Raise a glass, and a flag, to The Brits. Not the actual Brits – the annual ego-bloating, cape-tugging festival of the UK record industry – no, I’m celebrating the UK’s success in the chart of charts. Yes, acts from this sceptic isle have, for the first time since 1997, accounted for more than half the music sold in the UK, pushing their American counterparts into second place (Michael Buble – sorry, Canada – came third).
It’s telling that the previous success, 18 years ago, came at the height of Britpop, with the Spice Girls also chipping into the totaliser. Girl Power and Cool Brittania were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-90s for sure.
These days, there’s less of a musical underground at work, unless mainstream chart acts are the new rock role models. Take the effusive words of BPI and Brits chief Geoff Taylor: “The genre-bending creativity of Ed Sheeran” (mixing pop with, er, Middle-of-the-road); the “fresh new sounds of Sam Smith” (try telling that to Marvin Gaye’s estate); or “the powerful vocals of Paloma Faith” (damning with faint praise for sure). And not forgetting Coldplay’s “stadium-filling anthems”… now, there’s nothing wrong with beingordinary (I’ve met Chris Martin, a normal bloke who embodies the term ‘nice’). But – and I’m in danger of turning into my parents here, only in reverse – where’s the cutting edge… the danger? “Anger is an energy” as someone once hollered. Elvis, Dylan, Bowie, Rotten, Cobain and a plethora of rappers, acid house freaks and hippies have frightened the living daylights out of parents for years, scared that their offspring would sell their souls for rock’n’roll. Nowadays it seems the height of rebellion is a sharp suit, a quiff, and an album of jazz standards. There’s even the Brit School, a kind of factory farm churning out wannabe pop idols hoping to follow in the footsteps of alumni like Adele and Jessie J.
However, there’s a theory that musical trends come and go in 13-year cycles. So we should be free of the not-so-bratty Brit pack come 2027. Until then, tune in, turn it down, and drop off.
Laid / Wah Wah
There’s a trend for reissues of classic albums at the moment, and reborn Mancunian 90s act James are the latest to get the box set treatment. Their fifth and sixth studio albums Laid were recorded with Brian Eno in the same sessions in 1993, but it’s the former that provided more familiar sounds, with ‘Say Something’ a minor hit, and the title track was massive on US college radio. Follow-up Wah Wah was largely improvised, and its odds-and-sods feel is
accentuated by the bonus discs – 32 extra tracks, with the Wah Wah second CD comprising mainly outtakes and jam sessions. So, while it might be nice to have the originals on remastered vinyl, the box set may be one for the completists.