Rock & Roll Books
Britpop!: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rockby John Harris
Da Capo Press, 426 pp., $18.95
In 1997, in the UK, as went Oasis, so went the nation. Incoming Prime Minister Tony Blair, the giddily boyish face of New Labour, sailed into No. 10 Downing Street on a tidal wave of infectious British rock & roll neither heard nor seen since the heyday of the Stones/Beatles. Two days later, he was enjoying a glass of champagne with Noel Gallagher. It didn't last, of course. By that point, the musical movement known as Britpop had begun its slow sidle up alongside the great pop culture dole queue and Blair's pre-9/11 game face was already slipping sideways. Nevertheless, it was the type of genuine fervor-and-lager-froth revolution that could never happen here, which makes it all the more interesting. Brit-rock critic John Harris manages the Herculean task of mining the politics and music of the time for further meaning, mainly, that the whole Britpop-and-Blair era was a sublimated attempt to distance the UK from ever-encroaching Americanism. He comes up with an epic tragedy of near-Shakespearean proportions; Manchester-based Oasis may have been the biggest band in the world at one point, but that world didn't include, with the brief exception of their funereal wedding favorite "Wonderwall," the U.S. No matter. An ongoing rivalry with former allies/natural rivals Blur, peaking with Oasis' very rock & roll "I hope they all get AIDS" comment, kept things pleasantly insane. Most of all, Harris has captured a stunningly bleak love story between a lost nation and a handful of lost musicians, both dysfunctional, but also able to resurrect, if only for a short while, the kind of British pride-of-rock & roll that steamrolled through the Sixties. And don't forget: If not for the rise and self-dissolution of Britpop, we'd likely never have seen Radiohead crawl out from under the carcass.