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Don't Look Back In Anger: The Rise and Fall of Cool Britannia

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The nineties was the decade when British culture reclaimed its position at the artistic centre of the world. Not since the 'Swinging Sixties' had art, comedy, fashion, film, football, literature and music interwoven into a blooming of national self-confidence. It was the decade of Lad Culture and Girl Power; of Blur vs Oasis. When fashion runways shone with British talent, The nineties was the decade when British culture reclaimed its position at the artistic centre of the world. Not since the 'Swinging Sixties' had art, comedy, fashion, film, football, literature and music interwoven into a blooming of national self-confidence. It was the decade of Lad Culture and Girl Power; of Blur vs Oasis. When fashion runways shone with British talent, Young British Artists became household names, football was 'coming home' and British film went worldwide. From Old Labour's defeat in 1992 through to New Labour's historic landslide in 1997, Don't Look Back In Anger chronicles the Cool Britannia age when the country united through a resurgence of patriotism and a celebration of all things British. But it was also an era of false promises and misplaced trust, when the weight of substance was based on the airlessness of branding, spin and the first stirrings of celebrity culture. A decade that started with hope then ended with the death of the 'people's princess' and 9/11 - an event that redefined a new world order. Through sixty-seven voices that epitomise the decade - including Tony Blair, John Major, Noel Gallagher, Tracey Emin, Keith Allen, Meera Syal, David Baddiel, Irvine Welsh and Steve Coogan - we re-live the epic highs and crashing lows of one of the most eventful periods in British history. Today, in an age where identity dominates the national agenda, Don't Look Back In Anger is a necessary and compelling historical document.


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The nineties was the decade when British culture reclaimed its position at the artistic centre of the world. Not since the 'Swinging Sixties' had art, comedy, fashion, film, football, literature and music interwoven into a blooming of national self-confidence. It was the decade of Lad Culture and Girl Power; of Blur vs Oasis. When fashion runways shone with British talent, The nineties was the decade when British culture reclaimed its position at the artistic centre of the world. Not since the 'Swinging Sixties' had art, comedy, fashion, film, football, literature and music interwoven into a blooming of national self-confidence. It was the decade of Lad Culture and Girl Power; of Blur vs Oasis. When fashion runways shone with British talent, Young British Artists became household names, football was 'coming home' and British film went worldwide. From Old Labour's defeat in 1992 through to New Labour's historic landslide in 1997, Don't Look Back In Anger chronicles the Cool Britannia age when the country united through a resurgence of patriotism and a celebration of all things British. But it was also an era of false promises and misplaced trust, when the weight of substance was based on the airlessness of branding, spin and the first stirrings of celebrity culture. A decade that started with hope then ended with the death of the 'people's princess' and 9/11 - an event that redefined a new world order. Through sixty-seven voices that epitomise the decade - including Tony Blair, John Major, Noel Gallagher, Tracey Emin, Keith Allen, Meera Syal, David Baddiel, Irvine Welsh and Steve Coogan - we re-live the epic highs and crashing lows of one of the most eventful periods in British history. Today, in an age where identity dominates the national agenda, Don't Look Back In Anger is a necessary and compelling historical document.

30 review for Don't Look Back In Anger: The Rise and Fall of Cool Britannia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    Very informative and funny! I really reccomend the audiobook version as it allows you to listen to excerpts from the actual interviews.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ophelia Sings

    I wasn't expecting this book to be a series of bitesize 'talking heads'-type snapshots from the figures of the day, and at first I was somewhat disappointed by the format. However, I stuck with it and urge you to do the same. The vast cast - a truly diverse one, at that - means that the 90s are seen from all sides; politically and from the worlds of entertainment, sport and journalism. The view, then, is balanced, which is essential for a historical document such as this. This is a fascinating I wasn't expecting this book to be a series of bitesize 'talking heads'-type snapshots from the figures of the day, and at first I was somewhat disappointed by the format. However, I stuck with it and urge you to do the same. The vast cast - a truly diverse one, at that - means that the 90s are seen from all sides; politically and from the worlds of entertainment, sport and journalism. The view, then, is balanced, which is essential for a historical document such as this. This is a fascinating book if you lived through it, particularly if you were too young (or too distracted by grunge or Britpop) to take it all in at the time. But it's equally fascinating if you weren't there. A comprehensive trawl through the best and worst of the decade, this works as both a repository of nostalgia and a historical record. Dip in or settle in - however you read it, read it. My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I enjoyed this so much. While it could have been this rose-coloured glasses view of what was going on at the time, I think Rachel does well to cover it in a way that touches on both the good and the bad of the era. I like how it was told through the lens of those involved, sort of similar to "Please Kill Me," another favourite. Well done, Daniel Rachel.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe O'Donnell

    Given the political hellscape and cultural wasteland that we inhabit in the late 2010s, it is perhaps understandable that recent years have seen an upsurge in rose-tinted nostalgia for the halcyon days of the 1990s. The now commonly-touted narrative is that the 1990s were a time of post-Berlin Wall / ‘End-of-History’ optimism, marked by vaguely-progressive politics, comparative peace and racial harmony (possibly complacency), and illuminated by unbridled creativity across music, film and Given the political hellscape and cultural wasteland that we inhabit in the late 2010s, it is perhaps understandable that recent years have seen an upsurge in rose-tinted nostalgia for the halcyon days of the 1990s. The now commonly-touted narrative is that the 1990s were a time of post-Berlin Wall / ‘End-of-History’ optimism, marked by vaguely-progressive politics, comparative peace and racial harmony (possibly complacency), and illuminated by unbridled creativity across music, film and fashion. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is Daniel Rachel’s attempt to explore that decade from within a British context – where it meant Britpop, Tony Blair’s New Labour and ‘Cool Britannia’. When it comes to the main players of the ‘Cool Britannia’ period – whether they be from the worlds of Politics, Music, Comedy or Art – Daniel Rachel gets terrific access. Whatever else you might think of them, it is a huge coup to get no less than two former Prime Ministers in Tony Blair and John Major to speak so openly and frankly about the era. Daniel Rachel must have a contacts book to die for, managing to get in-depth interviews with both Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn, Tracey Emin and Steve Coogan, through to Alastair Campbell and many of the key players in the New Labour project. The fact that “Don’t Look Back In Anger” lands such access can, however, be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to the structure and pacing of the book. Having secured so many high-profile interviewees (68 in total covering every cultural and political strand of the period), Daniel Rachel seems determined to shoehorn their views into the text no matter what the topic of the chapter. This means we get the incongruous and utterly unnecessary spectacles of the lead singer of Ocean Colour Scene holding fort on the subject of Acid House, the ghastly Keith Allen giving his tuppence worth on the death of Princess Diana and, non-entities like Jo Wylie and Toby Young giving their opinions on, well, anything. This speaks to a wider flaw with the oral history format of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” in that it can prove hugely repetitive. While Daniel Rachel’s direct voice is absent outside of the introduction, you often get the sense that through his selection and presentation of quotes that he is really trying to hammer home a particular point. It results in annoying affectations like half-a-dozen consecutive interviewees all chiming that “We were Thatcher’s children” or “Football/Comedy in the 90s was the new rock ’n’ roll”. I would expect a lot of readers to pick up “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (largely based on its Oasis-inspired title) expecting it to solely focus on the Britpop phenomenon. And while Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Elastica et al are all covered comprehensively, the music chapters are often the least satisfying or enlightening in this book. This is partly because similar terrain was explored – and arguably covered far more insightfully – over fifteen years ago in “The Last Party”, John Harris’s classic account of the excesses of Britpop and how the initial optimism of that movement curdled into reactionary musical dead-ends. It is also because the musicians interviewed in “Don’t Look Back in Anger” have a tendency to come across as preposterously self-aggrandising (Noel Gallagher), overly chippy (Bret Anderson) or cold and taciturn (Damon Albarn). Conversely, the sections on the Young British Artists – or ‘YBA’ movement – are much more insightful and give a greater understanding of the cultural currents of 1990s Britain. But, by far the most interesting parts of this book – and the sections that really make “Don’t Look Back in Anger” worth any examination – are those that deal with how Tony Blair’s New Labour intermingled with the various strands of ‘Cool Britannia’. Daniel Rachel’s book is fascinating on how the New Labour project relentlessly – and quite cynically – went about courting and co-opting the British artistic communities ahead of the 1997 General Election. Partly due to the surprising candidness of the politicos and spindoctors interviewed here, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is much sharper when addressing the politics of Britain in the 1990s that it is when excavating the now-familiar turf of Britpop and Lad Culture. And therein lies both the strength and weakness of “Don’t Look Back in Anger”; it would have been a more effective read had it confined its perspective to being an oral history of New Labour rather than trying to extend its reach across every creative industry of British culture during the 1990s. There are some compelling insights into 1990s Britain within “Don’t Look Back in Anger”; it is just that the reader needs to cut a swathe through a jungle of verbiage and repetition in order to discover them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ben Gould

    I was a teenager in the 90s and although I spent most of that time alone in my bedroom (cue violins), the era still feels like a high cultural watermark. Part of this is rose-tinted glasses, whilst the influence of the media's latching onto these various cultural movements, relentlessly promoting and ultimately neutering them (then subsequently mythologising them all over again) is another factor. But there was clearly a lot of cool stuff happening, and Don't Look Back in Anger makes a decent I was a teenager in the 90s and although I spent most of that time alone in my bedroom (cue violins), the era still feels like a high cultural watermark. Part of this is rose-tinted glasses, whilst the influence of the media's latching onto these various cultural movements, relentlessly promoting and ultimately neutering them (then subsequently mythologising them all over again) is another factor. But there was clearly a lot of cool stuff happening, and Don't Look Back in Anger makes a decent fist of covering it all. The chapters focusing on fashion and art were less interesting to me, mainly because I'm more interested in the music and the media stuff. However this probably reflects a certain weakness in Rachel's oral history approach, which makes it harder for the reader to be engaged with things they don't already have a stake in if the talking heads aren't particularly illuminating. But some of the interviewees are very good at offering more interesting perspectives on the events of the decade and their role in shaping them. Ultimately, although I couldn't tell you what a definitive history of the Cool Britannia period would look like, this doesn't quite feel like It.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Allison

    From Margaret Thatcher to Boris Johnson.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    DONT LOOK BACK IN ANGER. HOW TRUE ANGER SLOVES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.WALK IT OFF. CALM ? DOWN SLOVE THE PROBLEMS OR PROBLEM. LATER. IT TRUELY WORKS FOR ME THANKS DONT LOOK BACK IN ANGER. HOW TRUE ANGER SLOVES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.WALK IT OFF. CALM ? DOWN SLOVE THE PROBLEMS OR PROBLEM. LATER. IT TRUELY WORKS FOR ME THANKS🤙😎

  8. 5 out of 5

    Grant Barratt

    I’m a sucker for anything to do with the 90’s / Britpop / Cool Britannia era so, for me, this was thoroughly enjoyable and despite its length, an entertaining read that I breezed through quite easily. Ultimately, a retrospective like this lives and dies on the quality of its contributors and, for the most part, Rachel delivers well on this front. Jarvis Cocker is brilliantly entertaining, Tracey Emin as crude and fun as you’d expect, Tony Blair is surprisingly forthright (if slightly hubristic I’m a sucker for anything to do with the 90’s / Britpop / Cool Britannia era so, for me, this was thoroughly enjoyable and despite its length, an entertaining read that I breezed through quite easily. Ultimately, a retrospective like this lives and dies on the quality of its contributors and, for the most part, Rachel delivers well on this front. Jarvis Cocker is brilliantly entertaining, Tracey Emin as crude and fun as you’d expect, Tony Blair is surprisingly forthright (if slightly hubristic at times), whilst Noel Gallagher is his usual quotable self, even if some of his contributions do start to feel a little bit canned and cliché . The only major omission that could have tipped this up to a 5-star review is that of Damien Hirst who, as the king of the art set, would have added a real sense of gravitas and credibility to the exploits of the YBA set, which he was such a major part of. Overall though, a cracking read and heartily recommenced.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Rachel

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sebastián Auyanet

  11. 4 out of 5

    Richard Luck

  12. 5 out of 5

    Iain Hepburn

  13. 5 out of 5

    Craig McLaren

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hristijan

  15. 4 out of 5

    Colin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nick Axon

  17. 5 out of 5

    Graham Johnston

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Allison

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mara

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott Barnett

  21. 4 out of 5

    Drew

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carlie Trewin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alex Cornetto

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kat

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greg Dobie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Rachel

  27. 4 out of 5

    Soph.

  28. 5 out of 5

    michelle stoneham

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jason Clarke

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Williams

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