Thursday, 14 August 2008

Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994, Creation)

The press say it's great. We say it sucks completely.

Definitely Maybe was an immediate critical success in the UK, becoming the fastest selling debut album of all time, hitting the no.1 spot, as well as regularly being hailed as one of the greatest albums ever. This world's so fucked up that some are even prepared to put it up there with The Beatles, The Stones and Pink Floyd. What a load of Billy Bollocks.

Had it not been for their well-publicised internal feuds, Oasis would now be a footnote in contemporary music. Say, as popular as Northern Uproar. Half of Oasis' publicity came straight from the family tussles between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Right from the get-go, they were involved in constant confrontations, name-calling and walking away from tours. The British press loves all that. What better than a bit of Manc rough? Actually listening to the songs and elaborating a coherent idea from the band's message is too much hassle. Write about the Gallaghers calling each other "wanker", dissing their wives and walking out on each other and copies are sold by the shedload.

Not to mention the bad that Oasis did to British music. Some even claim Oasis killed the musical renaissance known by many as Britpop by injecting industrial doses of lad culture to the scene. In the words of Kele Okoreke, singer of Bloc Party: "Why is it bad to better yourself? It's all about the weird way in which this country chooses to view the working classes. It is really daft to reinforce the idea that there is something cool about being dumb. The idea that your ambitions shouldn’t extend beyond getting pissed and watching the football really irks me. It's the idea that to be authentically working class you need to be untainted by the airy-fairy ephemera of education".

Nothing better came to epitomise the posture of "hip stupidity" than the phenomenal rise to stardom of pop group Oasis. In his book Everything, pop critic Simon Price described the Manchester band as "amusingly stereotypical oiks or belligerent beer boys, "anti-education, anti-intelligence […] pro-getting wasted. Oasis was a worst case scenario, lowest-common-denominator cliché of what the working classes can be, encouraged by a southern bourgeois media clearly aroused by a northern bit of rough".

It's not a question of music taste. Nor is anyone advocating the idea that bands should sing about post-modernism or harbour intellectual delusions. The fact remains Oasis played thicker-than-they-actually-are, cranked it up and proudly wagged their fingers. It worked. It sold in shed loads.

In his book The Last Party, John Harris elucidates the "bottom line" nature of Oasis. The more they sneered at anything they'd label 'arty-farty', the stronger their proletarian credentials. In the words of guitarist Noel Gallagher, the explanation was straightforward: "We're not preaching about Ye Olde England or how it was in the 60s. We're not preaching about our sexuality, we're not telling kids how to act. You want to write about shagging and taking drugs and being in a band…It's just about a feeling, you just get up and play it".

In the otherwise dreary film Live Forever (John Dower, 2003), a documentary about the Britpop years, singer Liam Gallagher's dense postures are quite possibly the film's only laugh-out-loud lease of life. Asked to comment on his "androgynous appeal", the swaggering singer repeated retort is "what's that mean?" The word, androgynous, is just too long and the temptation to brag ignorance, so cool, is just impossible to fend off.

I asked Simon Price why Oasis' calculated posture proved so popular amongst kids in the first place. The phrase 'lowest common denominator' came back in. "There's a certain kind of person who doesn’t feel alive unless they're bonding with thousands of others" he told me, "and the thing that bond them are necessarily the most basic. They will happily strip away the trappings of erudition, education and civilisation and reduce themselves to slouching, shouting, pissing, drinking, fighting, shagging beasts as long as it means they are not alone".

As for the music, the only tracks that stand the test of time are Live Forever and Rock'n'Roll Star. Much has been written about these two songs, but it's certainly true that they combined raw power, great melodies and lyrics effective enough to catch some people's imagination. However, the album contains 9 other tracks and the word "samey" doesn't go far enough to describe the dreariness of this "masterpiece". To make matters worse, Oasis' subsequent five studio albums followed exactly the same template: distorted guitars, lyrics about hedonism, a singing 'style' so bored it'd make you feel as if Liam was doing you a favour to be standing in front of the mic, and even lazier chord structures. Well into the 21st century and Oasis were still selling their new albums off the back of Definitely Maybe, which in turn had sold off the back of tabloid-friendly fisticuffs.


Neil Harding said...

Very harsh - 'slide away' and 'she's electric' are my fave tracks.

Then there are the string of brilliant b sides - 'acquiesce', 'whatever', 'good to be free' - these are what got me into them.

I mean if you want to talk about talentless tossers - then start with John Harris.

s said...

what about a few critiques of some of those big modern Brummie bands like, oh, oh no, nevermind