Review Summary: I'm only 14 years late...
When reading about the phenomenal commercial success of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", I noted the theory is that a portion of its 40-odd million sales will have been made up by aficionados replacing their worn-out vinyls due to over-use. Well, thank god for the compact disc. Personally, after buying Oasis' "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" a few years ago, based on a single I'd heard off it when a wee boy, and subsequently beating it to death for the past three years, I'm still listening to that very same slice of plastic today. And after just listening to the full 50 minutes once again, I've been inspired to finally share my thoughts on it with the rest of the world.
After the band's commercial and critical smash debut "Definitely Maybe", the album of 1994, everybody was waiting for the "difficult second album". It was to be released under the dubious title "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?". And released it was, a year on, to - unbelievably - mixed reviews. However, in a notable finger salute to the critics, the public showed the press how good the album really was, with massive worldwide sales in 1995, 1996, the rest of the nineties, and up to er - now. 2009. It has sold so much that even the red-faced reviewers of 1995, who initially let the album gather dust, have been forced to accept how good it is.
As of February 2009, sales figures for "Morning Glory" stand at 4.5 million in the UK. That's a lot of people you know. Let's use the home of Oasis, the UK, as a guide. For example, if you put together the populace of Wales and Scotland, half of the people would own a copy. Or, half of the population of London, a major world city, would own a copy. Or, nearly 10% of the population of England would own a copy. So, a lot of people then. My fellow countrymen also gave Oasis two #2 and two #1 singles from this one album.
Meanwhile, worldwide sales figures for "Morning Glory" stand between 13.5 million and 20 million, depending on which website you believe, which is when we get to untraceable, "best-selling album ever" territory.
So, erm - is it any good? Of course it bloody is. That many people can't be wrong. If you don't already own this album, there's no point even reading the review - my advice would be to put your laptop on hibernate - now - and go and buy it. And if you've already heard "Morning Glory", what are you doing here? Go and listen to it again!
Right. So a few of you ignored my advice. I hope the following is worth a few minutes of your time. We're about to pay a visit to one of the best albums ever released in popular music. I shall run through each track one-by-one as a mark of respect.
The album -
"(What's the Story) Morning Glory?"
The band -
Liam Gallagher (vocals)
Noel Gallagher (vocals, guitar, piano, songwriter, production)
Paul Arthurs (guitar)
Paul McGuigan (bass)
Allan White (drums)
"Hello" - About as simple the title gets for an opening track, and has a matching chorus to boot - "Hello" (!) ...sung three times for good measure. But man, is this track awesome. Starts off with a little strumming, barely audible, before exploding into a huge guitar assault, that is certainly audible. Really, really loud in fact. Fantastic stuff. The band swagger through the 3 minutes with ease and a sense of fun, but the angry, direct vocal of Liam is almost as good. You know you're in for a hell of an album after this one. Just a great song. 5/5
"Roll With it" - The first single. One half of a well-known chart battle with Blur's "Country House". Oasis lost. But this is the better song from the better band, Liam lending another superb vocal to one of Oasis' most recognisable songs. The chorus is the first of many on the album to feature echoed backing vocals from Noel, one of the many many little things that is good about this album, and the verse "You gotta roll with it/you gotta take your time" is unforgettable. The only slight problem is it all gets a bit repetitive by the end, but that's only enough to "bring the score down" to 4.5/5, giving you an idea of the kind of quality we're dealing with here.
"Wonderwall" - What do you know it, another famous song. This is possibly THE famous Oasis song, the kind of song that everyone has heard even if they don't realise it. Musically, it's little more than an acoustic love song, but written as the kind of straightforward and memorable tune that will be with you, somewhere, until the day you die. Everyone who has heard this song stores it in the back of their head somewhere; very few reluctantly so. Notable as the moment when Oasis found they had a significant fanbase outside the UK. Look out for some gorgeous drumming, a nice bit of piano towards the end and also for (another) beautiful Liam vocal. 5/5 - what else?
"Don't Look Back in Anger" - This is it. The song that got me into music. The massive number 1 UK hit. The reason I bought the album in 2006; the first song I remember, ever, from when I saw the video in 1996; and ultimately, the reason I have means to write this review. Aren't you lucky.
As if Noel thought Liam was in danger of stealing the album, Noel takes over on vocals for this one. It proves to be an inspired move, as the elder Gallagher rises above even the lovely piano, and guitar ever-present on this song to deliver a passionate, uplifting performance. Whatever mood you're in when you hear this song, and however many times you've already heard it, it will make you happy. This was everywhere when it was released as a single - car CD players, Top of the Pops, Radio 1, television, music shop playlists. Its impact has not diminished. God/Noel knows what Liam contributes to this song, but I'm not sure anyone cares.
Utterly timeless material, perfectly performed, with a massive chorus which Noel invites the crowd to sing at live shows - even if they still don't know who "Sally" is. Maybe Noel doesn't either. Again, so what? It's one of the best singles ever released by a British band - you disagree, you tell me what's better. 5/5
"Hey Now" - It's so unfair. There will simply never be any such thing as a perfect album, even "Morning Glory". But I suppose if it had been perfect, there would be no point in anybody releasing an album ever again. The reason the album is not perfect is because of a tiny few things, and one of them is this song. It's fine, which is usually acceptable for track 5 of an album, but in this case, it's a major disappointment to be reminded that Oasis are human, after the glorious opening 17 minutes. This track is also overlong, not good enough to justify its 5 minutes-plus running length. Nonetheless, "Hey Now" serves its purpose as a relaxing return to musical normality. Liam is back on vocals in impressive fashion, and the rest of the band is in cruise control. Merely good. 3/5
"Track 6" - Is it actually called "Track 6"? I am not sure. This is a minute of mixed-together guitar work from the rest of the album. Sounds good when you're listening to the album all in one sitting, but I can't give it a score.
"Some Might Say" - Another UK number 1 hit, and Guitar Hero favourite, this is a ripper. The bluntest and loudest tune on here since "Hello", and nearly as good as aformentioned opening track. Little to say about it, other than that it's a big fat Oasis stomper, with a great intro, you've probably heard it already, and it's yet another quality showing from Liam. A return to greater heights after one okay album track and one non-track. 4/5
"Cast No Shadow" - Arguably the forgotten gem of "Morning Glory". Not sure if it's because it is the only song on the album that could be seen as downbeat, or if it's because it's not very Oasis-like. But this is a lovely rock ballad, with a dedicated and vulnerable Liam vocal that suits the song perfectly, suitably backed by a haunting Noel vocal. This has one of the best chorus on the album (which is saying something!) - "As he face the sun he cast no shadow" which is repeated until the listener becomes desperately sympathetic towards the everyman in question, and more importantly, totally immersed in the song. Noel proves with "Cast No Shadow" that he is truly a songwriter out of the top drawer, with a versatility people maybe didn't appreciate before "Morning Glory". This song even has the added cool factor of being dedicated by Noel to Richard Ashcroft, frontman of The Verve, who is a close friend of Oasis. That definitely makes it...5/5!
"She's Electric" - Another change from the usual Oasis songs, but jumping straight from a sad song into a light-hearted, country-influenced foot-tapper proves to be a moment of genius on Noel's part. This is a song about a youth, portrayed by Liam, that is facing that inevitable but necessary evil of having to include his fiancée's "family full of eccentrics" in his life, on this occasion a vast family that holds various perils and attractions!
Highlights include "She's got a sister/god only knows how I've missed her!" It gets worse! - "but I quite fancy her mother/and I think that she likes me!". Not to mention his fiancée is pregnant with another man's baby - "One in the oven/but it's nothing to do with me!"
Our poor protagonist is left wondering whether all this extra baggage is worth his relationship (a great vocal hook of "...And I need more time!"). An immediately catchy and enjoyable song with hilarious lyrics, that takes you on a 'ickle journey! On a serious note, this track is yet more evidence of the songwriting abilities of Noel - to tell a satisyfing story with a beginning, middle and end in 3 minutes. A magical song that still gets radio time 14 years later. 5/5
"Morning Glory" - The title track. Usually this makes for an anthemic highlight of an Oasis album, and here we have no exception. A crashing intro leads into the brilliant lyrics "All your dreams are made/when you're chained to the mirror with a razorblade" telling us that this a song about the worrying, repetitive prospect of adult life, and fear of ageing. It also alludes to how people do nothing when they do get a day off to relax, which they cannot be blamed for, but the listener is urged to make more of their life, despite how they may feel at the time - "Need a little time to wake up/Need a little time to rest your mind".
In yet another Mr. N. Gallagher masterstroke, the chorus arrives two minutes in, and the album's full title is belted out at last, with barely 10 minutes to go until it all ends! We had almost forgotten the album title, and forgotten that album titles usually feature in the lyrics somewhere. "What's the story, morning glory?" asks Liam.
At this moment, we realise the entire album has been about that very subject - fear of it all passing you by, how you cope with what faces you day-to-day, and how we need to look for help within oneself and with friends, family and partners. In order to stay sane, don't think about what you're doing too much every day, just "Roll With it". In moments of sadness, lean on your "Wonderwall" (everyone needs one). Remember that "She's Electric", so even if you're having doubts, "Don't Look Back in Anger". "Some Might Say" lots of things, but ignore them, or one day you may "Cast No Shadow" yourself. Wow.
For those who are either clever or simply obsessed enough to decide this is what they think, it's a climatic moment in the album. But we're not finished just yet...Oh yeah, that song was good too. Liam's delivery is flawless - again. 5/5
"Track 11" - The "Morning Glory" track fizzes straight into this, the second part of the strange instrumental first encountered in "Track 6". For those interested, tracks 6 and 11 can be found together as "The Swamp Song" on the Oasis b-side compilation "The Masterplan", which is excellent by the way. But enough of this very skippable track and a 1998 album - we're still on for "What's the Story (Morning Glory)?", and there's still seven minutes or so to go. Track 11 slowly incorporates itself into the album's finale, which can only be described as grandstand...
"Champagne Supernova" - Wow, wow, wow. This may just be Oasis' finest moment, when two fantastic years and two classic debut albums reached their creative peak. Sadly, it could only go downhill from here, but that's another story. For now, enjoy "Champagne Supernova", the most astonishing 7 minutes of music this side of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android". This song is still only available on the full album, and almost worth the price tag on its own. Included in the many highlights are an utterly infectious melody, lead guitar and backing vocals by no less than the modfather Paul Weller (!), and a showstopping lead vocal from Liam, his best ever.
This song will slowly seduce you until you are totally entranced, almost failing to realise that the lyrics are actually being achingly repeated over and over again. You will also fail to realise that the stunning guitar soloing in the sixth minute signifies we are reaching the end of the song, and indeed the album, making this an all-too-quick seven minutes. You can always listen to it all again! In case you hadn't guessed yet, this is pretty much the easiest 5/5 I will ever give to a song.
You just have to sit down and listen to "Champagne Supernova" - it goes beyond good, or beyond really good - it is silly, scary good, the kind of league most musicians can only hope to aspire to. It is fit to end even "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?", a rock album so close to perfection and so limitless in appeal and replay value, we will probably never see its kind again.
Noel wrote a brilliant second album, and all band members contributed to its successes. But it's Liam's voice which is really the highlight here. He simmers, snarls and even occasionally soars, confirming the hype - he really is one of the best rock 'n' roll singers to come out of this country, and that means ever. He even carries the album through its very occasional iffy moments, transforming the odd dodgy lyric into a great one with knowing arrogance and ability, and he even makes "Hey Now" a good song. While the writing, guitar, bass and drumming is always top quality on "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?", Liam nicks it from under all their noses.
So! Several indisputably perfect songs, a handful of cracking songs, one alright song, and two interludes. All coming in at a final average score of...4.7! Which basically means 5. Who would give this album anything less than a 5?
I forgot one thing. I bought my copy of this album for £4. That's $6, or 6 euros. I don't need to go on and use THAT cliché, as you're all expecting it anyway. And it will cost something similar in 2009 as well. This is absolutely stunning work and if you don't own it already, especially for the cost of a light lunch, it's time you did.