Review Summary: Because maybe...
It’s hard to imagine just how much hype surrounded the release of Oasis’ sophomore album in 1995. The Mancunian scallies became an instant success with their critically and publically adored 1994 debut, with each single performing better than the last. The Gallagher brothers were rarely awarded a day out of the tabloid papers with their rock ‘n’ roll antics and constant live performances sweeping up a fury. The music press scrambled to coin the phrase ‘Britpop’ and detail the second coming of British guitar music topping the pop charts. Oasis had become the poster boys of this supposed movement along with other bands such as Pulp, Suede, and their main press-instigated rivals, Blur. Expectation was huge and on the face of it all Oasis appeared to not only live up to expectations but surpass them more than many detractors would have predicted.
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? became a colossal hit and still ranks today as one of the most successful and monumental albums in British pop/rock history. With millions sold and massive overplay of seminal hits such as ‘Wonderwall’ it can become all too easy to attack Morning Glory simply because it has become part of public property and has been milked beyond all recognition. People have grown weary of certain tracks because they became such a present and constant force in British culture, and as such the opposite of the initial joy eventually begins to occur and turn in on itself. But imagine yourself to have not heard ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ a million times, or heard ‘Wonderwall’ drunkenly rambled through on karaoke just as many times; take off your weary headphones and replace them with a fair and honest pair and the massive highs of Morning Glory may be appreciated again. That’s not to say the album is perfect, however, but merely that the critical pendulum seems to have swung too far in the favour of negativity-overkill and therefore, almost 20 years on, it may be time to readdress this seminal album with more balance – a middle ground between the blind optimism of the 1995 opinion and the overfed hatred of the present day.
For such a colossal album the opening track isn’t half disappointing. Of course it may not have been in 1995; the loud, pressing arrangement and bellowing calls of ‘Hello’ beckoning millions of eager fans into Oasis’ biggest album. The song doesn’t work well on its own as it’s simply not memorable enough despite a catchy chorus, but is not unwelcome as the front doormat of the album. ‘Roll With It’ follows, a track that has later been disregarded by its author and numerous critics, despite its importance in the Blur vs Oasis #1 single battle. Oasis lost to Blur’s ‘Country House’, arguably a better song in terms of creativity and arrangement – ‘Roll With It’ being sometimes disregarded as a Status Quo-esque, brash throwaway. Yet in terms of spirit and attitude, ‘Roll With It’ is more fierce, and bludgeons its way through four minutes of guitar noise and clattering drums.
The next two tracks are one of the biggest 1-2 punches in the history of pop, with the eternally overplayed ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. Liam takes hold of ‘Wonderwall’s vocals, almost selling his vocal abilities short in placing too much emphasis on nonchalance where a more sentimental performance akin to 1997’s ‘Don’t Go Away’ may have boosted the song’s quality. Yet at the same time his steady performance meant that the song did not sag into soppiness in 1995 even if its overplay at working class weddings has eventually rendered it as such. Still, those acoustic guitar chords have become an instantly recognisable and much imitated sound in pop music. Follow-up track ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ has endured much better than ‘Wonderwall’ despite equal overplay simply because it is a better song. It is the song which truly launched Noel’s capable vocals into the world, with his lung swelling performance that gives as much spirit as possible. His voice is softer and well-chosen for Oasis ballads, where brother Liam’s ragged tones suit the rockier numbers in a way that Noel couldn’t, and vice versa. ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ is massive in every sense – Noel’s voice soars on the unforgettable “SOOOOOO SALLY CAN WAIIIIIT” chorus and the string-laden, rock-solid arrangement finds time for a guitar solo and superb drum fill before the final blast of souls sliding away and whatnot.
Filler to some, forgotten gem to others, ‘Hey Now!’ follows. Heard in its running order, it is totally overshadowed by the Wonderwall/Don’t Look Back in Anger combo, as many tracks would be. But taken on its own merits ‘Hey Now!’ is a resilient romp packed with walls of infectious, swirling guitars. The lyrics are typical Noel in their fragmented, sometimes nonsensical approach “I hitched a ride with my soul / By the side of the road /Just as the sky turned black”, but are delivered with such gusto by Liam and matched by an equally inspired musical backing that they overcome any shortcomings – such is a key part of Oasis’ success – it’s all the about the spirit, style and attitude. And a track that succeeds absolutely on that principle is the band’s first #1 single, ‘Some Might Say’. A rollicking guitar and vocal performance, it is perhaps one of the heaviest and most nonsensical kitchen-sink dramas to ever top the charts. ‘Cast No Shadow’ – Noel’s love letter to The Verve’s frontman, Richard Ashcroft, has been hailed as a gem by many. It certainly has wonderful vocals, with a lovely Noel backing performance, but the slick arrangement fails to match the spirited lyrical/vocal components enough to make the track a classic despite its strengths. King of throwaways arrives with the daft ‘She’s Electric’, which wins no awards for its technical quality or lyrical achievement, but somehow gets by on its catchiness and carefree, dopey charm without ever reaching any higher than such an evaluation.
The truncated title track brings back the rock ‘n’ roll with a hazy, anguished arrangement which rips off REM’s ‘The One I Love’ riff but transforms it into a crowd jumping, all guts, no glory Oasis classic. Liam’s vocal cuts like a buzz saw and there is barely any room to breathe in this screeching, kinetic arrangement. The album closes on the cheesiest and most ambitious track the band had attempted up to that point, with ‘Champagne Supernova’. It’s overblown and full of lyrics that don’t make sense on their own, yet once again, its spirit and ability to raise the roof in pissed-up drinking establishments is undeniable, and in 1995, the power and success of Oasis itself was undeniable.
(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? is not the best Oasis album – that accolade arguably goes to their virtually flawless debut – but it is the most important and unforgettable album they ever made. It was a vital cornerstone of Britpop, and captured the minds of millions, inspiring countless British bands that grew up on the Gallagher’s. It has become a bloated, overplayed monster over time but that’s because it contains a wealth of the band’s most essential and unforgettable moments - songs which defined a generation and the time period in which they were released. Stripping away the years of over-familiarity, and the band’s astonishing decline, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? proves to be an utter triumph in spirit and what it achieved, and has forever made a lasting dent on British pop/rock despite divisive personal opinion.