Oasis burst onto the U.K. music scene with all the subtlety of a crashing comet. Definitely Maybe was an exciting if unoriginal debut, as the band’s cocksure, swaggering approach provided a breath of fresh air compared to the “woe is me” sentiments of most Generation X’ers. Guitarist Noel Gallagher pens superior melodies, and the band boasts a big, driving rock sound that’s led by their multi-layered guitar attack. Sure, the Gallagher brothers’ (Liam sings) loutish behavior and the band’s liberal borrowings from their past heroes (particularly The Beatles) will likely grow tiresome over time, but this album is one of the best examples of the revitalized power pop genre thus far in the ‘90s. After all, Oasis bring a real power behind their glorious pop, and the album’s best songs deliver optimistic, hedonistic lyrics that detail their visions of grandeur. Even the album’s “filler” songs rock hard on contagious mid-tempo grooves, and Liam brings everything across with an appropriately British sneer that has been unfavorably compared to John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten). This is laughable as Liam possesses a far superior voice and is one of Oasis’ greatest strengths, though his over the top accent (i.e. sunshine = sun sheee yine) might be off putting to some. The songs range from decent (“Shakermaker,” “Bring It On Down,” “Digsy’s Diner”) to very good (“Up In The Sky,” “Columbia,” “Cigarettes and Alcohol”) to flat-out fantastic. Simply put, “Rock n’ Roll Star,” “Supersonic,” “Live Forever,” and “Slide Away” are four of my favorite songs of all-time, and alone ensure an essential album rating here. “Rock n’ Roll Star” begins the album with a thrilling opening riff, and when the band kicks in it’s a perfect way to begin Friday (or Saturday) night. Plus, when Liam sings “tonight, I’m a rock n’ roll star” he sure sounds like one. “Live Forever” is simply a gloriously perfect power pop song, while “Supersonic” is arguably the band’s ultimate rock n’ roll manifesto as Liam delivers a cocky vocal for the ages. Finally, the comparatively overlooked “Slide Away” actually sees Liam singing tenderly, and I've sung along to the song's grandly epic chorus literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of times. The amusing “Married With Children” then closes out the album on an anti-climactic note, though it does foreshadow the more subdued and reflective songs that would highlight their next album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (Epic ‘95) Rating: A
Although this album is now often considered the band’s “masterpiece,” initial reviews were lukewarm. It was only after people started buying the album in bucketful's (I think that this is the bestselling British album ever) that it was critically reappraised, even snagging Q magazine’s “Album of the Decade” accolade. This is the album that gave the Gallagher brothers the world domination they craved, largely on the strength of the smash hit “Wonderwall,” a musically evocative if lyrically nonsensical ballad with all the makings of an instant classic. This album is largely made up of mellower, more sensitive compositions, as Oasis expands their grand grungy sound to include instrumentation such as cello, keyboards, harmonica, and mellotron. Only “Hello” and "Morning Glory" really crank up the amps like on their debut but fortunately do so quite convincingly. Elsewhere, “Roll With It” is awfully catchy, while the truly sublime “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is a big Beatlesque ballad, this time with Noel on vocals. “Hey Now” has another nice melody, while its subsequent instrumental segue is harmless if unnecessary. The anthemic “Some Might Say” is one of the album’s hardest-hitting and best tracks; after listening to this song you just gotta give Noel his due as a songwriter, and when Liam sings “we will find a brighter day” damn if it doesn’t brighten my day. The airy, melancholic “Cast No Shadow” (love those sighing backing vocals) gets my vote as this album’s overlooked gem, while the sing songy "She’s Electric” is minor but also quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, track ten is a waste of 39 seconds before the album ends with “Champagne Supernova,” another epic power ballad and instant classic, though its overly long length provides an ominous foreshadowing of their next endeavor. Still, when Liam sings “where were you while we were getting high?,” the answer for many people in 1995 was “somewhere listening to this album.” Perhaps Morning Glory isn’t as attention grabbing or as exciting as Definitely Maybe, but this album has a diversity that their debut album doesn't. Some argued that The Beatles’ influence was again all too apparent, and Oasis also liberally borrows from T. Rex, samples Gary Glitter, and steals a melody from R.E.M. This may make Oasis unoriginal, but it doesn’t mean that they're uncreative, since Noel is a highly effective musical plunderer who is a supreme melodist in his own right. Besides, the band sounds great throughout (new drummer Alan White was a nice addition whose work really enhances several songs, such as “Wonderwall”), and the years have only been kind to this mid-'90s classic.
Be Here Now (Epic ‘97) Rating: B+
Few bands have ever stirred people’s passions quite like Oasis, who are loved and loathed in equal measure (their obnoxious personalities no doubt have much to do with this). Some people dismiss them as mere Beatles ripoffs while others (particularly in the U.K.) tout them as the greatest British band since The Beatles. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between those two extreme viewpoints, but what cannot be denied was that the expectations for this third album were massive in the band’s homeland. Ironically, whereas (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? had to overcome initial doubts to gain hard won acclaim as arguably the definitive Britpop album of the ‘90s, this album took the exact opposite route in that it initially received glowing reviews but has since taken a pounding by the press. Noel and Liam themselves disagree about this album's merits; Noel disparages it (he didn't select any of its songs for their Stop The Clocks retrospective) while Liam loves it. Louder than their previous albums (ear splittingly so), the band is hindered here by an ambitious but muddled production. Also, the more subtle touches of the previous album are missed, and some of the songs sound a little too familiar. Many of these overly long songs (9 of which exceed five minutes and 5 of which are near or above 7 minutes) are stretched out to epic lengths, and guitar solos are often interspersed where in the past would be catchy melodies. Not that there aren’t plenty of those, too, and the band’s big sound, which is pumped up here to Herculean proportions, still satisfies on what are generally good songs. For example, the first single “D’You Know What I Mean” is a catchy mid-tempo bruiser that rocks (highlighted by Noel’s wailing guitar solo), overlong though it may be. “Magic Pie” and “Stand By Me” are effective power ballads that are easy to sing along with, while “Don’t Go Away” is an almost classic mellower number that’s of a more manageable length (it received radio airplay as a result). Elsewhere, “My Big Mouth,” “I Hope, I Think, I Know,” and “Be Here Now” all deliver enjoyably hard-hitting grooves at varying tempos, while Noel attempts a sing-a-long anthem along the lines of “Hey Jude” on “All Around The World.” And darn it if I don’t like the corny ol’ thing, though it hardly warrants its 9+ minute running time (or its two minute instrumental reprise two songs later). In short, there’s plenty of high-quality stuff here, but for a self-important band that sought to dominate music this wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered. Perhaps if Oasis rein in some of their self-indulgent tendencies and Noel puts more effort into developing new ideas (rather than recycling old ones) their disappointed and somewhat diminished audience will return en masse.
The Masterplan (Epic ‘98) Rating: A-
Having first heard this album well after the fact (2003), I’m stunned at how good this b-sides compilation is. Oasis relegated many first class songs to b-side status, and this album’s comparatively low-key rock n’ roll provides a nice contrast to the bombast of Be Here Now. Several of the best songs here are ballads, and “Talk Tonight,” “Half The World Away” (both featuring Noel on lead vocals), and “Rockin’ Chair” show a tender, more reflective side to the band that's most welcome, while “Going Nowhere” and “The Masterplan” (the title track here for good reason) are other strong mellow efforts that feature some of the band's most ambitious and accomplished arrangements. Of course, Oasis will always be a RAWK band first and foremost, and “Fade Away” and “Headshrinker” rock hard and well, with the former even delivering words of wisdom (“the dreams we have as children fade away...it’s about growing up but not growing old”), while “Acquiesce” (with Liam singing the verses and Noel the epic chorus, this is simply one of the band’s best songs ever), “Underneath The Sky,” “Listen Up” (which borrows the drum beat from “Live Forever” but is still very good), and “Stay Young” are all catchy, hook-filled songs. Alas, at 67 minutes long the album delivers too much of a good thing, and a few less songs would’ve made for a more satisfying overall package. The most obvious choices for omission are “The Swamp Song,” which sounds like one of those link-y instrumentals from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? but goes on for over four obnoxious minutes, and their live cover of The Beatles’ “I am The Walrus,” which was sloppily bashed out in an uninspired manner. Still, I suppose it took courage to include that song given how they’ve been relentlessly slagged as being "inferior Beatles imitators," and most of The Masterplan refutes that overly simplistic description by virtue of the sheer quality of its often-outstanding songs.
Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants (Epic ‘00) Rating: B
After the critically undervalued but overly indulgent Be Here Now many people questioned whether Oasis was still relevant. Based on the band’s immodestly titled new album I'd say both yes and no - yes because Oasis are still clearly a good if generic band, and no because this wasn’t a big seller commercially (at least in the United States), and it again didn’t come close to matching their first two albums, both of which I’ll always love. It doesn’t help that the band still too often evokes others (this time more modern influences such as The Verve, The Charlatans U.K., and The Chemical Brothers in addition to The Beatles) and recycle themselves (for example, “Who Feels Love?” sometimes bears too close a resemblance to “Hey Now”). However, Noel Gallagher can still write good songs and brother Liam can still sing ‘em (as can Noel on occasion), and even though they have a new second guitarist (Gem Archer) and bass player (Andy Bell; ex-Ride) in tow, Oasis remain first and foremost the Gallagher brothers’ show. Liam even pens his first tune (“Little James,” a sentimental ballad to his stepson), while Noel sings lead on “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” and "Sunday Morning Call," for my money the album’s two best songs, though I'm also partial to the Liam sung "Go Let It Out" (the album's first single) and "Roll It Over." This album sees a more mature Oasis, as lines like “’cause it never works out right” reveal a world weary mindset that's a far cry from the supersonic rock n’ roll stardom they once reveled in. As such, this is their mellowest proper album yet, though their swirling psychedelic sound still makes several songs rise to epic proportions (the band just can’t help themselves). Sure, there are several ordinary efforts here, which is definitely disappointing, plus the energy and excitement levels that I've come to expect from an Oasis album are lower than expected. However, though I miss the band’s youthful swagger and wish that they would refrain from continually repeating themselves, this more modest collection (clocking in at a reasonable 48 minutes, as opposed to Be Here Now's overly labored 72) contains some nice arrangements and is still a solid album overall.
Heathen Chemistry (Epic '02) Rating: B+
After two critically acclaimed albums that many already regard as classics (Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?), Oasis stumbled artistically and commercially. And though I’d argue that their last two critically panned albums, Be Here Now and Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants, weren’t nearly as bad as most people claimed, I wouldn’t deny that Oasis were getting a little less relevant with each proper album (excluding The Masterplan). As such, the band’s latest album is an important chapter that should go a long way towards determining what the band’s future holds. “The Hindu Times” starts things off with “the classic Oasis sound,” meaning that it has insistent riffs, a singable chorus, and silly lyrics. Then again, lyrics have never been the band’s strength, as their delivery has always been more important than what they’ve had to say. The delivery on this song is damn good, but “Force Of Nature,” an unremarkable mid-tempo rocker that follows, is a bit of a letdown by comparison. Fortunately, the ship gets righted on “Hung In a Bad Place,” another almost classic Oasis rocker written by second guitarist Gem Archer. Indeed, the band’s newly discovered democratic tendencies will surely be much talked about by the band's fan base. Whereas guitarist and occasional singer Noel Gallagher used to pen all of the band’s material, here he has only written 6 of the 11 songs. What’s most surprising is that lead singer (and younger brother) Liam has written three songs, including “Songbird,” a simple but shockingly pretty highlight. Less successful are “Better Man,” a generic, funky rocker that rides an overly repetitive groove, and “Born On A Different Cloud,” an ambitious psychedelic dirge that ultimately gets a little dull and repetitive (bassist Andy Bell’s “A Quick Peep” is merely a short filler instrumental). Still, the band is branching out, which is a good thing, and besides, Noel still carries the bulk of the burden. With generally good results, it must be said, as even “Stop Crying Your Heart Out,” an overblown ballad that seems like an obvious courtship for radio play, is good for what it is. Better to my ears is “(Probably) All In The Mind,” an enjoyably trippy pop number that features Johnny Marr on guitar and which recalls the late ‘80s/early ‘90s “Madchester” scene. Though hardly a major effort, the light and airy “She Is Love” is also enjoyable, while “Little By Little” is a soaring Noel-sung power ballad that’s arguably the band’s best song since their Definitely Maybe/Morning Glory heyday (it even has great lyrics! - the guitar solo into the "I just ask myself why you're really here" vocal climax gets me in the gut every time). So, are Oasis back in peak form, as many of the band’s supporters are claiming? Not quite, since the album is too inconsistent to withstand comparisons to the band’s first two albums. Still, this is a strong effort that wisely reins in the indulgences of Be Here Now and scraps the tepid electronica experiments of Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants. The full integration of the new band members and the increased songwriting wealth within the band seems to have invigorated them, making me feel that the best of this Oasis lineup is yet to come.
Don’t Believe The Truth (Epic '05) Rating: A-
Oasis will always have trouble living up to their early excellence, and their braggart boasts about each new album don’t do them any favors (though personally I find them very funny), but this increasingly democratic outfit remain a very worthwhile proposition provided grandiose expectations are kept in check. Noel still writes about half of the songs, certainly the best ones, but Liam continues to grow as a songwriter and Archer and Bell lend a helping hand as well. You would think that a band that has been routinely compared to The Beatles would be averse to hiring that band’s drummer’s son to be their drummer, but that just typifies the band’s “could give a fuck” attitude, and Zak Starkey does just fine. Then again, it’s still the Gallagher brothers’ show first and foremost, and though Liam’s weathered vocals have been better and perhaps a couple of album tracks are rather anonymous, by and large the band still writes very good songs and delivers the goods performance-wise. Much has been made of obvious swipes from The Velvet Underground (“Mucky Fingers” shares the same stomping groove as “Waiting For The Man” and nicks lyrics from “Rock and Roll”) and The Rolling Stones (the first single “Lyla” steals some vocal melodies from “Street Fighting Man”), but their thievery is so blatant that it’s not like they’re trying to hide anything, and besides, it’s the song’s other attributes (Noel’s great vocal on “Mucky Fingers,” for example) that makes them standouts. Really, if you listen to Oasis for originality or great lyrics you’re barking up the wrong tree, but the band’s increasingly laid back (the excellent "Let There Be Love" and the very good "Guess God Thinks I'm Abel") and psychedelic songs ("Turn Up the Sun," "Love Like A Bomb," "Keep the Dream Alive"), some with an increased dollop of Kinksy whimsy ("The Importance of Being Idle," with another terrific Noel vocal, this time in falsetto mode, as Noel's singing duties continue to increase), are still well worth getting to know. Actually, I’m liking this album more and more with each listen, and though the prospect of hearing a new Oasis album no longer excites me like back in the day, upon listening to Don’t Believe The Truth I’m easily reminded why I liked these guys so much in the first place. Just don’t call it a comeback; having never made a truly bad album Oasis never really left, and though if forced to keep only a couple of Oasis albums this one wouldn’t even merit consideration (as always Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? remain the gold standard for Oasis), I’m rather glad I get to keep all of my Oasis albums, this one included. In fact, this is probably the band's most consistently strong collection of songs since their mid-'90s prime, with quite a few contenders for their eventual, inevitable "best of" compilation. P.S. That compilation, Stop The Clocks, was released in 2006, and the track selection, handpicked by Noel himself, turned out to be disappointing.
Dig Out Your Soul (Epic '08) Rating: B
I've already seen a few reviews calling this a "comeback album" and a "return to form," but how can that be possible when many of the same people said that about their last two albums? In actuality, this is merely another solid album by a very good band whose best days are behind them. As per the last couple of albums, Oasis again have a democratic approach to songwriting, but as usual it's Noel's songs that are the standouts, beginning with "Bring It Up," a chaotic but rocking opener with atmospheric Middle Eastern overtones. "The Turning" starts mellow but gets anthemic, with a catchy chorus and a tightly coiled overall intensity, while "Waiting For the Rapture" has Noel on lead vocals, a big stomping sound, Lennon-esque falsettos, and an overt Beatles reference in the lyrics ("revolution in her head" recalls Ian MacDonald's classic book about that band, Revolution in the Head, as well as their own prior classic “Don’t Look Back In Anger”). "The Shock Of The Lightning," for my money the album's best song, is a faster paced groover that's both catchy and rocking, with another Beatles reference ("a magical mystery") as the band are obviously having fun with it and embracing their heroes even though they've always been criticized for such thievery (never mind that Oasis rocks much harder on the whole than The Beatles ever did, a fact that seems to escape most critics). After that strong Noel-led start comes "I'm Outta Time," the first of three Liam penned songs. A pretty psychedelic ballad with a strong lead vocal, this is one of the album's better songs, but the rest of Dig Out Your Soul is disappointing. An exception is Noel's "Falling Down," a moody, darker entry that Noel sings and which at times has a bit of a spy soundtrack feel, with creative percussion and lush synthesizers being positive attributes. Elsewhere, Noel's "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady" never really ignites, Archer's "To Be Where There's Life" is an uninspired drone rocker a la the less tuneful George Harrison songs with The Beatles, and "Ain't Got Nothin'," written by Liam (though it's not much of an actual song), is forgettable. Bell's "The Nature Of Reality," a crunchy mid-tempo stomper, also isn't especially memorable, though it's not bad, and Liam's slow, atmospheric "Soldier On," which has a psychedelic retro '60s vibe like much of the album, is merely a pretty good finale. Fortunately, the first half of this album is really good, but perhaps the band are getting a bit too democratic, as Noel remains by far their best songwriter. All in all, this is a mid-level Oasis album, more towards the bottom half, actually, but as usual it's still a pretty solid effort from a songwriting and performance standpoint. Alas, it appears that this album will turn out to be the band’s swan song, as Noel left Oasis in late 2009, a surprisingly quiet end to a band who have always been all about grand gestures.
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