[a]Oasis[/a] should have realised it wasn't going to get any better than Knebworth, but the brutal truth is that too many people were making too much money for it to be allowed to stop.
At least they are still standing. But it’s been a close call. If ‘Be Here Now’ was the sound of Oasis staggering through the blizzard of superstardom, barely conscious of where they were going nor particularly caring one way or another, then its successor is a twitchy, tentative attempt at dealing with life as it really is (albeit as it really is with shedloads of wedge). And as such, it feels odd, even wrong, because Oasis in their pomp dealt in the currency of super-confidence, thumbing their collective nose at the world. The world loved it. Live forever? Course they fucking would. Let’s have another line.
But nothing that good lasts forever. Likewise, very few of the greatest pop bands know when to knock it on the head. It’s obvious to say from this safe distance that Oasis should have realised it wasn’t going to get any better than Knebworth, but the brutal truth is that too many people were making too much money for it to be allowed to stop. Hence the six million-selling ‘failure’ of that bloated folly of a third album, ‘Be Here Now’, and hence also ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, recorded by the shell of a band whose musical director was confronting the massive wake-up call of abandoning the protective mask of cocaine. “You know that feeling you get?” asks ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’, sung tellingly and beautifully by Noel. “You feel you’re older than time/You ain’t exactly sure if you’ve been away a while”. This is the fourth Oasis album in a nutshell.
It has a half-finished air about it. Two songs – the swaggering, ‘…Morning Glory?’-esque ‘Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is’ and a clunking attempt at punk called ‘I Can See A Liar’ – are little more than riffs accompanied by the most basic lyrical sketches, though typically Liam’s singing exalts both beyond their modest station. The sequencing seems bizarre, too, with both Noel’s melancholic vocal excursions placed together in an already relentlessly mid-paced second half (and the second of these, ‘Sunday Morning Call’, is a dreary thing indeed). When Liam reappears to sing the final two numbers one had almost forgotten he’sin the band.
Indeed, Liam Gallagher only actually sings on seven out of ten tracks, which seems a trifle cavalier if you’ve got the best rock’n’roll vocalist of this generation in the ranks. That said, one of these, the opening ‘Fuckin’ In The Bushes’, is one of the album’s four saving graces, brimful of the sticklebacked attitude that once oozed endlessly from everything Oasis did and said. It also breaks new ground for them – if not anyone with half an ear cocked to the Big Beat Boutique during the past three years – based as it is around a manic drum loop and a cyclical, repetitive guitar motif.
There are no vocals, merely the sampled voices of three interested observers of the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival. “We put this festival on, you bastards, with a lot of love/We worked around the year for you pigs/Are you gonna break our walls down?/Are you gonna destroy us?/Well you can go to hell!” So fumes the outraged promoter as the supposedly peaceful hippies storm the site. The title comes from a ripe Colonel Blimp character, disgusted at “kids running around naked, fucking in the bushes”. And finally a jolly old gel says she’s “all for it”. Basic but hugely effective, ‘Fuckin’ In The Bushes’ inevitably gets the heart pumping nostalgically for the days when Oasis inspired such scenes of mass mayhem – and more importantly, suggests they may yet have it in them to do so again.
‘Go Let It Out’ returns proceedings to heartland territory, but it’s a sure-footed triumph, better with each listen, and featuring one of Liam’s most unfettered skyscraping Much the same goes for ‘Little James’, the already contentious songwriting debut of the junior Gallagher. True, it’s as rudimentary as Lego, rhyming “Plasticine”with “tambourine”,and owes the most obvious Beatles debt on an album with a fair few of those, but it conveys a hallowed aura mostly lacking elsewhere, and if you’re not even faintly moved when Liam sings, “We weren’t meant to be grown-ups”to his stepson then the dog ate your heart with a mouldy bone yesterday.
‘Little James’ works because it’s a universal emotion, uniquely expressed, with palpable conviction, simple but profound – like all the truly great Oasis songs. Unhappily, it’s the last one on ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, although ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’ wears its wounded heart nobly, Noel’s best Neil Young allusion since ‘Slide Away’. For sure, there’s lots of impressive sounds on the nu(ish)-skool psychedelic ‘Gas Panic!’ and ‘Who Feels Love’ – producer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent has certainly earned his corn – but these are textural triumphs over any real sort of feeling. The latter, in particular, is pure mock Maharishi spirituality that not even Liam can salvage from the realm of self-parody.
The closing ‘Roll It Over’ finds Noel reflecting one last time on the madness that befell his life, tripping over celebrity skin every time he went to make a cup of tea: “Look around at all the plastic people that live without a care/Try to sit with me around my table but never bring a chair…” Such sentiments, indicative of the self-doubt that colours this entire record, call into question his stomach for the long-term future of Oasis as we currently know them.
It is, one is bound to say, a transitional work, the album Oasis had to make, to prove to themselves as much as anyone else that the desire still lay within. That mission is accomplished… just about. However, how they choose to approach the next one remains to be seen.