When British pop bands like Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Elastica were slathered all over the front pages of UK music mags - and actually started making some commercial and critical headway on this side of the pond -- little did we know that we were witnessing the last stand of particular brand of hype, wholly centralized on one region of the world.
For years prior, this was the raison d'être of almost all A&R people and the press that followed their moves closely. It's a great hook to help bring the attention to cities like Seattle, Athens, Omaha, or any other place where a potential wellspring of talent was overflowing.
In the mid-to-late '90s, this spotlight ended up flooding all over an entire country rather than just one small burg within it. Made sense too, considering the roll call of talent that was working at the top of their respective games during this period. So many of the albums from that period are stone cold classics. Here's a truncated list:
Pulp's Different Class, Blue Lines and Protection by Massive Attack, Portishead's Dummy, Blur's Parklife and The Great Escape, the first two Oasis albums, the peerless three-album run by Suede (their self-titled debut, Dog Man Star, and Coming Up), Elastica's eponymous LP, and the one-two punch of I Got Coco and In It For The Money by Supergrass.
And in keeping with the vast scope of the Britpop movement, all of the above bands came from different parts of the island nation. Bristol, Oxford, Manchester, and Sheffield, among them. All close enough to London for a group to be able to make a name for itself in the capital city, but far enough away that they could form an identity all their own.
Britpop died out in the critical world as they moved on to other movements - spurred on by the gauntlet toss that was Radiohead's OK Computer and the rise of electronica. And with the Internet entering more and more homes and affecting people's listening tastes, it was harder, though not impossible, to centralize any coverage around a particular town or region of the world.
Live Forever provides a nice historical look at this period of British culture and the way that journalists covered the bands and artists from that time. But it is also instructive in seeing just how those journalists and tastemakers are holding onto the nostalgia from that period with an iron grip.
This isn't a new idea - once people of a certain age get into positions of power and influence, especially in the cultural sphere, that's when old tropes start to get revisited with those folks at the wheel. In the film world, witness the big screen return of 21 Jump Street, Footloose, Red Dawn, The A Team, Total Recall, Mad Max, etc., etc., ad infinitum.
Or to give a shorthand version of it, just give a look at the recent appearance by a reunited Blur at the Brit Awards. It's the folks in bespoke suits and glittering gowns that are positively wigging out as the acid flashbacks of getting knee deep in mud at Glastonbury way back when.
These are the folks holding the purse strings at big music festivals and concert halls, and these are the folks that have dangled disgusting amounts of money to pull Pulp and Blur out of retirement for world tours.
Those are isolated examples though. For the rest of the Britpop class, the bloom is off the rose. Elastica, Supergrass, Sleeper, Oasis, and countless other groups either burned apart quickly or took the long simmering route. Other bands, like Suede, that broke up after a stretch and reconciled, got far less press and acclaim than their peers.
And even amid the much-vaunted Blur camp, things are less than wonderful in their 2012 incarnation. As vocalist Damon Albarn told The Guardian recently, "I find it very easy to record with [guitarist] Graham [Coxon]. He's a daily musician. With the other two [bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree], it's harder for them to reconnect. You know what I mean? It's fine when we play live – it's really magical still – but actually recording new stuff, and swapping musical influences, it's quite difficult."
Ah, but isn't that the delicious bite of this film's title? Live Forever? So many of the bands from that era didn't. But thank Christ the music surely will.