Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 19)
Oasis had a nasty habit of booting someone every tour. Managers, crew members, bathroom attendants, no one was safe from Liam Gallaghers temper. Even band members weren’t secure. Manager Ian Robertson describes the hierarchy on their 1994 tour as follows, “It was Noel, Liam, Mark Coyle, Bonehead and Guigsy, Marcus, me… and [drummer] Tony was somewhere way down the list. It was, ‘You’re a fucking shit drummer, I’m going to sack you, you’re going to be back on the dole before you know it.’” And on this particular tour, it finally happened. Tony McCarroll had fallen for a groupie and she was taking up all his free time. This didn’t sit well with the other band members and finally McCarroll was sent home on the next plane to Burnage.
I mention all this because I’d like to dedicate this intro to everyone sick of reading about the two eyebrows at the head of this band and Tony McCarroll’s replacement.
Alan White, this one’s for you.
It’s White’s contributions to Oasis planet cracking (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
that are arguably just as important as the Gallagher’s. His rolling, tumbling fills on songs like “Hello” and “Roll With It” lends urgency akin to a rushing stream. And when its time to rock, he rocks the *** outta that open hi-hat on “Hey Now!” and “Morning Glory”. White also posses a deft hand with the brushes, tenderly lacing “Wonderwall” and “Cast No Shadow” with a skiffle-esque shuffle that minds the spotlight. One doesn’t usually consider the drums as a key component of an album but if it wasn’t for Alan White’s contributions I might not be writing about this album today. After all, would the last chorus of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” hit nearly
as hard without that unaccompanied fill preceding it?
Alas, this is still Oasis were talking about here a.k.a, The Gallagher Show and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
belongs to them.
So, Noel and Liam Gallagher, awful people, amazing rock stars. Definitely Maybe
made Oasis into superstars in their native England but instead of letting fame sink them into a “this isn’t what I dreamed it would be” angsty stew, they embraced it. Using interviews and award ceremony’s to show off each others biting wit, the duo built up a dedicated following of like minded fans looking for music to get pissed to. Noel in particular is a self-deprecating, scathingly honest quote machine. On Liam: "Liam is rude, arrogant intimidating and lazy […] He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup." On himself: “I’m equal parts genius, equal parts buffoon.” On Keane: “The guy from Keane’s been to a rabbit sanctuary ’cos one of the rabbits needed a kidney implant, so he swapped his with it.”
All this swagger and brashness coalesce on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
to create Oasis’ hugest album ever. It’s the sound of a band becoming the biggest band in the world by sounding like it. And if it sounds poignant it’s because it might be the last time that’s ever happened.
The brother dynamic goes deeper than simply he writes and he sings, you can split the first two Oasis albums into Liam and Noel. Definitely Maybe
was Liam’s album, all sneering arrogance and swagger. (Whats the Story) Morning Glory?
, on the other hand, is Noel’s album. It drops any notion of attitude or cool and just shoots for the biggest chorus possible and deploys themes that make you nostalgic for a girl you used to know or a summer spent doing nothing at all. Liam wanted to be adored; Noel wanted Oasis to mean everything to everyone. They wanted to be the poster on your wall and the CD that never left your car stereo. Oasis set about achieving this goal through Noel’s savant level gift with melody. The key appeal of Oasis has always been the gulf between the insecurity of the lyrics and the confidence of the melody. Consider their two most popular hooks for evidence (“Maybe I just wanna fly” “Because maybe/You’re going to be the one that saves me.”) Every song on Morning Glory
has a clear emotional intent and it’s the melodies that accomplish all the feelings left unsaid when the lyrics fall short.
Lets be clear about this, these aren’t songs maan, these are ’chunes
. The kind of ‘chunes that are so infectious that they make you look forward to your morning commute just so you can sing along with them. The perpetually underrated “Roll With It” wonderfully captures the feeling having a friend’s pep talk really hit home. The utterly marvelous “Don’t Look Back In Anger” cues up a montage of all the friends you’ve left behind and put a knot in your chest as the hook bathes you in the amber light of a faded memory. That song in particular might boast the best chorus Noel ever laid his hands upon, one that seems to come back mightier every time. “Some Might Say” boasts a vocal melody so sublime that lyrics like “Some might say, they don’t believe in heaven/Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell” are transformed from empty platitude to lost proverb. I’m not quite sure what the adrenal “Morning Glory” would be the perfect soundtrack to, a squadron of fighter jets performing aerial maneuvers over a stampeding herd of brontosaurus or the entire population of Scotland pogoing to its gargantuan stomp.
But it’s the album’s most obscure song that may have aged the best, “Hey Now!" The song nearly topples over its own mammoth crunch but holds firm on a string laden chorus that stops just short of being goopy by utilizing a tension build/release with its escalating drum pattern and slide guitar. It also contains one of the best verse melodies Noel ever penned, stuffed with the perfect mix of swagger and uncertainty. And those lyrics? “I hitched a ride with my soul by the side of the road/Just as the sky turned black/I took a walk with my fame down memory lane/I never did find my way back.” Meaninglessly awesome.
Only a few things hold this album back from being a through and through classic album. Opener “Hello” is a decent table setter but a limp song in search of a decent hook while “She’s Electric” is a total lark. It’s meant to bring a bit of brevity to all the po-faced anthems but this was a mistake. Its clear precedent, “Digsby’s Diner”, worked because it poked fun at Noel’s occasionally nonsensical lyrics and made sure to let everyone know he was in on the joke. But the album that song hails from is a far looser affair than What’s the Story
. Here Oasis should have played it straight and dialed down a bit of the bombast for a reprieve. Swap the two songs out with the “Some Might Say” b-sides “Acquiesce” and “Talk Tonight” respectively and this album would be near perfect.
Of course, it would still have to contend with its thin production job. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
utilizes the same treble heavy swirl employed on Definitely Maybe
but that worked for that album because it’s intentions were to capture the raucous thrill of the Oasis live experience. On What’s the Story
Oasis are clearly a studio band and now a swollen compilation of strings, samples, and more guitar overdubs than can be counted have to fight for space in a very limited mix. The compression is only slightly noticeable on speakers but unbearable on headphones.
Then there’s “Champaign Supernova”. It’s this album’s true go for broke moment. A seven and a half minute charge through the gates of rock ‘n’ roll Valhalla. Featuring unforgettable imagery (“Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball”) and a slowly layered brew of accordion, strings, thundering guitar, and more of Alan White’s sublime drum fills it earns the full length of its runtime. It’s a song so big it even did what so many Britpop bands failed to do before it and become a constant fixture on American radio, hitting number 20 on the hot 100-airplay chart.
Of course, it didn’t break America nearly as much as “Wonderwall”. Hell, “Wonderwall” didn’t break America so much as it broke the entire planet.
“Wonderwall” went top ten in 13 countries and marked the beginning of the end of Britpop. See, “Wonderwall” presented a formula that wasn’t just phenomenally successful; it was *** easy to reproduce. Following “Wonderwall” a crop of bands sprang up eager to rip the song off straight down to the exact same chords. Now, instead of trying to reverse engineer the complex styling’s of Blur and Suede for a chance at a UK top 30, upstart Britpop bands could just swipe an acoustic guitar, a string section, a dab of piano, glue their heart to their sleeves and wind up with a world wide smash hit.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
ended up being so huge its easy to forget it was a product of the infamous Battle of Britpop. But while Blur’s “Country House” may have out charted Oasis “Roll With It”, What’s the Story
proceeded to outsell what “Country House”’s parent album The Great Escape
sold in its first week in its first day
. To date, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
is certified for an astounding twenty two million
copies sold world wide. Oasis took their victory lap at Knebworth, where they played to 150,000 people per night for 2 nights. Over 2.6 million people applied for tickets.
Oasis had reached the summit. They had nowhere to go but down.
And, boy, did they go down. Where to even begin? Liam got it in his head that he was Jesus returned to earth and proceeded to verbally abuse anyone that got at him the wrong way, at the Mercury Music Prize Ceremony he yelled for Justinne Frischmann to “Get your tits out!”, at the Brit Awards he ashed a cigarette in Mick Jagger’s hair, and he spent the entire time doing as much cocaine as humanly possible. Meanwhile, Noel ruined his band’s image as “the peoples band” when he took an infamous trip to rub elbows with soon to be Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 N Downing St. (Noel’s defense: “I don’t have a crystal ball, I didn’t see Tony Blair was going to turn out to be a cunt.”)
As for the music, they released 1997’s Be Here Now
on a wave of hype the likes of which popular music may never see again. The recording sessions for that album were so awful that the album’s Wikipedia page reads like its own obituary. The sessions were swarmed with yes men; the amount of treble and overdubs on that record is unreal. "It's the sound of a bunch of guys, on coke, in the studio, not giving a ***,” summarized Noel years later. When it came time to preview the album for the press DJ’s were ordered to talk over songs to prevent bootlegging and journalists were ushered into sealed rooms to hear it.
When it was finally released it sold 700 thousand copies in its first week. It now holds the dubious distinction of being the album most sold to second hand CD stores in Britain. Be Here Now
is an overindulgent wreck, one that bottoms out with the 9 minute long “All Around the World”, which might just feature the most hideous “Na-na-na’s” in music history.
Oasis then proceeded to spend the next decade releasing albums that were so much worse that Be Here Now
is now considered underrated. For 2000s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
they redesigned their great logo to something that looked like a defunct airline. The album was a shriveling bore. Then, in 2002, they released Heathen Chemistry
, which might be the worst Britpop album ever. It bottoms out when, on second single “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”, Noel finally gives up and writes a “Wonderwall” rip off. Oasis managed two more albums before breaking up in 2009.
"I know where we lost it," Noel once stated, “Down the drug dealer's ***in' front room is where we lost it." Indeed, as much as drugs dissolved any self-awareness Noel had left in him it pales in comparison to the horrible things it did to Liam’s once-glorious singing voice. Oasis wound up going down in flames, spending the last decade of their career increasingly beholden to the debts left in the wake of their epochal first two albums. The spent the last few years of their career parading through stadiums, slogging through the hits while Liam’s voice became more and more thin and run down. But Oasis concerts were never about the guys on stage, they were about the kids in the audience, singing their lungs out to every single word.