What a difference a half-decade can make.

Five years ago, music industry observers were bemoaning the lack of new British rock making inroads in the States. Not since the early ’60s, before the Beatles-led British Invasion waged a war for America’s rock ‘n’ roll heart, had the Yanks been so large and in charge. British bands found themselves facing a high, hard wall of hip-hop, rap-rock, grunge, dance music and teen-pop – and perhaps some latent wariness of the U.K.’s next-big-thing hype machine.

With the exception of Radiohead, Bush and Oasis, many new stars from across the Atlantic (Travis, Blur, Supergrass, Belle & Sebastian) could find only cult success in the States in the ’90s. It was a long, slow slide from the glory days of the Stones, Zeppelin, the Clash and U2.

Then came Coldplay.

The quartet’s 2000 album, “Parachutes,” and its shimmering single “Yellow” showcased a particularly graceful, British-rainy-day style of song craft that surprisingly piqued American interest. The more muscular follow-up, “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” seemingly designed to echo across American arenas, was the knockout punch, going multiplatinum and turning the group into a superstar act.

The proto-metal of the Darkness, the New Wave revivalism of Franz Ferdinand and the headbanging rock of Lostprophets swept through the door that Coldplay opened. Even such American bands as Interpol and the Killers channeled the spirit of ’80s English rock for their own breakthroughs.

In their wake, a whole new British wave is lapping at our shores, packing guitars, pianos and a strong sense of pop hooks and pop smarts. They owe a debt to everyone from the Beatles and ’70s prog to ’80s New Wave and post-punk.

“A lot of British bands have some sort of derivative sound, but I don’t use that as a bad word,” says Spin magazine assistant editor Sarah Lewitinn. “Music evolves, and these bands are taking their influences and evolving them into something greater than anyone would expect.”

“These bands are making rock exciting again,” says Amy Doyle, music programming vice president of MTV, MTV2 and mtvU. “There’s more open-mindedness about (British) bands because bands like Muse, Snow Patrol and Keane are selling records and selling out concerts.”

England’s Q magazine even dedicates its current issue to “The Britpack” and tells us “Why British music will conquer the world in 2005.” While the British press never lacks for hyperbole, it might be right this time.

Here’s our idiot Yank’s guide to the new English revolution, starting with the bands that have made the most impact so far:

The Fab Four

Keane – Not since Ben Folds Five has the piano played such a key role in rock ‘n’ roll. The trio’s elegant, personal style and romantic lyrics of heartbreak and desire recall the heyday of Elton John and Billy Joel. Recommended disc: “Hopes and Fears” (Interscope).

Muse – Like Keane, these guys are a three-piece, but they are certainly not shy and sensitive. They go for wide-screen, epic rock that falls somewhere among U2, Radiohead and Queen, and they have a reputation for a ferocious live show. Recommended disc: “Absolution” (Warner Bros.).

Snow Patrol – This Scottish quartet crafts serene and powerful pop, but with a guitar edge. The song Run became something of an alt-rock anthem in ‘04 but Snow Patrol have more than one good tune to their credit. Recommended disc: “Final Straw” (A&M).

Joss Stone – It’s hard to believe that the soulful, bluesy, world-weary voice belongs to someone who isn’t even old enough to drink in this country. Over the course of two albums of rootsy, nonelectronic R&B, 18-year-old Stone is proving that she is the real deal. Recommended disc: “Mind, Body & Soul” (EMI/S-Curve).

Bubbling Up

Dogs Die in Hot Cars – The wry spirit of XTC’s Andy Partridge hangs heavy over this Scottish band. Cheeky lyrics in such songs as “Godhopping” and “Paul Newman’s Eyes,” and sharp hooks galore. Recommended disc: “Please Describe Yourself” (V2).

The Futureheads – This foursome more than held their own when opening for hyped Franz Ferdinand last year, and their angular, irresistible post-punk can be just as winning on record, especially on a cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” Recommended disc: “The Futureheads” (Sire).

The Libertines – Their second album, “The Libertines,” is a disappointment, but this band’s Clash-style rock can be invigorating. Recommended disc: “Up the Bracket” (Rough Trade).

Athlete – Buoyant, infectious pop that almost floats out of the CD player. Recommended disc: “Vehicles & Animals” (Astralwerks)

Hope of the States – It’s unfortunate that the States’ swirling, grandiose and ambitious style is undercut by Samuel Herlihy’s flat vocals. But there’s great promise. Recommended disc: “The Lost Riots” (Epic)

Razorlight – Basic, punchy guitar-rock is this group’s signature. Recommended disc: “Up All Night” (Universal).

South – This trio’s sumptuous rock-pop fits in the Coldplay mold but develops its own personality. And last year’s tour showed they can pull it off live. Recommended disc: “With the Tides” (Kinetic).

The Zutons – Nothing if not eclectic, the Zutons are like some crazy, catchall, rock ‘n’ roll jukebox. Recommended disc: “Who Killed … The Zutons” (Epic).

The Music – They make a roaring rock sound that seems geared to America. Recommended disc: “Welcome to the North.”

Look Out For These

Kasabian – Could be this year’s Franz Ferdinand, judging from the heavy buzz from across the pond. A U.S. debut disc is due shortly.

Bloc Party – More ’80s-retro rock, influenced by Gang of Four and Joy Division. A full-length CD is coming soon. An EP, Bloc Party, is out now on the small Dim Mak label.

Goldie Lookin Chain – The best group name of the lot, and with eight members definitely the largest band in the bunch. Wales’ GLC is a tongue-way-in-cheek, semi-rap troupe that, like the Streets, celebrates a particularly British style of loutish slacker-dom.

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