The debut album by the brashest brats Britain has produced in a decade sloshes cocky rock-star attitude all over sensually loud rhythm-guitar pop, one-upping elders like Stone Roses and the Jesus and Mary Chain by swiping their best features and adding a heavy dose of unfashionable Beatles worship. Landing squarely in familiar post-punk mud, the young working-class Manchester quintet wastes nothing on false modesty, instead thrashing about with the confident assurance that it was poured there just for them.
On Definitely Maybe, Oasis navigates a precarious path between eager-to-please enthusiasm, derivative redundancy and pure obnoxiousness, making its roaringly tuneful way on the inescapable hooks and cockeyed lyrics written by guitarist Noel Gallagher and the deadpan sneer and profound inertia of his singing brother Liam. Challenging each other with blistering layers of guitar and piled-on vocals (with these fraternal antagonists fighting to get their hands on the board, the mixdown sessions must have been a living hell), the Gallaghers set up a complete package of guileless guts and attention-grabbing hubris. Definitely Maybe rolls out one brilliant song after another: “Shakermaker” (whose unsanctioned use of the New Seekers’ old cola jingle was resolved with some changes to the purloined lyrics), the idealistic “Live Forever,” the George Harrisonesque “Up in the Sky,” “Columbia” (“I can’t tell you the way I feel/’Cos the way I feel is oh so new to me”), the trippy “Supersonic,” the T. Rexy “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” “Slide Away,” the acoustic kiss-off “Married With Children.” With lines like “I hate the books you read and all your friends / Your music’s shite, it keeps me up all night,” Oasis makes rudeness and arrogance part of their how-did-I-get-here naïve wonder. How else to explain a debut album that opens with a self-fulfilling original entitled “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”?
A bunch of EPs and a couple of million records later, Oasis announced its second coming with the help of Gary Glitter (all samples cleared this time) in “Hello,” the number that opens (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by immediately acknowledging “It’s never gonna be the same.” No argument there. With new drummer Alan White in place, Oasis follows its template part of the time, but also reins in the megapower noise, adding harmonica and such muso fripperies as mellotron. While Noel does a credible job as co-producer, his new songs aren’t as grabby, snide, direct or obvious as those on the first album; the reference points are buried, the constructions more intricate. The dreamy “Wonderwall” is rendered with complex understatement (acoustic guitar, cello, piano, musical drumming) that would have been unthinkable on the debut; the monumental “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is almost theatrical in its singalong sweep. Meanwhile, “Some Might Say” offers a surprisingly positive (or is that droll irony?) homily; “She’s Electric” is like Kinksy folk-rock. Ironically, now that Oasis has earned its bragging rights, there’s nothing like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” to deal with the band’s self-willed ascension. Even “Champagne Supernova,” a majestic seven-minutes-plus closer fitted out with the record’s best melody, says a lot less than it promises. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is an underwhelming follow-up to a stellar debut, but the record’s degree of difficulty reveals that Oasis’ ambition is as great as its self-esteem.
Be Here Now is a debacle from start to finish. Noel Gallagher later said the brothers had been consuming massive amounts of cocaine during the album’s productions, and the songs unsramble incoherently. For a singles band, that’s big trouble: only the rave-up of “Fade In-Out,” and the jangly “D’You Know What I Mean” are decent. Otherwise, Be Here Now is simply too excessive and unfocused to be any good.
A solid B-sides collection, The Masterplan was a smart career move for a band in disarray. Heavy on unreleased tracks from the formidable Morning Glory period, The Masterplan showcases Oasis at its best. From the rousing anthem “Acquiesce” to the rollicking blues of the instrumental “The Swamp Song,” this is one B-sides set worth owning. Only the live stab at the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” is ill-advised, but even that gets points for being spirited.
It’s not a good sign when the record company misspells the title of an album. Standing on the Shoulder of Giants [sic] is the result of a complete lack of interest on all sides. The “s” in Shoulders isn’t the only thing missing however, as the Gallaghers (minus Bonehead, who quit in 1999) attempt to do it all themselves. While not the all-out atrocity that was Be Here Now, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants lacks the great hooks that made Oasis so formidable. Instead, we get the noisy experimentalism of “Fuckin’ in the Bushes” and the tepid single “Go Let It Out,” as well as the unintentional parody of “Gas Panic!” Skip this one. (Early copies came with a bonus disc containing, among other things, an ok B-side, “Let’s All Make Believe.”)
When in doubt, release a non-studio album. The excellent Familiar to Millions was recorded live at Wembley Stadium in 2000, and finds the band in fine form. Made to be played live, Oasis’ best songs are also their most rocking, and all the favorites (as the title indicates) are here.
The Gallaghers finally get their comeback bid right on Heathen Chemistry, which unveils a new Oasis lineup with guitarists Gem Archer and ex-Ride leader Andy Bell. Wisely, Noel solicited songwriting contributions from each band member, and the results are glorious, as tracks like “Hung in a Bad Place” (Archer) and “A Quick Peep” (Bell) shimmer. Liam even put his pen to three songs, including the surprisingly delicate single “Songbird.” But Oasis remains Noel’s show, and the best tracks here are his, including the forceful “The Hindu Times” and a jaw-dropping power ballad, “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.” Heathen Chemistry is a great group effort.
Since then, group chemistry has become Oasis’ watchword. The lineup of Archer, Bell and the Gallagher brothers has remained stable; though not a full-fledged member, Zak Starkey has served as the group’s principal drummer, both in the studio and on the road. Best of all, Noel has continued to share the songwriting responsibilities with his bandmates. On Don’t Believe the Truth, Bell contributes the swaggering opener “Turn Up the Sun” and the beautiful, soaring “Keep the Dream Alive”; Archer brings the psychedelic flavoring on “A Bell Will Ring.” Liam comes up with three great songs, presented in mostly acoustic settings: “Love Like a Bomb” (in collaboration with Archer), “The Meaning of Soul” and “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel.“ For his part, Noel brings the rocking “Lyla,” the urgently driving “Part of the Queue,” the music-hall tinged “Mucky Fingers” and “The Importance of Being Idle” and the (relatively) tranquil album-closer “Let There Be Love.” From beginning to end, the songwriting standard remains high, as does the energy level, making Don’t Believe the Truth a top-notch entry in the Oasis canon.
Stop the Clocks is an 18-song compilation that draws all but four of its tracks from the Definitely Maybe/Morning Glory era, including four B-sides that appeared on The Masterplan. The album title comes from a song reportedly intended to be a bonus track; Noel Gallagher has, more than once, called the song among the best he’d ever written. But Noel enjoys saying things like that. As of late 2008, no song of that name has yet surfaced on any legitimate Oasis release.
As with Heathen Chemistry, Noel provides the best songs on Dig Out Your Soul, although his bandmates certainly can’t be accused of slacking in their efforts. The problem with this one is that it’s front-loaded with Noel’s songs, which makes the proceedings start to drag a bit. Liam seems to be assuming the role of principal ballad-writer; the airy, mellotron-drenched “I’m Outta Time” is the standout of his three offerings here. Archer contributes the raga-tinged rocker “To Be Where There’s Life,” and Bell steps up with the stomping “The Nature of Reality.” As for Noel’s songs on this album, the best of them (“The Shock of the Lightning,” “Falling Down,” “The Turning”) echo the band’s classic ‘90s sound, both in their propulsive rhythms and in the guitarist’s penchant for obvious Beatles cops (“Love is a litany / A magical mystery”). Oasis may never regain the lofty heights it reached on its first two albums, but considering the personal excesses in the wake of that rush of superstardom — and in defiance of what a supernova actually does — it’s amazing that they are not only a band but a band that can still deliver the goods.
The post-split Time Flies was released in a basic two-CD set, containing more than two dozen A-sides; a UK-only five-vinyl-disc collection with a slight track variation; and a UK-only four-disc set appending a 2009 concert recording and a DVD of 38 videos.