As long as we’re discussing symbiosis and duality today, how about the pair of Britpop albums that dropped this week?
Arctic Monkeys, man! Who would’ve thought? They made it out of British music media teeny-bopper hype machine purgatory and grew up into an honest-to-god rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse. I would have pegged Bloc Party as the Class of ’05’s Most Likely To Succeed, but here our frostbitten primates are, still slugging out home runs and base hits galore while Kele and company keep striking out. (Um, do they have home runs in cricket?) The Monkeys are the real deal. They’re a veteran rock band with a formidable catalog — popular, respected and ready to crank out a lucrative career on both sides of the Atlantic for the foreseeable future.
AM, their fifth and latest album, is yet another fleet of eminently sturdy auditory muscle cars engineered for power but fully capable of handling the curves. The record’s got that bluesy Zeppelin stomp to it, but it doesn’t shy away from falsetto dancefloor grooves befitting Britpop’s dancier days. (Not sure if Alex Turner likes Orange Juice, but he definitely likes Pulp.) Earlier this week, our own Tom Breihan pointed out the Monkeys’ close kinship with Queens Of The Stone Age, whose hefty, hook-laden stoner rock is definitely of a similar kind. But Turner’s songs are even more melodically charged than QOTSA’s at this late date. If this is what Britpop has evolved into, Britpop might just be an advanced species.
But also, if this is what Britpop has evolved into, what to make of the 1975, the shimmering British pop band that released its debut album this week? (“Debut” album, whatever.) These guys are pure radio bait — U2 without the post-punk backstory, Coldplay without U2 to look up to, Take That with a Duran Duran makeover. They are London’s answer to Maroon 5. Ostensibly, the 1975 is a Britpop band too, as long as we’re working from a loose definition of Britpop that doesn’t confine the genre to its mid-’90s heyday. They even have a song called “Menswear”!
The 1975 is every bit as delightful as AM for somewhat different reasons. Not entirely different: Both groups have some rhythmic swagger about them, and neither is lacking for hooks. You could imagine them covering each other’s songs, especially after this, and it’s possible to trace both bands back to Suede. But their respective aesthetics are tweaked in just the right ways to present them as opposing forces in some outdated musical economy. Arctic Monkeys and the 1975 pretty much textbook examples of “rock” and “pop” respectively, or “authentic” vs. “prepackaged” if you like. Whereas the Arctic Monkeys can be gruff, gloomy, and a little sardonic, the 1975 specializes in digitally enhanced sunshine. You can imagine both bands wearing leather jackets, but only the 1975 doing a choreographed dance routine in those leather jackets.
Britpop has always had this two-sides-of-a-coin quality to it dating back to the genre’s formative years, when Oasis were the glammed-up rock stars gunning for the charts and Blur were the brainy, quirky introverts. It’s not so easy to slide the 1975 and Arctic Monkeys into those roles, and neither band is as proudly, blatantly British as Blur and Oasis were. They’re also not at each other’s throats like the Gallaghers and Damon Albarn used to be. So maybe it’s a fool’s errand to try to fit these two bands into some kind of grand Britpop narrative. But considering both groups’ dominance on the UK charts these days, and considering what they do and don’t have in common, it’s fun to imagine them as poles on a new Britpop spectrum.
In that case, it’s fascinating to see how the genre has expanded even farther into guttural rock ‘n’ roll and clean-cut pop without losing sight of its roots. Perhaps Britpop is even more of an advanced species than I thought.