I went to college from 92-96 and after graduation spent 6 months in London at an internship, so I was right in the wheel-house to enjoy the Bit-Pop experience, and I did. The music for the most part was very, very good and drama involved was amusing, especially because I never really cared about a lot of the personalities involved. Who cares if Blur & Oasis hated each other and were constantly playing little one-upsmanship games on the charts and in the press. I liked both of their music, so I didn't care to choose sides, aren't rock/pop stars supposed to be assholes anyway? They certainly thought so. And as for Richie Manic, well, I never really thought their stuff was much to write home about so, his disappearance certainly had no effect upon me.
ANYWAY, to the review at hand. Phonogram is essentially an " alternate world" take on the after-effects of brit-pop. In the world of the book, music is magic and in England, brit-pop was quite the revolution. David Kohl is our hero, or at least protagonist, since he's quite a dick. He's one of the last phonomancer's (ie. magicians) whose being is tied to brit-pop. After wandering into the wrong club he's forced into looking into what's going on with Britannia, the dead goddess of brit-pop. It seems someone's fucking around with her and it's up to him to see what the heck is going on. It's in his best interest since his "aspect" is still tied to hers, so if she is changed, so will his entire personality (as noted by his growing enjoyment of late-period-crap brit-pop bands).
The book reads pretty much like a music centered arc of Hellblazer, and after thinking about it, David Kohl isn't far from John Constantine in character traits. He's the asshole hero who is still wracked with guilt about all of the people he's fucked over (but he still keeps fucking people over because it's his nature) and while doing a job, he realizes that he's not quite as big of a dick as he thought. The only thing missing was him shooting the audience the finger over his shoulder in the last panel (and let's face it, if they'd done that in the Constantine movie, we'd all have liked it a lot better).
Overall, it's very well-written and though you don't have to know the music to enjoy it, the kibble for brit-pop lovers out there is very nice.
A few last things about the trade collection of this series. First, they do provide a fun reference section in the back, giving info about each of the bands referenced and what some of the references in the book are, it also displays the jaundiced opinions of the authors, which are quite funny. Lastly, unfortunately, they did not reprint the original covers in color, as they were really cool. Each one was an homage to a brit-pop record. Here's my favorite:
I realize that Black Grape really wasn't that good, but they played an incredible show at the Metro my senior year in college and that first album always takes me back.
Recommended Related Reading/Listening/Watching:
The Brit Box: This just announced box from Rhino sounds really good. It pretty much gives you the history of brit-pop from it's rise out of Shoegazing to its inglorious end at the hands of Northern Uproar and Kula Shaker. Yes, there are some omissions and they do include some of the unfortunate later bands, but if you're going to tell the history, you need the good with the bad. I'll be picking it up as I have a quasi-OCD love of greatest hits packages and compilations anyway.
24 Hour Party People: Though this movie isn't about brit-pop per se (it documents the Madchester scene of the 80's), it is crucial for understanding a lot of the insanity that was British music in the late-20th century. That, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.
Britpop - Live Forever: I had already gone over this BBC America documentary on Brit-pop here, but I felt I needed to mention it again. Though it is very self-important (but so was all of brit-pop), it's a very interesting document of the period and there's a lot of cool videos excerpted and will make you run to YouTube to relive the past.
Phongram #1: The first issue is available on-line at Image Comics's web site. Check it out!