Down with ‘Damon AllBran’

After writing an opera about monkeys, Britpop’s answer to Tim Henman is back with his old chums.

Emily Hill

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In her new column, Emily Hill will write regular dispatches from the Republic of Celebrity. In this issue she laments the nostalgia for all things Nineties, in particular Blur.

Now that the Eighties revival has buried itself under a heap of For-Sale-Rail shoulder pads and neon braces, it was only going to be a matter of time before Nineties Nostalgia rose up, put on its plaid shirt and starting harping on about Britpop.

And thus it came to pass. The internet gossip site Popbitch is devoting several issues to reminiscing about that tepid decade, Blur have reformed to play to ecstatic crowds at Hyde Park and Glastonbury, and Jarvis Cocker, the arse-wiggling scourge of Wacko Jacko (RIP), has been parachuted on to BBC1’s Question Time to prove that the only thing radical about him was his taste in spectacles.

‘Why, you may ask, would we want to look back on a decade which began with New Kids On The Block’s ‘Hangin’ Tough’ at number one, and ended with Westlife doing an Abba cover version?’ Popbitch asks. ‘Despite the charts being littered with ten-a-penny boybands, TV tie-in novelty records, Girl Power, a surprising amount of cod reggae and some of the worst rapping ever committed to cassette, there was still a lot of fun to remember. It’s just not anything you’d ever want to admit to having liked…’

Freshly minted re-releases, trends that rightly went out of fashion, and reunion concerts for bands that time should have forgotten: nostalgia is by nature cloying in its silken affection for things past. But is there anything more spine shrivelling than the nation’s sudden rediscovery of Blur?

First time around they were pretty awful. Now their bassist is a high-end cheesemaker. Their drummer is a prospective Labour MP. Graham Coxon – the supposed ‘talent’ of the band – follows the socialite Peaches Geldof on Twitter. Damon Albarn, who always struck me as the pop equivalent of Tim Henman, now seems to be preoccupied with trying to make African music relevant to whoever really dug Parklife – and is failing. He has stridently claimed that 99 per cent of the media ought to be banned. He makes ‘bohemian’ sound merely ‘boring’.

Aside from ‘I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays, when I am rudely awakened by the dustman’, no one can quote Blur lyrics – really – so claims that the band are the natural heir to The Kinks’ mantle of witty English-icisms is overblown. Besides, these days anyone can get compared to Ray Davies. Lily Allen carried off that gong merely for rhyming Tesco with al fresco – although some lightbulb in the packaging office was no doubt given megabucks to breed that thought association in store.

Nineties nostalgia has been aided and abetted by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker’s ludicrous performance on Question Time, in which he turned up looking like a malnourished geography teacher-stroke-pederast and left looking like a complete plonker. Pulp were better than Blur – better tunes, better lyrics, catchier choruses. High as a kite at the Brit Awards, Cocker was bundled off stage for shaking his rump during Michael Jackson’s messianic performance of the execrable eco chart hit, ‘Earth Song’ (a song which, it is shameful to note, was not even released in the US but was Jacko’s biggest ever hit in the UK). So Cocker’s done his bit for pop – he may not have bitten the head off a bat or played guitar with his teeth, but he did do one thing a mote more rock’n’roll than going on to pen an opera about monkeys, like Damon AllBran.

We might also make a cursory nod to Oasis, who at least played things loudly and managed to produce ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ before collapsing into a fit of recycling the same old riffs, as Liam concentrated on making his jaw protrude, and more and more hyperbolic video direction. Trying to rehearse the details of the 1990s chart duel between ‘Country House’ by Blur and ‘Roll With It’ by Oasis skids over the fact that both songs were hardly worth a question in a pub quiz tiebreaker. And if either Blur or Oasis had been as good as the Stones or the Beatles they would have actually broken America instead of wafting around at home, swigging champers, occasionally, with key members of the socio-political elite. To the US, Britpop was about as inspirational as French rap.

Noel did Downing Street – but you wouldn’t have caught Nirvana in the White House. Nor would Axl Rose have put down his Guns to form a new cartoon band and switch the yoof of today on to World Music. Squeeze Britpop as hard as you like, music-wise you’re not going to get a great deal of juice – by comparison, Britney Spears was more revolutionary.

Emily Hill is a reporter on the Londoner’s Diary at the Evening Standard. Visit her personal website here.

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