In the UK, Britpop was no mere genre—it was a pop culture phenomenon that bred a new generation of rock stars, set box office records, and yielded Downing Street invites for its key progenitors. But in North America, it was strictly a subculture. Even after “Wonderwall” turned Oasis into Rolling Stone’s most reliable supplier of outrageous pull-quotes, stateside Anglophiles remained a secret society. They congregated at niche dance nights, harangued their local newsstand to see if they had received last week’s copy of the NME, and sat in near-empty movie theaters with 20 other enthusiasts the day Trainspotting opened.
Post-Oasis boom, Britpop came to be associated with lad mags and Union Jack-waving nationalism in the UK, but across the pond, it was still the province of uncommon people. These were the kids who rejected the mosh-pit machismo of post-grunge American alt-rock, perhaps choosing hedonism over miserablism. But the funny thing about these Anglophile enclaves is the way instinctively they went bullish on anything British, erasing the aesthetic and philosophical divisions that existed among UK scenes. At long-running weekly parties like Tiswas at Don Hill’s in New York and Blow Up at Toronto’s El Mocambo, you’d find suit-sporting mods rubbing shoulders with veritable Richey Manic mannequins, or lager-lugging Liams in Man U jerseys dancing to Blur’s “Girls and Boys” alongside Brett Anderson-like androgynes making their first steps toward coming out.
And very occasionally, amid all the Brit hits, you’d hear a band from the colonies or the commonwealth—groups that shared their overseas peers’ penchant for anthemic choons and outsized swagger. They may not have dominated the tabloids in their home countries as Oasis and Blur did in the UK, but they did achieve some degree of underground renown, or enjoyed a cup of tea on a major label during the dying days of the alt-rock goldrush. Between the $40 import CDs and $15 copies of Select, being a Britpop enthusiast outside of the UK in the mid-’90s could be an expensive proposition. But these bands provided fans in their homelands all the melody-making at more affordable domestic prices. With the Brits now ranked and filed elsewhere on Pitchfork, let’s have a look at seven Britpop albums from the rest of the world.
Chainsaw Kittens, Pop Heiress (1994)
Chainsaw Kittens would surely hold the distinction of being Norman, Oklahoma’s oddest band if only they didn’t share a zip code with fellow freaks the Flaming Lips. But years before Wayne Coyne assumed the role of flamboyant face-painted guru, Kittens frontman Tyson Meade was taunting Midwestern college crowds with his cross-dressing performances, multi-octave voice, and lascivious lyrics that skewered religion and celebrated his queerness. With its potent cocktail of glam camp, fuzz-punk overdrive, and stadium-sized hooks, Pop Heiress should’ve turned the Kittens into the American Suede. But seeing as America at the time didn’t have much use for the actual Suede, the Kittens would have to settle for getting paid in Billy Corgan name-drops. (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)
You Am I, Hi Fi Way (1995)
You Am I’s 1993 debut, Sound As Ever, might have fit better on a a Best ’90s American Indie Rock That Isn’t Actually American list, with the Australian band’s formative fuzzed-out sound pushed further into the red by producer Lee Ranaldo. But on the follow-up, Ranaldo helped You Am I realize their true calling as a post-grunge Kinks. Singer-guitarist Tim Rogers pulls from a seemingly bottomless well of hip-swiveling riffs (“Ain’t Gone and Open”), wry character studies (“Handwasher”), sunny-afternoon strummers (“Purple Sneakers”), and enough harmony-rich hooks to wholly justify swiping the title of the record’s jangly standout from the Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown”). Alas, Hi Fi Way did little to change the band’s stateside fortunes, but down under, the album is considered the Morning Glory-sized classic that established the band as a national rock institution—their very own Au’asis, as it were. (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)
Sloan, One Chord to Another (1996)
Sloan are essentially You Am I’s Canadian cousins. Both bands started as noisy rock acts before firmly embracing more timeless British Invasion influences, and both would enjoy considerable mainstream success in their home countries while resigning themselves to cult status elsewhere. Following the bubble-grunge of Smeared (1992) and the stripped-down indie pop of Twice Removed (1994), One Chord to Another marked the moment where Sloan started to wield their power-pop prowess without obfuscation. And it was here that the Beatles became as much a human-resources model as a musical one. Where the band’s four members had always rotated turns at the mic, One Chord threw their distinct personalities into stark relief, showcasing Patrick Pentland’s McCartney-esque swings between raw rockers (“The Good In Everyone”) and brassy serenades (“Everything You’ve Done Wrong”), Chris Murphy’s wry wordplay à la Lennon (“Autobiography,” “G Turns to D”), and Jay Ferguson’s gentle George respites (“Junior Panthers,” “The Lines You Amend”). But in Sloan’s case, their Ringo—drummer Andrew Scott—is actually their resident Syd Barrett, answering his mates’ radio-ready missives with warped, piano-wobbled musings (“A Side Wins,” “400 Metres”). (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)
Lilys, Better Can’t Make Your Life Better (1996)
The Lilys became a different band with each album, thanks to the aesthetic whims of madcap leader Kurt Heasley and a revolving-door personnel policy that rivals the Fall’s. After shaking off their early ’90s shoegaze guise, the Lilys delivered a major-label debut that’s full of Kinks—in the big-K and little-k senses. Better Can’t Make Your Life Better is classic Brit-rock contorted: while “Shovel Into Spade Kit” revs up on a snarling riff you’d swear was emanating from an old Pye Records 45, Heasley spends the rest of the circuitous song smashing up the vinyl and gluing the pieces back together into curious new combinations. But the complicated approach could yield simple pleasures: Thanks to a plum placement in a Levi’s ad, the delirious, cowbell-clanging “Nanny in Manhattan” became the rare mid-’90s American rock import to jostle for chart space in the UK Top 20. (Listen on YouTube)
Superdrag, Regretfully Yours (1996)
At a time when MTV was starting to clog up with mewling third-generation grunge and ersatz industrial, Knoxville, Tennessee's finest tunesmiths planted a flag for classic ’60s craftsmanship with “Sucked Out.” The song waged war on the sorry state of ‘90s alt-rock radio from within, with a shot of shout-it-out, Revolver-spun jangle pop that went straight for the jugular, thanks to an instantly iconic chorus where frontman John Davis sounds like he’s on the verge of losing his larynx. And there was a whole lot more where that came from, be it the muscular melancholy of “What If You Don’t Fly” or the adrenalized surge of “N.A. Kicker”—songs that should’ve elevated Regretfully Yours to a ’90s generational touchstone rather than just a fondly remembered Buzz Bin blip. (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)
The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Take It From the Man (1996)
Take It From the Man was one of three double albums Anton Newcombe and co. released in 1996. But compared to the Spacemen-3-on-a-Maharishi-retreat vibe of Their Satanic Majesties Second Request or the after-hours psych-folk of Thank God for Mental Illness, this set was distinguished by a brash, insurrectionary intent to beat the Brits at their own game—right down to slapping a Union Jack on the cover as a capture-the-flag taunt. If the original British Invasion rendered a musical movement in militaristic terms, Take It From the Man represented a counter-strike, answering Britpop’s increasing bloat with the leanest, meanest, most authentically snotty garage-mod rave-ups this side of Spinal Tap’s “Gimme Some Money” (in the best way possible). But for all its ’60s signifiers, Take It From the Man so thoroughly embodied an eternal anti-establishment ideal that its centerpiece song (“Straight Up and Down”) also made perfect sense as the opening theme to a TV show about 1920s gangsters. (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)
The Dandy Warhols, ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down (1997)
The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s West Coast friends-cum-rivals shared their love of ’60s psychedelic pop and ’80s stoner-drone—but they were far more determined to join Britpop’s big guns on the cover of the NME. The Portland band shamelessly exhibited the sort of boho glamour and craven ambition that were rare among American indie rock bands at the time, and with their major label debut, they made significant strides toward fulfilling all the rock-star fantasies their Capitol promo budget could buy. But while Come Down is best known for spawning the cheeky heroin-chic critique “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth,” it’s the tough glam strut of “Boys Better” and the strobe-lit rush of “Every Day Should Be a Holiday” that come closest to conjuring the decadent allure and communal ecstasy of the best Britpop. (Listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal)