I can’t keep in mind precisely when, however there was a second once I realised a lot of the music I’d grown up with was Not Cool.
My formative listening years – roughly between the ages of 12 and 16 – ran from 1998 to 2003. I spent them digging the vaguely anxious, mild-mannered cluster of bands the NME referred to as the ‘New Acoustic Motion’ (NAM). Alan McGee, whereas referring to Coldplay’s debut album Parachutes, relatively extra memorably labelled it “bedwetters’ music”.
I liked Parachutes (I nonetheless do). I doted on White Ladder and No Angel (once more, responsible as charged). However these are, alas, Not Cool data – and there’s no getting across the truth they took a kicking from the hipper music press on the time. 20 years on, is it lastly time to provide the New Acoustic Motion some credit score? To many Quietus readers I’m positive the reply will stay ‘completely fucking not’. I perceive that many individuals suppose this music is the worst. However God assist me, I don’t. It nonetheless sings to my 33-year-old mind; nonetheless attracts me in with its quiet reassurances. I can’t be the one one. Can I?
In 1999, as Millennium Mania gripped the UK, I used to be a timid, bookish Westcountry adolescent. I wore braces on my enamel and had lately acquired some desperately unflattering spectacles. I had wavy ginger hair, which women envied and I hated. With no explicit ability for sport, and a magpie thoughts that couldn’t decide on one topic, I used to be nonetheless scrabbling for an identification as I entered ‘large faculty’. Music supplied an answer: I used to be an avid viewer of Prime of the Pops with a £5 allowance burning a gap in my pocket each weekend. But my early visits to Tub’s report retailers had been lonely and directionless: I had no older siblings, and my mates appeared bored with a lot past skateboarding and ‘pranks’ – this, keep in mind, was additionally the start of the Jackass period. My dad and mom’ music was trapped on giant, unwieldy discs manufactured from one thing referred to as ‘vinyl’, a format being trounced from existence by shiny, sturdy compact discs, which at their peak in 1999, had been value $13bn to the business. Shortly, buying CDs grew to become my obsession too. Initially I explored, with some confusion, ‘Britpop’ – a phenomenon that, by now, was quickly collapsing beneath its personal bombast. Blur and Oasis had lately launched lengthy albums in 13 (1999) and Be Right here Now (1997) which demonstrated each their urge for food for extra, and their exhaustion with it. The last decade would later be described as ‘the final celebration’. I had arrived at closing time.
Then a younger Scottish band, Travis – having solely achieved modest chart success with the boisterous Good Feeling (1997) – modified musical route, releasing a young mid-tempo single, ‘Writing to Attain You’, in March 1999. For me, it represented a flash of understanding. It was totally different sufficient to really feel new; to really feel like mine. The primary verse even cheekily elbowed Britpop’s ribs, asking “What’s a Wonderwall, anyway?” – regardless of sharing a chord construction with Oasis’s behemoth. It sighed, fantastically, the place Britpop had swaggered. I spent glad hours imagining myself into the CD paintings’s moody panorama, bewitched by the fun of music that spoke again. Fortunately for me, there was extra to come back.
Even at twenty years’ take away, pinpointing who was truly within the New Acoustic Motion is troublesome. For a begin, it wasn’t a lot of a motion: it had no acknowledged goals or ethos past a sure modesty of character, a whole indifference to style, and a knack for ‘basic’ songwriting. Fran Healy’s description of Travis’s second album, The Man Who, as music “for staying in relatively than going out” is probably extra helpful: a strapline for the collections forming the NAM’s nebulous core. It additionally spoke to my drab suburban existence: “Day-after-day I get up and it’s Sunday”. The record-buying public, now additionally considerably jaded by the endlessly extrovert 90s, evidently felt the identical: this time Travis broke by way of, and The Man Who debuted at quantity 5 in June 1999. Later that month, the band’s profile was boosted additional as a serendipitous deluge greeted a efficiency of their signature hit, ‘Why Does It All the time Rain On Me?’, on Glastonbury’s Different Stage. They returned in 2000 as Pyramid Stage headliners, having scooped Greatest Album and Greatest British Group at that 12 months’s Brits. They’d additionally ushered in a quieter, extra reflective section of common music.
Immediately it appeared this well mannered or in any other case inward-looking rock was all over the place – and I lapped it up. David Grey re-released his fourth album White Ladder in 2000, attaining one thing near chart ubiquity within the course of. Badly Drawn Boy – whose lo-fi mumble-pop and skittish dwell act was absolutely the antithesis of Britpop – launched the beautiful The Hour of Bewilderbeast, beating Doves’ Misplaced Souls and Coldplay’s Parachutes to 2000’s Mercury Music Prize. Dido’s No Angel (2001) offered tens of millions, aided by her presence on Eminem’s ‘Stan’ and her grounded, relatable lyrics about chilly cups of tea and missed buses. But the guts of the NAM lay with two debut albums launched in March 2001 on the identical label, Supply. Turin Brakes’ Optimist LP winningly fused Laurel Canyon folk-rock with queasy millennial sci-fi. But it surely was an unassuming Norwegian duo, Kings of Comfort, who made the definitive New Acoustic assertion. The exact musicianship, crystalline harmonies and gently rueful musings of Quiet is the New Loud retain their efficiency at the moment. The Kings additionally offered me with hope: guys sporting chunky knitwear and glasses may make critically-acclaimed data – and have girlfriends, too! Like so many awkward teenagers do, I had discovered music to shelter in.
Then, in fact, every part modified. Nearly instantly, the New Acoustic Motion suffered a fierce backlash, hastened by the emergence of one other NME brainchild, the New Rock Revolution (NRR), on either side of the Atlantic. The Strokes and The Libertines swept all earlier than them in 2001 and 2002. “Final one to the tattoo parlour nonetheless likes Turin Brakes”, NME quipped of their evaluation of Black Insurgent Motorbike Membership’s debut. Drowned in Sound dismissed the NAM as a “puritan, regressive… musical dog-tag”. And The New York Occasions described Coldplay as “probably the most unbearable band of the last decade”. My poor, doomed, uncool CDs. To my disgrace, I shed them – like I finally shed my braces and glasses – thoughtlessly relegating them to a backside drawer in favour of sooner, slicker, louder propositions. Earlier than it had actually received going, the time for quiet was over.
Lately it’s apparent to me that cool doesn’t matter, and that these labels – Britpop, NAM, NRR – are basically meaningless. Having cautiously brokered some confidence within the intervening years, I dug this melancholy and retro music again out, and didn’t remorse it for a second. Historical past has not been type to this period, and a residual haughtiness lingers on from the time of its demise – however I reckon it’s time to pay attention once more, if you happen to dare. Brush apart the popularity and, sure, the ‘cool’ issue, and the standard of songcraft and musicianship – the sheer energy of feeling – that runs by way of every considered one of these data rapidly shines by way of. These bands may not kick as onerous, they usually may be over-earnest at occasions, however that doesn’t imply they don’t imply it. Revisiting them for my new book was a real delight; it may be the identical for you too. (Don’t fear, we will hold it between us.)
I’ve additionally realised the good factor of all: being type to that uncertain child you had been at first. Chin up, mate. It gained’t all the time rain on you.
When Quiet Was the New Loud: Celebrating the Acoustic Airwaves 1998-2003 by Tom Clayton is revealed by Route