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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THE BRITISH INVASION...of my iTunes collection

Maybe because of the Olympics, or maybe because of the possible future trip to the UK Wife and I are planning, but I have been in an exceedingly British mood lately. This mood has taken root in a strange desire to assemble as much music by British artists as possible on my laptop. I make no claims to being a great mix tape master, but I think I have come up with two mixes that are halfway decent. Both start with a classic British album of the last twenty years and then spend the remaining 80 minutes of CD* time delving into the album's various progeny, or precursors.

The truth is that the mid-1990s spawned two veins of Britpop that came to be embodied by the yin-yang of Oasis and Blur. Oasis were the tough, hardscrabble lads from Manchester and Blur were the artsy intellectuals from London. That these two stereotypes hardly fit the actual bands doesn't matter. What matters is that there was a divide, and in a Britain trying very hard to get out from under American cultural imperialism and post-Thatcherism, the reemergence of British cultural importance was a huge boon to the youth of that generation. For more info on this period check out this awesome documentary, Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop. So, in order to celebrate these two traditions of British music, I have assembled two mixes from each branch: Oasis and Blur. One begins with the true origins of Oasis and the other works backward to see how Blur influenced the bands of the millennium.

Oasis, by which I mean The Stone Roses
I have always been a massive Oasis fan. Does that peg me as a compete dork? Possibly, but I am, and when I was fifteen nothing symbolized pure, hedonistic cool like Noel and Liam Gallagher in their soccer jerseys and track suits and sunglasses. I spent the better part of my late youth and early adulthood desperately trying to be as cool as I remembered those guys being when I was fifteen. So, imagine my surprise when I realized that they basically completely stole their schtick (or at least their first album) not from The Beatles as was a popular trope in 1995, but from their fellow Manchesterians The Stone Roses. I'd always heard that Oasis were heavily influenced by the Roses, but until I downloaded their first album I didn't realize just how much early Oasis were totally cribbing. From Liam's swagger to Noel's lead guitar, the ghost of the Roses is everywhere on Oasis' first album.

So, in honor of my youth and Noel Gallagher's lack of creativity in the early days, here's a set list that makes the comparison totally clear.

Start with The Stone Roses' self-titled first record...all of it.
The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary)
1. I Wanna Be Adored
2. She Bangs The Drum
3. Elephant Stone
4. Waterfall
5. Don't Stop
6. Bye, Bye Badman
7. Elizabeth My Dear
8. (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
9. Made of Stone
10. Shoot You Down
11. This is The One
12. I am the Resurrection

Then move into some Oasis
13. Live Forever
14. Slide Away
15. Whatever
16. Half the World Away

Doves, Blur on Acid
You wouldn't know it by their chilly reception in America but Blur was an enormously popular band in the UK. I didn't like them when I was fifteen for the very reasons Damon Albarn didn't want a fifteen year old American kid liking his band. He was British and sounded British and he sure as hell didn't care if Americans liked his band. Listening back to Blur now it is clear how very hard they were trying to not be Nirvana and grunge. I started to like them in college and by then they were practically finished and Damon was entering his Fat Elvis period which he wouldn't leave until he reemerged as one fourth of the weird electro-folk oufit Gorillaz. The strange thing about Blur collapsing so unspectacularly in the early 2000s is that it was clear even then that they had won the war betwixt they and Oasis. While Oasis was certainly more popular both at home and abroad, it was Blur's sound that had infiltrated the younger crop of British artists. Bands like The Kooks, Travis, and even early Coldplay owed a hell of lot more to Blur than they did to Oasis. But I think it's Doves' second record, The Last Broadcast, which fits the Blur mold more readily than these other bands. It's not an easy comparison since Doves preferred louder and more diverse sounds than Blur, but the experimentation and the willingness to blend a variety of styles together is a common thread between the two bands.

So, here is a mix that starts with Doves and works its way back to those heady days, when Blur went toe to toe with those bullying louts from Manchester, and actually came out on top. This mix pretends What's the Story never happened, pretends that Parklife won out. Because, when you listen to British music today, Parklife did.

Start with Doves' The Last Broadcast
1. Intro
2. Words
3. There Goes the Fear
4. M62 Song
5. Where We're Calling From
6. NY
7. Satellites
8. Friday's Dust
9. Pounding
10. The Last Broadcast
11. The Sulphur Man
12. Caught By The River

Then move into a modern dance-pop bridge between Doves and more obvious Blur-inspired fare:
13. "Hawaiian Air" - The Friendly Fires

Now dip into some Kooky terrain:
14. "She Moves in Her Own Way" - The Kooks
15. "Naive" - The Kooks
16. "How'd You Like That?" - The Kooks

Now, it just gets weird, but go with it:
17. "Like Dylan in the Movies" - Belle and Sebastian

And now for the soft landing into our destination:
18. "You're so Great" - Blur
19. "Parklife" - Blur

So, try these playlists out and tell me what you think. Either way, I'm going to put them on and pretend I'm drinking a few pints and going to the pitch for a match.

*Yes, I still make mix CDs.