For a long time – basically, from the British Invasion through the end of the ’80s – there was a great deal of shared history between the rock of America and the UK. What was happening on one side of the pond made its way in short order to the other side, and this was generally a good thing.
But then the 1990s rolled around and the exchange program collapsed seemingly overnight. Over here we had Grunge, second-wave Punk, Alternative, Industrial, Jam bands and Hootie & the Motherfucking Blowfish. Meanwhile, the UK scene was dominated by BritPop, and it also featured less hyped, but incredibly dynamic movements like DreamPop, Shoegazer and the million sub-veins of Electronica, with the terminally cool downbeat of Trip-Hop striking me as the most interesting.
Let me put this as succinctly as I can: Britain won. No doubt that our musical scene produced some seriously great artists (early Green Day was outstanding, REM produced its last great CD, and NIN took up the mantle of Skinny Puppy and brought Industrial to the masses. Alt gave us all things Butch Vig (Garbage and a major role in making Smashing Pumpkins such a smashing critical and commercial success), and of course, Grunge had its moments, didn’t it?
It’s also true that perhaps no band in all of recording history has been more overhyped than Oasis. But Blur was pretty fantastic and Supergrass was arguably even better.
But think about the lasting, looming legacy of groups like Portishead and Massive Attack. Sound out My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins and early Lush and the first Verve disc, Storm in Heaven, and then see if you can imagine Radiohead ever happening without them. Everywhere we turn today, it seems like the threads that have most strongly endured the test of time trace through the British version of the ’90s while the most banal of contemporary music owes its influence to the American side of things. Some of the best US bands from the ’90s succeeded by somehow ignoring the mainline of American music (and, sadly, being ignored by it), and if you ever saw Space Team Electra live you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Yeah, I know. I can get a lot of arguments from a lot of critics on this. Fuck ’em. Let them write their own damned articles.
So there are a lot of songs to choose from here. Something off of Mezzanine? “Ladykillers”? (Gods, I miss Micki Berenyi.) What about the one lone genius CD from Mono?
In the end, though, the 1990s gave us one of the greatest underappreciated acts in all of rock history. It’s genuinely hard to think of a band that was better for longer and walked away with less to show for it than The Catherine Wheel. It’s a damned shame that Rob Dickinson & Co. weren’t the biggest thing since The Beatles, but at last they left us with a legacy of nuanced, dissonant sonic majesty to remember them by.
A song I love from the ’90s? How about “The Nude”?