herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Corpse of 90s Brit culture rises from its shallow grave

Keith Allen
Keith Allen

IT used to be said that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t there.

I certainly remember the 90s, though, and I’m pretty sure I was there for all of it. The ludicrously-titled The 90s: Ten Years That Changed the World was a sobering reminder of just how many things about the decade deserve to be quietly consigned to the dustbin of memory.

Top of the list is something that loomed large throughout this tedious 90-minute trudge through already well-stomped territory: the so-called Britpop War between Blur and Oasis, a conflict every bit as phony and media-manufactured as the rivalry between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones three decades earlier.

For those too young to remember, Blur’s single Country House – ironically, the worst track from their album The Great Escape, as well as the least representative of it as a whole – and Oasis’s Roll With It went head to head in the charts.

Wisdom has it that Blur won the battle but Oasis won the war. The fact that Oasis were a busted flush by the time of their next album while the reformed Blur continue to make great and valid music tells a rather different story.

“A little part of me dies every time I hear the word ‘Britpop’,” said Blur bass player-turned-cheesemaker-turned-Blur bass player again Alex James. He’ll have died several times over if he watched this, then, because the dreaded word turned up again and again.

There were times, in fact, when the programme seemed to be about little else. Or maybe it’s just that there’s little else, apart from the music, that’s endured or had any lasting impact.

Narrated by actress Kathy Burke, bending and twanging her already bendy and twangy North London accent out of shape for maximum effect, this was a boneheaded exercise in cultural box-ticking.

Factory Records, Madchester, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays; Damien Hirst and his shark; Tracy Emin and her bed; Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting; the Cool Britannia nonsense, and the rise of the lad culture, whose cheerleader was the loathsome Loaded, which Jarvis Cocker – one of the few worthwhile talking heads in a line-up that included the pointless Keith Allen, who seemed to stick to talented 90s people like a tiny ball of excrement sticks to a hairy bum – accurately described as “a coward’s porn mag”.

There was television too, of course, in the shape of chaotic and controversial late-night show The Word, hosted by Terry Christian and Mark Lamarr, who openly detested one another. “The Word was everything Wogan wasn’t,” suggested Christian. Yeah, such as crude, puerile and amateurish.

The sense that The 90s: Ten Years that Changed the World (reality check: it ultimately changed nothing) is a case of cynically repackaging a decade for a new young market of consumers is underscored by The TFI Friday Album, a compilation of 90s Britpop (sorry, Alex) hits, being the programme’s sponsor.

Which brings us to, well, TFI Friday. We’ve seen TV car crashes in our time but this spectacularly ill-advised, overlong, self-indulgent and cripplingly boring revival was a full-scale, 50-vehicle, motorway pile-up.

It was savaged on social media, yet watched by 4.3 million in the UK. How many of them, though, would return to the scene of the carnage if, as Chris Evans clearly hopes, Channel 4 commissions a whole new series? Let’s hope we don’t get to find out anytime soon.

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