The 5 Best British Rock Albums from 1994

The opposing forces of American grunge and the UK’s Britpop created an abundance of great music for rock fans who didn’t care about picking sides.

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British bands are famous for writing classic albums formed from American music. But during the ’90s, British musicians looked within their borders for inspiration. They recycled The Beatles, Sex Pistols, The Kinks, and David Bowie while writing parochially about things uniquely local.

Below are Britain’s finest rock albums from 1994.

Parklife by Blur

Blur’s third album is the quintessential Britpop album and the title track might be the Britpop anthem. It’s all very British. “Parklife” is a little like those Guy Ritchie gangster films that require subtitles and translated colloquialisms. While Blur rivaled Oasis for Britpop’s crown (pun intended), Pulp may have written the movement’s most poignant song, “Common People.”

Some criticized Parklife for “slumming,” or poverty tourism. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker addressed the issue of patronizing the lower class in “Common People.” Cocker also publicly rejected Britpop and the hyper-nationalism it fostered.

Nonetheless, Blur embraced the scene and topped the charts because of it. Albarn once told NME that he was “getting rid of grunge.” While the American bands wallowed in self-pity, Albarn romanticized everyday life in his songwriting.

However, in 1997, Blur abruptly abandoned Britpop and embraced the sound of American indie bands on their fifth album, Blur. Still, Parklife is remembered as the embodiment of Britpop. All the people. So many people.

Vauxhall and I by Morrissey

Around the time he was making Vauxhall and I, Morrissey grappled with the death of David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, his hero and producer. His manager died too and Morrissey, then 34, was confronted with mortality less abstractly than he’d romanticized in The Smiths.

His fourth studio album reached No. 1 in the UK and the Top 20 in the U.S. It features two of his finest solo moments: “Speedway” and “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get.” Morrissey is fond of literary allusions in his songwriting and “Billy Budd” turns Herman Melville’s novella into a darkly romantic alternative anthem. In Melville’s story, Budd is a good-looking sailor who inadvertently commits mutiny. Morrissey sings, I would lose both of my legs if it meant you could be free.

His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp

Pulp had lingered, broken up, and reformed since 1978. They released their fourth album His ‘n’ Hers while Britpop surged. Jarvis Cocker and his band rode a pop culture wave alongside Blur and Oasis straight into the UK’s Top 10.

The chart success of “Lipgloss” convinced the band to keep going. Next, they released “Do You Remember the First Time?” which became the Sheffield, England, group’s first Top-40 single. “Babies,” an indie single from 1992, also appeared on His ‘n’ Hers. It foreshadowed the pop storytelling Cocker perfected on future hits “Common People” and “Disco 2000.”

Dog Man Star by Suede

By 1994, Britpop was in full swing, but London’s Suede had already created hazy anthems a year earlier with “So Young” and “Animal Nitrate”—each a vivid portrait of London, sex, drugs, and youth. But Dog Man Star is bleak and cinematic. Brett Anderson’s lyrics are equally inspired by William Blake and drugs. The album arrived amid chaos as Anderson’s writing partner and then foe, guitarist Bernard Butler, wouldn’t stick around to finish the recording sessions.

Thankfully, Butler remained long enough to record Suede’s finest song, “The Wild Ones.” It showcases Anderson’s glam croon and Butler’s sprawling Marr-meets-Hendrix guitar work. Butler clashed with the album’s producer Ed Buller, who produced their debut as well as Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers. The guitarist gave an ultimatum, he or Buller would have to go. Anderson called his bluff and Butler quit. The band continued to be commercially successful with his replacement, a teenage virtuoso named Richard Oakes, but the antagonistic creative magic between Anderson and Butler is missed.

Definitely Maybe by Oasis

Kurt Cobain’s death was a pivotal moment in 1994. With his suicide, the despair of Seattle’s grunge bands ended in a real-life tragedy. But it also made room for two new iconic songwriters: Rivers Cuomo and Noel Gallagher. Each of them released debut albums that shifted youth culture as profoundly as Nirvana had done just three years earlier.

Gallagher wrote “Live Forever” as a response to Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want To Die.” Britpop, as a cultural and musical movement, was a reaction against American rock’s dominance and grunge music’s gloomy outlook.

Eddie Vedder may have hated being a rock star but Noel and Liam Gallagher did not. The first Oasis album is a songwriting masterpiece. It’s The Beatles and Sex Pistols for another generation. “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Shakermaker,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” and “Slide Away,” all of them, anthems.

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Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

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