To celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Oasis’s ’94 debut, here’s 15 reasons why it’s still amazing, starting at the beginning. You could get the gist of ‘Definitely Maybe’ just by looking at the track-listing. These weren’t just song titles, these were mission statements. ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Star’ was a five-and-a-half minute modus operandi, and is arguably one of the greatest album openers of all time.
These days, it’s uncouth for a band to come out of the traps beating their chests about how brilliant they are. Back in 1994, however, Oasis’ braggadocio was refreshing, particularly after the pity-party of grunge. They were an irresistible force kicking lumps out of a seemingly-immovable object: walking the walk, but unafraid to talk the talk, too.
Noel Gallagher has (rightfully) copped a lot of flak for his lyrics over the years, but much of ‘Definitely Maybe’’s enduring appeal is in the broad nonsense of the words: in the context of the music itself, all that rain/pain, sky/fly, Elsa/Alka Seltzer gibberish somehow sounds important, inviting the listener to project whatever they want onto the songs.
Oasis were never the same after they stopped working with Owen Morris, the producer who was responsible for the swagger and volume of their first three albums. In the words of Alan McGee, “the first factor that should be acknowledged with ‘Definitely Maybe’ is that Owen Morris took the record and really did give it an aggression.”
The Gallagherian neologism “sheeeeeine” crops up on 11 separate occasions in ‘Definitely Maybe’, its usages running the gamut from nouns to esoteric verbs. It eventually became Oasis’ go-to rhyme for any lyric that needed to end in ‘-ine’, but still, there’s still something impressive about the way Liam wrings every last conceivable sound from a one-syllable word, no?
How did you spend ’94? Until ‘Definitely Maybe’ hit, this writer was playing a lot of Sega Megadrive, watching a pirated VHS of ‘The Lion King’ and practicing Roberto Baggio free-kicks in the garden. I was into music, but I’d never been obsessive about it; Oasis changed all that.
If Owen Morris was responsible for shaping Oasis’ sonic palette, art director Brian Cannon and photographer Michael Spencer-Jones played a similar role in shaping their visual one. The ‘Definitely Maybe’ cover itself has become iconic, but the singles were just as arresting, and were rife with little details and easter eggs that gave you a sense of the band’s identity.
‘Definitely Maybe’ is the only Oasis album to be sung entirely by Liam. By ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ in 2008, the brothers were almost co-vocalists, which negated the point of having the best British frontman of his generation among their ranks. Noel’s voice is the better of the two nowadays, but he’s no match for Liam.
And we’re not just talking about dear old Bonehead and Guigs, but Tony McCarroll, too. The original drummer was kicked out of the band shortly before the release of their second album. Sure, Alan White, Zak Starkey and Chris Sharrock were better drummers, but Oasis’ music hardly required Ginger Baker-levels of wizardry.
The single – containing ‘Listen Up’, ‘Fade Away’ and their Beatles-besting cover of ‘I Am The Walrus’ on the B-side – was a shameless piece of profligacy on the band’s part. These were great songs that would’ve been certainties for inclusion on any other band’s debut album; Oasis already had so many of them, they basically took to throwing them away.
In 1992, Creation Records was in a bad way: Alan McGee had sold half of the company to Sony to keep the wolf from the door. With the success of ‘Definitely Maybe’, however, McGee soon had more money and clout than he knew what to do with. It was a spectacular victory for one of rock ‘n’ roll’s last true mavericks.
‘Slide Away’ never quite gets the kudos it deserves. For a long time, Oasis didn’t even play it live, though by their final tour it had become a mainstay of the setlist. Rightly so: it’s one of Noel Gallagher’s greatest songs, and over the years, it’s perhaps benefited from not being as overplayed as some of the album’s more obvious highlights.
It’s strange that the pedestrian pseudo-anthem – think ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, et al – became so associated with Oasis, because there’s not an instance of it on their debut album. Other than the daft ‘Married With Children’, ‘Definitely Maybe’ is balls-to-the-wall rock ’n’ roll – the sort of thing they were always promising ‘the next album’ would sound like.
The album’s final track is the polar opposite of the imperious bravado of ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Star’. It begs the question: is ‘Definitely Maybe’ actually a concept album charting a young musician’s journey from adolescent dreams of stardom, through the first flushes of success, the highs and lows of substance abuse, to the bored, moneyed banality of middle-age?
I’m sure someone will make an impassioned case for ‘Be Here Now’, but we can basically all agree on this, right? Post-1997, it wasn’t easy to remember why Oasis meant so much to so many, what with the twin indignities of Liam’s formative stabs at songwriting and Noel’s own gradual decline: revisiting their debut, however, is always the best way to remind yourself.