoegazers but main songwriter Martin Carr always had a fondness for classic pop songwriting that fought its way through the noise of their early records. The band dabbled in straight-up guitar pop on 1993's Giant Steps, which is also around the time their label, Creation, signed a band named Oasis whose runaway success really changed everything for the label and the existing roster. Where bands like Ride and The Boo Radleys were once content to make "cool" indie records, there was now pressure to compete with the Gallaghers in the charts. Carr came from the same school of pop as The Kinks, The Beatles and The Zombies and proved to be a natural, with The Boo Radleys making the transition effortlessly on their fourth album, Wake Up! The ebullient, horn-filled first single "Wake Up Boo!" is a song, like Katrina & The Waves' "Walking on Sunshine," that was made to be played the minute the weather gets nice, and was a Top 10 hit for the band that stayed in the UK singles charts for most of the spring and summer. While that was the only hit on the album (which also went to #1) but "It's Lulu" and "Find the Answer Within" shoulda been smashes, too.
7. Black Grape - It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah
Happy Mondays crashed and burned during the making of their 1992 album Yes Please!, with frontman Shaun Ryder and other members of the band dealing with serious drug problems. Instead of disappearing off the face of the earth, Ryder and Mondays dancer/vibes man Bez rebounded surprisingly quickly, forming Black Grape in 1993, enlisting Ruthless Rap Assassins members Paul "Kermit" Leveridge and Ged Lynch as well as producer and songwriting partner Danny Saber. Past excesses thankfully hadn't dimmed Ryder's lyrical wit one bit, and the fresh start and new collaborators brought out the best in him. It's Great When You're Straight...Yeah, a title that referenced Ryder's new cleaned-up lifestyle, rivals Happy Mondays' Pills N' Thrills N' Bellyaches for sheer pleasure. The cover art, featuring a Pop Art illustration of Carlos the Jacklyn, referenced other things. Musically, Black Grape resembles Ryder's old band, but adapted to the mid-'90s with Kermit as a great vocal foil, and some of Britpop's anthemicism baked into singles "The Reverend Black Grape," "In the Name of the Father" (which takes swipes at the Catholic Church) and "Kelly's Heroes" (which sounds lot like Madonna's "Express Yourself"). Few artists manage a second act like this, let alone one so good.
6. Cast - All Change
The La's 1990 self-titled debut album is one of the direct precursors to Britpop and while frontman and songwriter Lee Mavers never made another album, sideman John Power proved more than up to the task of leading his own band, Cast. Enlisting Peter Wilkinson from Shack (another Liverpool band who had trouble with labels and frontmen), they formed a group who favored songs over bravado and drama. It was a formula that worked. Songs like "Alright," "Sandstorm," and "Finetime" sounded like classics from the get-go, with earworm choruses that stick in your head on first listen. John Leckie's production -- with layer upon layer of guitars and harmonies -- makes everything pop. The real appeal of All Change is just how effortless it all seems. These songs don't sound like they were written as much as they were always there just waiting to be heard.
5. Radiohead - The Bends
Nobody would call Radiohead Britpop now, and nobody really did in 1995 either, but The Bends definitely has more in common with Blur and Oasis than the proggy widescreen grandeur they would debut with OK Computer. These are pop songs played on guitars -- lots of guitars -- and tracks like "Fake Plastic Trees," "High and Dry," "Bones" and "The Bends" became the template for many new Britpop groups in the second half of the '90s. (See: Travis, Stereophonics, Longpigs, Coldplay.) John Leckie's production helps tracks like "Just" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" achieve liftoff, and The Bends is also notable as the record where they met Nigel Godrich, who engineered the record and would go on to form a beautiful friendship with the band that lasts to this day. Before The Bends, Radiohead were that band who did "Creep," but with this it was clear they would never be stuck in the land of One Hit Wonders.
4. Elastica - Elastica
Led by Justine Frischmann -- who had been an early member of Suede and for much of the '90s was one half of Britpop's #1 Power Couple with Blur's Damon Albarn -- Elastica were a breath of fresh air when they released "Stutter," their 1993 debut single that mixed punk, new wave and heaps of attitude. If you weren't paying attention then, you certainly were by the time of their third single, "Connection," that borrowed (and later paid for) its riff from Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba." When the song kicks in at the 20 second mark, you've got one of 1994's most undeniable hooks. The band were not shy about paying homage to bands they loved: "Line Up" also borrowed heavily from Wire, and "Waking Up" tipped its hat to The Stranglers' "No More Heroes." The wait for their debut album seemed like forever, and when it was finally released in March of 1995 it became the fastest selling UK album since Oasis' Definitely Maybe the year before and held onto the title till Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not in 2006. More than half of Elastica's songs had already seen release on singles (including some b-sides) which made it a little disappointing for fans at the time, but it now just sounds like a start-to-finish classic.
3. Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
In the storied Blur Vs Oasis battle of 1995, when the band's respective singles "Country House" and "Roll With It" were released on the same day in the UK (August 14), Blur debuted at #1 with the Gallaghers coming in at #2. But Oasis won the war just a couple months later when their second album was released and made them worldwide superstars. (Blur's 1995 album, The Great Escape, was very good but just a little too British for mainstream international appeal.) Songwriter Noel Gallagher was at the top of his confident game; he was still swiping bits from his heroes but had also figured out Oasis' style by this point, mixing equal parts melody and swagger, with sing-a-long choruses that sound good even when the lyrics don't make a lot of sense (often). Beyond singles like "Wonderwall," "Don't Look Back in Anger" and "Champagne Supernova," Morning Glory's deep cuts, like "Cast No Shadow," are just as good. While their boasts of "bigger than the Beatles" were tiresome, for a while Oasis made a very good argument.
2. Supergrass - I Should Coco
Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes was only 19 when the band's debut album was released in May of 1995 (his bandmates weren't much older) and the record gets much of its charm from the trio's unbridled youthful energy that they managed to capture on tape. Its staying power, though, comes from the songs which are smart, insanely catchy and much more sophisticated than they first seem. I Should Coco incorporates a wide range of influences, including punk ("Caught by the Fuzz," "I'd Like to Know), glam ("Lose it," "Time"), '60s psych ("We're Not Supposed To"), and Britpop forebears the Kinks and Madness ("Alright," "Mansize Rooster"), but they jumble them together to make an infectious, distinctive sound. Supergrass were also ferociously talented musicians, with drummer Danny Goffey's playing keeping those energy levels high as the band tear though the album's 13 tracks in just 40 minutes, and that's including the six-minute spaced out, proggy "Sofa of My Lethargy". I Should Coco was a huge hit in the UK -- it was label Parlophone's biggest selling debut since The Beatles' Please Please Me -- and earns extra Britpop points for its title which incorporates Cockney Rhyming Slang.
1. Pulp - Different Class
Having led Pulp to general critical and public indifference since the early-'80s, Jarvis Cocker put the group on hold to study film at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where he had his mind expanded by raves and met Steve Mackey who would help usher in a new, more formidable lineup of the band. (He also met a girl from Greece with a thirst for knowledge who studied sculpture, memories of which would come in handy later.) With the '90s, Cocker's lyrical observations became sharper, his stage presence more assured, and Pulp's glammy disco snapped into sharp focus. 1994's His N' Hers was their best yet by a mile, but it did not prepare the world for the record Pulp would release the next year, a massive leap forward that had Cocker and Pulp working at the height of their powers and that perfectly aligned with Peak Britpop. His time at Saint Martin's College was inspiration for "Common People," a tale of upper class slumming that would quickly become Pulp's signature anthem. The album, Different Class, followed suit with 11 more brilliant tales of Misshapes, mistakes, and misfits, including: "Disco 2000," one of a few unrequited love songs here, this one set to a riff nicked from Laura Brannigan's "Gloria"; "Sorted for E's and Wizz" found Jarvis out of his head at a rave; and "Monday Morning" laid out the drudgery of mid-'20s endless post-college partying against ska backing. The hooks are plentiful and the quotable lines are endless, and while the record is exceedingly British it is somehow relatable to anyone who's ever felt out of place. "Blur Vs Oasis" may have been the hot topic in the British press in 1995, but Different Class rendered the debate instantly moot.
What is your favorite Britpop album of 1995? Let us know in the comments.