The group had already scored a number one album by the time bands such as Blur, Oasis and Pulp found their place in the nation’s consciousness in the mid-90s, their eponymous debut winning the Mercury Prize in 1993.
But while some have credited them with leading the wave of catchy, homegrown guitar music that contrasted to darker themes of US-led grunge, the band themselves insist they “were not to blame” for Britpop.
Speaking to Sky News on the launch of their eighth studio album (a milestone not many bands topping the charts in the 90s have reached), lead singer Brett Anderson and bass player Mat Osman talk about splitting up, the supposed death of the album and why they won’t be singing about Brexit any time soon.
But first for some revision of perceived history.
Osman, the brother of Pointless presenter Richard, says in the beginning the band “started making records that were about real life again”.
He goes on: “Music at that time [in the early 90s] had been quite dreamy, kind of almost intellectual and didn’t focus on reality. But for the kind of lumbering monster that came after it, it’s not our fault.”
Lead singer Anderson is in agreement. Both say with conviction that they hope Britpop won’t make a comeback.
As for the secret to the band’s longevity, Anderson says it’s writing what is real to you in the present rather than trying to recapture the past.
“In the early days, my reality was I was a poor marginal young man on the dole living in London and that’s the reality I wrote about,” he says.
“Now my reality’s changed… I think if you’re always trying to reflect on things which initially inspired you I think you end up self-parodying.”
On the subject of the band’s seven-year split – between 2003 and 2010 – Osman is brutally honest: “I think in a way it was lucky we split up for a while. When we came back, we knew how fragile and how important it is to make music.
“Almost until then, it became a bit of a treadmill – first the campaign, then the album, then the tour. And when we came back, we were really clear with ourselves and each other that we had to make everything really special and different to what we’d done before.
“And I think we were almost trying to make up for what had come before.”
The band’s fifth studio album – A New Morning – released the year before they decided to disband, was a commercial and critical disappointment.
But after re-grouping seven years later, how have they managed to dig up some of the old magic?
“I think most of it is just being realistic”, Osman says. “Not trying to be the people we were 20 years ago when we were 25. It’s such a trap for musicians and artists to try and be the people you were when you became successful.
“The advantage of having not been successful for a while is you can start again and look at the world with clear eyes.”
Describing the “craft of making an album as something which obsesses us”, Anderson refutes the claim that albums are a dying genre.
With the Mercury Prize for album of the year announced just last week (alternative rock band Wolf Alice took home the accolade), Anderson points out: “We’re constantly being told that the album is dead and it’s all about the singles and Spotify playlist and things like that.
“And you look at the [Mercury Prize] winners recently, and the shortlist this year and there’s some great albums on there – things that really hold together.”
As to whether the genre of rock itself is in decline, Osman says it’s a cyclical process: “The music business is in retreat, so then they play it safe and so song writing teams work the same formula over and over again because they know it’s going to sell.
“But that happened before, in the 50s and the early 60s. In the 70s you had that kind of bubble-gum pop. It happens, and then something with more substance replaces it, and then that turns to prog-rock and then back to pop again. These things keep tumbling out.”
Describing their new music as ambitious, the album includes orchestras, choirs and spoken word pieces alongside the tracks.
Anderson cites his recent move to the countryside, from London to Somerset, and his children as influences, but says it’s not an “Arcadian cliche” he’s trying to evoke.
“I think lots of city dwellers see the countryside as an escape and I didn’t want to portray it like that. I wanted to portray it in more of a realistic way.
“There are poets that I like – Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney – and they write about the countryside as quite a brutal place. Ugliness is never far away, and I always find the ugliness of life is what I’m interested in writing about.”
The inspiration from his sons is evident, too: “I think having children makes you reflect on your own role as a son as well as a father and that’s an interesting thing. All those memories of childhood that lie dormant and suddenly get awoken when you have children yourself.”
As to whether the band are likely to explore the ubiquitous subject of Brexit in their work any time soon – the answer is definitive.
Anderson said: “I don’t think it’s the job of the musician to have the answers. You can ask questions. It’s the job of the musician as the artist to deepen the mystery. I’ve never found overtly political music moving.
“I think the most essential music has to have a human context… I find it fascinating to reveal broader human truths.”
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