Review Summary: You and I are gonna live forever…
Oasis burst onto the scene with Definitely Maybe in 1994 with all the confidence of a band that had been dominating British rock ‘n’ roll for years. They had perhaps the two most arrogantly assured frontmen in pop history with brothers Noel and Liam; the former writing the lyrics, the latter doing most of the singing and generally portraying all the clichés of a ‘rock star’ in his public behaviour. They emerged from a Manchester scene that had begun to dry up after the Happy Mondays had bummed out and the Stone Roses failed amongst personal and legal troubles to release a second LP quick enough to enable ‘Madchester’ to flourish for any longer. Oasis, or The Rain as they were previously, were dithering Stone Roses wannabes before the elder Gallagher joined and soon became ringleader, whipping the lads into shape with his experience and wealth of songs built up from his time working as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets.
Their practice sessions and extensive touring became regimented and Oasis quickly began gathering a fan base with their powerful live shows featuring walls of guitar noise cranked to 11 and an unforgettable front man. They eventually captured the attention of Alan McGee who signed the boys to Creation Records, sent them to record their debut, and the second attempt at such an endeavour led to Definitely Maybe. The album roars out from the speakers with massive walls of guitars demolishing anything in its way including the bass and drums, a production choice which works well for the band’s sound. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ could not be a more appropriate opener, with cannonballing guitars and the sneering vocals of a working class lout believing his dream of becoming a rock star, at least for a night. In many ways it encapsulates all the best of Oasis – cocksure attitude, life affirming urban lyrics and massive guitars. ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ works in much the same way, with its pilfered T-Rex riff and wonderfully snotty vocals about succumbing to intoxication because there is apparently little else worth doing if your life is centred around finding a life-sapping dead end job. It is utter confidence, and if Liam’s vocals do not sweep you up then its punk-does-glam-rock fizz and walls of guitar surely will.
The much derided point of Noel Gallagher’s ‘borrowing’ of riffs and ideas, to put it politely, is certainly a tangible claim, yet it only ends up making Oasis a sharper and more instantly powerful band. For example, if Noel never decided to twist ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ into the lyrically demented rock ‘n’ roll funfair of ‘ShakerMaker’ then a great song would be denied the right to life due to some skewed vision of how rock and pop works. Each generation of musicians is inspired by and takes things from the past, it is how music pushes ever forward, and no one knows this better than Noel Gallagher; his band may be Beatles rip-offs but what pop group isn’t in some derivative way or another? Oasis wear the badge of British rock history proudly and cockily shrug off any criticisms with titanium-clad rock songs that captured a mass audience’s attention and ensured they wouldn’t be forgotten soon.
The likes of ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ instantly became written into the British pop psyche because the lyrics connected with the listeners lives and the music was unforgiving. 20 years on the album still sounds powerful and timeless – such are the benefits of ruthlessly plucking the best bits from many great British bands such as the Sex Pistols, Rolling Stones, Slade, The Smiths, and of course, The Beatles. ‘Live Forever’ is still as life-affirming and lush as it was in 1994; ‘Supersonic’ and ‘ShakerMaker’ are still nonsensically fun; ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ still fire up drunken northern dance floors with their rollicking guitars; and ‘Slide Away’ is still a soaring gem. Definitely Maybe is Oasis at their best: raw rock and roll power, life affirming lyrics, and perhaps for the first and last time in their career, not a single duff track, even if the comical outtake ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ or the slightly less memorable ‘Bring It On Down’ don’t shine quite as bright because the tracks that surround them are so colossal in sound and impact – so they were in 1994, so they still are today.