I'm still not sure how I feel about those halcyon days. On the one hand, the Britpop era marks the time when I became interested in music again, when I would listen to the radio all the time, when I would brave below-freezing temperatures just to get a single on a Monday morning, when I finally felt connected to the world around me. Yet, looking back, I can see the harm that Britpop did to the British music industry; killing off independent labels, causing the downfall of the NME/Melody Maker, and, in the end, marginalising the indie/alternative scene even further.
The documentary was a fairly conventional look at the origins and life of the era, tracing the origins to The Stone Roses and a reaction against American grunge. Fairly typical stuff, but at least this film mentioned the important 1993 Select issue featuring Brett Anderson from Suede superimposed on a Union Jack. Instead of trying to cover everything, it focused on a few key events (Spike Island, 'Parklife', Blur v. Oasis, Knebworth, Noel Gallagher meeting Tony Blair, etc.), and only interviewed the main players such as Noel and Liam Gallagher, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, plus a few music journalists. And the editor of Loaded. Don't worry, I've got a complete paragraph of bile saved up for him.
None of the interviews were particularly revealing, although Damon Albarn's strange answer to the Blur/Oasis rivalry does seem to give credence to the Liam - Lisa Moorish - Damon love triangle theory of why the two bands didn't get on. I've warmed to Blur in the post-Britpop years; I now only really hate 'Country House' and 'Parklife', but in this film, Damon came across as a bit of a pompous twit, to be honest. Noel, on the other hand, seemed to be quite honest and amusing (although he has a little chip on his shoulder about his background). Liam was his usual charming self; the segment where he pretended not to know what androgynous means was funny, and the end bit where he outed himeself as a fan of S Club Juniors was enjoyable (as was Noel's Old Man act with the dance moves). Jarvis Cocker was as intelligent and sad as ever. Louise Wener had a book to promote. (Incidentally, why does everybody hate her so much? Yes, Sleeper were never going to set the world on fire, but were they any worse than, say, Northern Uproar or Dodgy?)
There aren't many people on this planet who I really hate, but James Brown, ex-head of Loaded is definitely on the list. I don't think we really needed to hear how people at the ironic-porn-mag-for-people-embarrassed-to-buy-porn had arguments about who was going to get the champagne that morning, or the feature deals he made in the toilets whilst doing coke. Or stupid, vacuous statements like "Americans don't have any talent." Useless, cretinous moron.
The film made a valiant attempt to tie the rise in Britpop with the ascent of New Labour, showing Tony Blair's cringeworthy "Three Lions" speech, and talking to Peter Mandelson about how he tried to reposition the party to take advantage of the new optimism that was supposedly sweeping the nation. Some of the analysis didn't work; Jon Savage suggested that Oasis' first number one, Some Might Say, was a celebration of the Tories defeat in the local Council elections, but then the title card revealed that the single was released a month before the elections took place. It was also interesting to see how Albarn and Wener viewed Noel's visit to Downing Street as a sign that he had been captured by the system, while Noel himself gave the impression that he only went to see what Number 10 was like.
Obviously, a 90-minute film wasn't going to be able to cover the whole era in any depth, but there a few omissions that I felt should have been examined. Firstly, there was very little mention of how, well, conservative Britpop was, both musically and culturally. Almost everybody was white, and a lot of groups mined the musical heritage of the sixties for their songs (The Beatles, The Faces, The Kinks, etc.). In many ways, it was a retrograde step from the days of Acid House and Shoegazing. There's a short interview with 3D from Massive Attack in the film which touches on these issues briefly, but I felt that they could have (and should have) done more. Radio 1 wasn't mentioned at all, which was weird, as the Bannister regime was (to me, anyway) an important part of the era; it was a station that was looking to redefine itself, and so became a major backer of the Britpop bands (going as far as having a week in 1996 where all the daytime records were from UK artists). The fall of Britpop left Radio 1 directionless again, and it's still struggling to redefine itself (an interesting discussion about this is progressing on Usenet, if you're interested). Finally, the film concentrated solely on the major players of the scene: Blur, Oasis, and Pulp. It would have been nice to see some of the myriad of bands that sprung up at the same time, about the Camden Town bands, and how the end of the era left most of these signed to a major label that demanded success (and hence, nowadays, most of these bands are not on major labels). There's only so much you can cover in 90 minutes, however, and as a primer on Britpop, the film does quite well.
I'm still conflicted about that time. It's responsible for a lot of the problems that British music has had for the last decade, but when I see that shot of the Wonderwall video where the lights are reflected in his Lennon sunglasses, I remember what it was like when I thought Oasis were the coolest band in the world…