Oasis : Heathen Chemistry

What else, really, are pop groups for?

WELL, WHAT did you expect for nothing? Only kidding. But then, with the entire planet having downloaded ‘Heathen Chemistry’ free of charge already it still seems slightly bizarre that the unintentioned cyber-launch for Oasis‘ fifth album has been received with quite so much schadenfreude. This is a band, remember, harbouring four well-known Beatle obsessives valiantly trying to, well, get back to where they once belonged. What did anyone expect, Fischerspooner?

All manner of inflammable Oasis devices get called upon in the process. We see the re-activation of the ‘terrace’ ballad (x2), screaming Knebworth-in-space guitars and a further wheelbarrow load of, yup, antique Beatle hooks (‘Revolver’ period). En route Liam becomes a ‘proper’ songwriter, Gem and Andy Bell finally lose that haunted look and we get at least four classic Oasis tunes you’ll be involuntarily singing along to at closing time before the summer’s out. What more could we ask?

‘The Hindu Times’ we know about. Daft title aside (a tradition stretching back to ‘Digsy’s Dinner’) we get droning raga-guitars, the occasional screech of feedback and the most garbled lyrics since ‘Magic Pie’ (“I do believe I got flair/ I got speed and I walk on air”). It’s the best Oasis single since ‘D’you Know What I Mean?’ and the most blatant mission statement from Oasis Mk II.

Tellingly, it’s also the only time a drug-free Noel attempts the coke-crazed rush of former, er, glories. It’s Gem’s ‘Hung In A Bad Place’ which actually manages it. A paranoid farewell to a former life (“Can sleep when I wanna/ But wonder what I’m gonna dream now?”), it takes The Stooges ‘No Fun’, squeezes it till its eyes water and then throws in a killer piano breakdown. Liam, clearly impressed, weighs in with his most wired vocal for years. By the time you’ve ransacked the fridge for booze and invited Bobby Gillespie round to celebrate, Noel is halfway through first of his two uber-ballads ‘Little By Little’. A singalong to rival ‘Stand By Me’ (Noel filches the vocals for himself), it builds to a point where it all but turns into Aerosmith‘s ‘Just Don’t Mean A Thing’.

But it’s with ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ that you really start rolling out the red carpet. A return to the long lost humanism of of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, it’s a reminder of Noel’s uncanny knack of cheering up his audience just when they need it most. “All of us stars / We’re fading away/Just try not to worry/ You’ll see them some day” croons Liam whilst orchestra’s fizz in the background. For five minutes, you’re back in 1995.

Which of course is the problem: Oasis can’t help but sound like a group battling to free themselves from being last century’s thing. Cue Liam. His ‘Songbird’ is a beautiful, clear pool of sound propelled by a vocal so tender even lines like “Talk of better days that are yet to come/ Never felt this love from anyone” sound great, whilst a final ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ and ‘Better Man’-drawing heavily from John Lennon’s desolate blues ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier’ and a warmed-up ‘Cold Turkey’ respectively send ‘Heathen Chemistry’ into orbit. ‘Born…’ is a hollow, hungover, Ian Brown on mogadons space-chant , whilst ‘Better Man’ sees the album out in a fuzz of shredded guitars.

“Is it worth the aggravation?” drawled Liam Gallagher on Idlers national anthem ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ way back in ’94. How times change. Eight years on, through the maze of broken marriages and the tabloid fog, he leaves us on ‘Heathen Chemistry’ crooning “I want to love ya/ I want to be a better man”, piloting the band towards entire new horizons. After ten years, the straight-jacket of Beatledom has been removed. In it’s place, the Lennon solo years. Who said this was a band scared of change?

The days when you took the country’s pulse from their albums have long gone, but play it loud and you can still believe this is the band who hosted the biggest rock’n’roll block party since punk. In gloomy times Oasis have remembered how to cheer us up. What else, really, are pop groups for?

Jason Fox