Patriotism is something I find a bit confusing, well, outside the context of rugby anyway* – possibly the legacy of a vaguely hippy upbringing, coupled with several years involved in anti-fascist organisations staging counter-marches and scuffling with skinheads swathed in the Union Jack has given me a healthy distaste for flags of any kind. There are lots of things I love about the UK, but then there are lots of things I love about most places I’ve spent time in. So when Brit pop came swaggering along and hit its stride in 1994, it was great to see some new energy in the music scene, but I never could buy into all the flag-waving properly: especially since the ultimate validation for any British band, much as they all pretend it isn’t, is to break big in America – I think it’s a dimly remembered collective cultural memory of all that grainy newsreel footage of Beatlemania.
To cut the story short, Oasis became the all-conquering commercial titans of the movement and I had jumped on the Oasis wagon right from their first single onwards, buying ‘Supersonic’, ‘Shakermaker’ and ‘Live Forever’ on the days they were released and despite being a little concerned about dipping quality I succumbed to the feverish hype and went out and bought Definitely Maybe the morning it came out on 30.08.94** only to find when I got home from work that the copy I had consisted of two copies of the second disc, frustrating. At the time it was a phenomenon, but not wishing to come on like Galactus, I grew bored with all their petty earth-bound squabblings and I hadn’t listened to any of these records for at least 8 years until tonight. My hope was that now all the posturing and lowest common denominator chug-rock dimness had stopped, I’d be able to descend from my throne of human skulls to the world of man and just listen to the music out of context to see if there was anything much there. Quick verdict: there are traces of good stuff here. So here’s the skinny on my entire Oasis collection.
First up chronologically is Live Forever, which I bought on 12″ to maximise the additional tracks. Now ‘Live Forever’ is a big song all about yearning for immortality and transcendence, hampered by the band’s own limitations, the chief of which is the absolute doggerel that passes for lyrics in Liam Galagher’s world, we have plenty of pain/rain, fly/die – it’s painful. I have a friend who has done time in local metal bands who says that every time he has ever sat down to write lyrics someone will suggest The Forbidden Rhyme (note capital letters) which in metal circles is brain/insane, which always gets used as a placeholder until someone comes up with a better one. Oasis clearly had the same problem, except that no one bothered to get around to writing better ones. But, put simply ‘Live Forever’ aspires to a lot more than it achieves. the acoustic version of ‘Up in The Sky’ is okay, but not as good as the LP version, but ‘Cloudburst’ is an interesting track. It’s not a very good song, again, but it does boast some absolutely brilliant soaring, messy guitar towards the end which – don’t laugh – is almost a bit Neil Young-esque.
Next up is Definitely Maybe itself, out of 12 tracks I’d take 4 and junk the rest. The four tracks I’d take from this LP? ‘Supersonic’ which was their calling card just oozes attitude and class and manages to sound loud and lairy no matter what volume you play it at; ‘Up in The Sky’ has a good tune; ‘Bring it on Down’ stands the test of time for its sheer rowdy truculence; ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ ditto (which surprised me, I didn’t remember it being that good) but the gold-plated winner by a mile is ‘Columbia’. What a great track! It isn’t much of a song, just a relentless loud groove but something about it really does stick.
But, I am duty bound to say that’s the lot for me. There are some real howlers here, not so much musically but just tracks where the lyrics anger me to the point of violence, especially ‘Shakermaker’. Christ! I won’t even quote any of it to make fun / prove my point, if my 11 year-old turned up with a poem that bad, then much as I love her, I’d tear it up in her face and send her to her room to write a better one – for her own good! I like Municipal Waste for Crom’s sake! I don’t need every track I hear to be the equivalent of one of Dylan’s finest efforts, but I do expect a damn sight better than (God help me!) ‘I’m sorry but I just don’t know / I know I said I told you so’. That’s just lazy and that’s one of the better lines.
Part of the problem of course is that Oasis always talked about being the next Beatles and whilst there is something in that swagger, their back catalogue is Exhibit A in the evidence for why there has only ever been one Beatles. For all their huff and puff, attitude and instrumental talent after however many LPs, their best couple of tracks might rank up there with ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man’, or ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, such is the fate of ordinary mortals if they aspire to the realm of the Gods. It also makes the simplistic likes of ‘Married With Children’ all the less forgivable because it throws such pretensions into the stark light of truth. Let’s face it Oasis turned up wanting to be the Beatles and ended up covering Slade. You can’t emulate a band like that by slavish copying, you must have something else to chuck into the pot.
Last stop here and last Oasis record purchased was Whatever, the attraction of which was that it was supposed to be ‘very Beatlesy’ (cue alarm bells) and was not on Definitely Maybe. ‘Beatlesy’ in this context means, just using an orchestra. It’s not a bad tune, but by no means a good one, the orchestra just potters about being polite and embellishing the edges of the track rather than doing anything exciting in themselves. The B-side ‘(It’s Good) to be Free’ is every last tiny bit as bad as it’s near-cousin The Rolling Stones ‘I’m Free’ and that’s all I will say on the subject.
So there you have the 1537 truth as I ascend back to my throne on high: Oasis a band who weren’t as good as they, or the nation thought. ‘Columbia’ is dead good though.
*note to self: insert clip of the mighty Wales mauling England here – possibly with explanatory note for US chums.
**also the Jesus & Mary Chain Stoned & Dethroned, which I think is a much better LP and came out on the same day.