I never thought I’d find myself nodding furiously at anything that passed Bonehead’s lips – but his comment in The Guardian the other day that Oasis “should have bowed out [after] Knebworth” made a lot of sense.
In terms of sheer scale and spectacle, the band’s two Knebworth shows in August 1996 were so colossal as to be unrepeatable. It was a unique historical moment: the biggest band of the decade, at the very pinnacle of their fame and creative powers. Anything that came after was bound to be a disappointment.
And so it has proved. Before Knebworth, Oasis never put a foot wrong. Famously, Noel Gallagher was on such a dazzling run of songwriting form he was able to squander tracks as astonishing as ‘The Masterplan’ and ‘Acquiesce’ as B-sides.
And after? ‘Be Here Now’, years of creative drift, and a lingering sense that the white-hot flame that powered ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ has long since guttered and died. Whereas, if the band had called it quits after Knebworth, it would have been a full-stop on the most dramatic and perfect rock’n’roll fairytale ever.
Sometimes the best thing a band can do is quit while they’re ahead. All the most heavily mythologised, revered acts – Pixies, The Clash, The Smiths, The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads – are ones who split up before they had a chance to tarnish their legacy. Just imagine if other, long-running bands had followed this path, instead of slowly and inexorably losing their mojo.
If R.E.M. had quit after ‘Automatic For The People’, we’d have been spared the depressing, ‘Groundhog Day’-style spectacle of Michael Stipe and co desperately trying to remember how to write songs every three years or so. Ditto The Cure with ‘Disintegration’, or Metallica with ‘The Black Album’. And if The Rolling Stones had imploded after ‘Goats Head Soup’ we might now think of them as an exhilarating, thrusting rock band, rather than an embarrassing nostalgia act for management consultants.
Which other bands should have found an opportune moment to call it quits?