Requiem for Oasis

05Feb19

I’m not sure what the universe/Big Brother algorithm had in store for me, but it put this band in front of me recently and it has arrested my brain. I watched the documentary “Supersonic,” which was executive produced by both Gallagher brothers*. This along with a recent video on Brit Pop and a discovery of the band’s discography available online has sent them into my ears like it was 1995 again. I’ve realized that I largely ignored their later period, and have barely heard any of Noel Gallagher’s solo work. This re-think basically boils down to a major question:

Was Oasis great?

This is a fundamental question to ask, since the very idea of being great, “the greatest,” or anything in between seems to be at the very core of the band’s existence. In many interviews (in the documentary and found online) members mention how they started out thinking they were the greatest band in the world, about how they became the greatest band in the world, about how their accomplishments back up their claim to the title “greatest band in the world” and so on. However, I can’t remember anyone saying this out loud. Or in print. I mean, they were very popular, and I have a weird feeling of some friends of mine commenting about how great it would be to see them live around 1995. But I don’t remember anyone actually saying the words.

Unless you count the band members themselves. Then they’ve got you more than covered. So if we’re playing fair, I’m sure SOMEBODY in the world has said how great they thought Oasis was, but those instances are far outnumbered by the times Noel or Liam Gallagher has said it. And they’ll say it multiple times. They keep stating it like it’s a fact, and I cannot tell if it actually is.

Maybe, in a way, this was part of their genius. They recognized that nobody was taking up that mantle, they liked what they were laying down, so they went for it. Make the claim. Make it so. Then they somehow made some hit records and it supported the claim, and they never looked back.

Now, for just a moment, I want to dissect this self-made mythology. One might think I’m exaggerating when I say they say it a lot. YouTube has let me down; as of this moment, I cannot find a supercut of the Gallaghers bragging about themselves, but its absence only serves to prove my point; nobody can compile a complete list because it’s happened so often. “Supersonic” even has concert footage of one of them (I think it’s Noel) saying “Hello” to the crowd by way of something like “Are you ready for the greatest band in the world?”**

And they keep it up in later interviews, too. There’s one of Noel talking about how not only were they super-huge, but that nobody could ever match it, listing off the bands that cannot (including U2 and Coldplay). It’s kind of weird, and almost obsessive, and — taken as a whole — comes off as defensive and insecure. In one way, it’s pretty great to just make the claim and then deliver some hit songs. But these guys seem like they are trying to win some invisible contest nobody else knew was happening.

I have to admit my personal biases here. I’m not British, and in the 1990’s, I got most of my music exposure from MTV. I first heard Oasis by seeing the video for “Live Forever” (which I really liked). I remember my friends and I liking “Wonderwall,” enough to keep the band in mind when they performed at some MTV awards show. They performed “Champagne Supernova.” That’s the time Liam finished and poured a beer out on the stage while staring into the camera, to which host Dennis Miller laughed and said, sarcastically as he could, “Wow. . . he poured a BEER!” This moment from Miller might have shaped my opinion of Oasis more than anything else.

Let me elaborate: at that point, all I knew of Oasis was a few inescapable, undeniable songs and a few gossip stories (I think). Then I watched the performance. Which is exactly that: one guy on drums, a bassist, two guitarists and a singer refusing to move from the microphone. He just stands there and sing-shouts into the microphone. Through willful action or simple misbehavior, Oasis has/had a reputation as being these bad boys, or at least rock’n’roll stars. But their songs were very Beatles. And, like, McCartney-Beatles, so we’re not talking the hardest rocking stuff. And their performance isn’t Hendrix. It’s not Prince, Iggy, Ramones or anything. It’s not. . . anything. And their lyrics are fairly empty, as far as I can tell. So after spending 6+ minutes singing “Champagne Supernova” (either a great dumb song or the dumbest great song) Liam Gallagher pours out a beer on stage. And Miller’s comment shoots a hole in their entire persona, the subtext saying, “Is that supposed to be edgy or punk or something?”

I bought “Be Here Now,” as did, apparently, many people. I remember liking most of it on the first few listens, but it didn’t hook me completely. In fact, “Be Here Now” might be the most important Oasis album for its inherent Emperor-has-no-clothes-ness of the whole enterprise. David Fricke’s review says it great: “If the art of rock — and of making great rock records — is essentially a matter of putting the right notes in the right order over a good beat at top volume, then ‘D’You Know What I Mean?”… is seven minutes of simple, focused genius.” I remember reading this and thinking he liked it. I mean, he gave the album 4-out-of-5 stars after all. But re-reading it today, I pick up on the obligation lying beneath the surface. “Be Here Now” was the most objective Oasis record to date. You could point to it and find facts to back up claims that it was a rock record, a great record, but that’s all it had. It had the facts, but forgot the music. It’s not a science test. There’s not a right answer. “Be Here Now” seems like it was full of right answers that went wrong.

With all that being said, I’ve been running the band’s first two albums over and over again and really enjoyed them. I think I’ll try to listen to their later albums and see how they help the “Greatest” claims.

Is this anti-climactic ending to this essay? Sure. But so were Oasis.

Here are some stray observations:

1.) The Beatles thing. It’s both completely fair and unfair. On one hand, it’s fair because the band (re: Noel Gallagher) talked about the Beatles constantly. I remember some interview that I might be messing up now where he said the Beatles were all they listened to. Like I said, that’s the fair part. And their biggest hits were almost always their most Beatles-esque. This kept me from realizing how much Johnny Rotten influenced Liam’s singing (or “singing”). Or how much T-Rex guitar burst through at every opportunity. This maybe why Oasis got away with the Beatles comparisons while Gretta Van Fleet currently struggles in the moors of Led Zeppelin Rip-Off Artists.

2.) I’ve been trying to find a relation or corollary or analog for Oasis. They’d love for it to be the Beatles, but that’s not it.
On one hand, they were kind of like the Eagles, with big hits that were not that hard rocking, an ability to making soaring music while despising each other.
Then you could make the easy comparison to the Black Crowes, where you’ve got brothers (guitar and vocals, no less) who spar constantly, all while aping their British Invasion heroes and somehow changing their own formula just enough to keep from plagiarizing themselves.***
There’s the Stones themselves as comparison; both are a 5-piece, with two guitarists and a cocky lead singer. And while neither the Stones nor Oasis were exactly innovative, they simply did rock music really, really well. Which is harder than it looks.
They also remind me a little of the Gin Blossoms, which sounds reductive until you realize how perfectly the Gin Blossoms wrote pop rock songs. They were also really boozy.
But the closest comparison I like is to Guns N’ Roses. You have the in-fighting between the singer and guitarist. You have the ego. You have the rivalry with contemporaries. You have the bad behavior. You have the whiny vocals. You have the rotation of band members. You have the ambition, the big swing and the whiff. . . considering that, it’s amazing Oasis didn’t try to make a triple album.

3.) More on the image/rocker thing: I think Oasis songs are all on the slower side. There are a few exceptions (“Bring It On Down”), but think of the hits, and they’re all at a kind of Tom-Petty-level speed. Somewhere between 105 and 120 bpm. And I noticed this while playing “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” and contemplating the untitled interstitials. Those two or three half-baked instrumentals are the fastest playing on the record, and I think that’s why they’re there. They fooled us, kept us from realizing they’re the British Eagles. They are a rock ballad band.

4.) My recent re-discovery of their music has been aided by volume. Perhaps it was the black-and-white photography of the “Wonderwall” video, or the string section, or the acoustic guitar. . . but it’s a rock song. A ballady rock song, but still, a rock song. Liam is SHOUTING much of the lyrics. And like most rock songs, volume can do a lot for it. I’ve heard “Wonderwall” hundreds of times, but never at maximum volume, so I’ve missed the layers they’ve put low in the mix (particularly in the endings section). Songs like “Supernova,” “Hey Now!” and others all sound great loud. It’s funny I didn’t do this earlier. I think it’s because of their mid-tempo leanings; I don’t normally play slower songs loud. That’s my own shortsightedness.
*While it’s pretty interesting, and feels fairly honest about everything it’s dealing with, it only really deals with events up to the height of the band: post “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” And then it stops. It earns some kind of award for creating greatness through omission.

**I’m gonna be an apologist for my bands here, namely the Rolling Stones and the Hives. On one hand, you have one of the most OBJECTIVELY popular bands of the 1960s and 70s who christened themselves as “The greatest rock n’ roll band in the world” (just after the Beatles broke up, mind you). They did this most famously on “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out,” but on that live album, it wasn’t Mick Jagger saying it. It was some dude announcing them. That feels more legit than actually saying the words yourself, right? The claim is also backed by (at that point) 8 years of great sales, hit singles, and heights of celebrity fame. On the other end, you have the Hives, who have often claimed to be the greatest THING in the world (not containing themselves to the human levels of a mere “band”), but I’ve always taken that as cheeky fun. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they came up with that claim by joking about Oasis.

***Wanna argue Oasis is innovative, or that they didn’t repeat themselves? OK, but prepare to lose this argument. Strip away the production, and they’re songs are all “Wonderwall.” Maybe this has to do with Liam’s limited range, or maybe it’s just the fact that their main songwriter plays guitar and he writes with a guitar, but they’re all very, very similar. At the root.

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