Review Summary: B-sides > A-sides
Noel Gallagher must have been kicking himself in 1998. He doggedly stuck to his plan of assigning some of his finest compositions to B-side status, often regardless of record-label/management opinion. Songs like the eponymous title track to this 1998 B-side collection were too meritorious to be condemned to anything other than proud A-side single status, yet Noely G followed his ego and his heroes such as The Jam and The Smiths, who also left many great tracks off of their main album set-list. The difference was that those bands more or less remained brilliant throughout their entire discography, whereas Oasis came soaring out of the Manchester fire in 1994, rose higher and higher for 3 years, then collapsed and artistically fell back into the flames when Noel’s initial batch of songs dried up on album number 3. But what The Masterplan reminds us in spates is that Noel’s initial writing streak (these tracks are b-sides from the Definitely Maybe/Morning Glory singles) was incendiary and almost unrivaled in its consistent brilliancy.
The album opens on the rip-roaring rocker ‘Acquiesce’ which sees the Gallagher brothers dueting – Liam’s ragged, snarled vocals on the verses, Noel’s angelic soar on the chorus – a technique they sadly only used scarcely. The song is an utter classic; Noel’s life affirming high vocals and comradely lyrics on the chorus relieving some of the gritty anguish from the Liam-led, swaggering guitar-backed verses. Continuing to bring the noise later in the set, ‘Headshrinker’ and ‘Fade Away’ are two of the heaviest, balls-to-the-walls rockers Oasis ever cut and blaze out from the speakers with as much punky urgency as their heroes the Sex Pistols. ‘Fade Away’ contains a lyric – “while we’re living the dreams we have as children fade away” – that displays another side to Noel’s writing, and many of the tracks on The Masterplan wonderfully explore areas often untouched by the band’s main albums. The theme of glorious youth is further explored on the glistening ‘Stay Young’ which confidently commands the listener to “stay young and invincible” – how its composer must of felt when throwing gems like this number off as mere b-sides.
The album also touches on more plaintive, troubled moods, in both loud rock format and subtle acoustic mode. ‘Listen Up’ is a real gem with superb vocals by Liam – his voice effortlessly soars with just the right hint of grit. He is sentimentally believable when he screams “One fine day / Gonna leave you all behind” not with the sneered cockiness of other outings but with a genuine hint of anguish, also particularly well-handled on the verse “Sailing down the river alone / I've been trying to find my way back home”. He also brings to life the somber ‘Rockin’ Chair’, his voice conveying pain, on the chorus especially, like he never quite managed again. The song explores the theme of age once again (“I’m older than I wish to be”) but also a sense of loneliness and desire to escape (“This town holds no more for me”) which is furthered by two classic acoustic numbers, ‘Talk Tonight’ and ‘Half the World Away’.
‘Half the World Away’ is beautifully sung by Noel and features a simple acoustic and light electric guitar structure with organ backing. There is no arrogance or posturing here, just a refreshing confession of wanting to leave the dirty old town you were born and are still stuck in. The song, despite its discontented tone, manages to remain characteristically optimistic on its chorus “You can’t give me the dreams that are mine anyway / …I’ve been lost I’ve been found but I don’t feel down”. Another superb Noel-sung acoustic appears with the desperate ‘Talk Tonight’, which explores a sense of alienation effectively despite the whimsical “all your dreams are made of strawberry lemonade” line.
All the other numbers are splendid too, minus the aimless dirge ‘The Swamp Song’ and the nice but unnecessary live rendition of ‘I Am The Walrus’. Both tracks could have been replaced by other b-sides of the era, such as the rollicking childhood romp ‘Round Are Way’. But fortunately their appearance over others doesn’t weigh the ship down too heavily, as still featuring is the swirling, trippy ‘Underneath the Sky’, the cloudy soft ‘Going Nowhere’ and the infectious ‘(It’s Good) To Be Free’, which features a line that might be one of Oasis’ most rigid personal mantras: “It’s not in what you say it’s in what you do”. Anyone who disregards Noel’s sometimes daft lyrics would do well to remember that. And then the title track arrives at the end of our journey, climbing from a weary, downtrodden acoustic into a boundless, optimistic anthem effortlessly – horns and all, uplifting and exciting as any b, or a-side for that matter, could hope to be.
The Masterplan proves two things above all else. One being that sometimes Noel’s arrogance got the better of him. After weighing up the wealth of quality on this LP maybe he shouldn’t have rushed as puckishly as he did into throwing outstanding tunes such as ‘The Masterplan’ and ‘Acquiesce’ away as b-sides and saved them for that difficult post-Morning Glory period. But that bitter thought aside, what The Masterplan truly proves is that Oasis produced some of the most compelling, timeless and enjoyable music of their era – and the days from which these tracks hail were truly Oasis at their peak, so good they could write songs that would almost certainly blaze to the top 10 yet still have the guts and glory to leave such tracks behind to be discovered on wonderful b-side collections such as this.