“Our best album since …Morning Glory!” says Noel. “Miles better than ‘Definitely Maybe’!” reckons Liam. “We’re still the best band in the world!” counters Noel.
Yes, rampant and unchecked self-belief is, thankfully, something that Oasis have never lacked. It is, after all, what we pay them for. But recently the gap between how Oasis “mark VII, Phase 1” (according to guitarist Gem Archer) see themselves (basically the greatest group in the world, now or ever) and the rather more prosaic reality evidenced by actually listening to their albums has widened to the extent that it’s almost poignant.
In a recent interview, for example, Liam boasted that “I can sit next to Elvis or Lennon and I won’t feel out of place”. This was somewhat at odds with Gallagher Jr’s appearance last month as a guest judge on a late-night episode of Hell’s Kitchen. No-one expected him to actually be getting stuck in to the petit fours with Presley, exactly, but it was easy to take the sight of the greatest British rock frontman of the last 20 years dining alongside Timmy Mallet, Bobby Davro and Rebecca Loos as another example of just how far Oasis have fallen towards the B-list. ‘…Morning Glory’ and the Oasis of 1995 seem hopelessly distant – sometimes it seems that the best we can ever hope for from this band is a new record every couple of years that sounds the same as the last one, except with a cheesier title – something which anyone who’s a fan of AC/DC, Motorhead or the Ramones will tell you there’s no great shame in, incidentally.
It doesn’t help, either, that Oasis currently look so out of step with the world: yes, everyone from Chris Martin to Pete Doherty has acknowledged the debt that they owe to ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s The Story…’, but among the library-card-holding likes of Franz, Bloc Party and The Futureheads the Burnage brothers look rather like an anomaly – Oasis’ musical year zero is 1963, rather than 1978, while one suspects that, given a library card, Liam Gallagher would most likely try and eat it.
Of course we all want ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ to be the mindblowing return to the glory days of Knebworth, Downing Street and Supernova Heights that their creators claim it is. But this is emphatically a different group to the Oasis of ten years (ten years!) ago. Of the 11 songs here, five are Noel’s, three are Liams , two are by Andy Bell and one is by Gem Archer, which only makes Noel the leader of this band on a first-past-the-post basis.
Still, for all Noel’s cheerleading – and remember how much he talked up ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, most of which wasn’t even as good as Definitely Maybe’s B-sides – it’s easy to speculate as to which truth we’re supposed to believe here. Are Oasis really doomed to spend the rest of their careers kicking it with Mallett and Davro? Or is this album going to be the thunderous return to youthful form that the Gallaghers and many others have claimed?
Well, German readers will know this already, but the answer is almost. What is true is that, despite those bullish pre-match interviews, their sixth record is the least confident and most fragile Oasis album so far – something that it would be easy to suggest reflects the circumstances surrounding its creation. In fact, if we didn’t know better we might say that losing the Biggest Band In Britain mantle to Coldplay (whose album is released a week after this), that complacent Glastonbury show and the three weeks of aborted sessions with original producers Death In Vegas have left ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ with a quality that could almost be mistaken for – surely not! – humility.
This, then, is a record for Sunday morning recrimination, rather than Saturday night hellraising. At its most fulfilling it abandons the by-numbers stomp that characterised its two predecessors in favour of a strain of reflective English acoustic music reminiscent of ‘Village Green…’-era Kinks or The La’s. Check the chorus to barnstorming first single, ‘Lyla’: “the world around us makes me feel so small” is about as far from “toniiiiight I’m a rock’n’rollllll star” as you can get. Powered by Zak Starkey’s thrilling caveman thump, it’s also the most Oasis-sounding song here, although that might well have something to do with the fact that Noel has pinched the chord progression to The Sweet’s div-glam anthem ’Blockbuster’ again.
Similarly, album opener ’Turn Up The Sun’ is a bombastic, faintly predictable roar that will only be of benefit to people who are not already aware that they’re listening to an Oasis album. Producer Dave Sardy claims that the song uses 3,000 different tracks – he’s joking, but the sheer force of the thing is somewhat akin to listening to ’Spirit In The Sky’ through broken headphones while standing on the main runway at Heathrow.
What comes next is better. ’Mucky Fingers’ is a witty Velvets pastiche with a great derailing train harmonica solo – the sound of a band that dismisses anything that doesn’t adhere to the Beatles/Kinks/Who/Slade template as y’know, fookin’ weirdo music getting as far-out as they know how. It’s also the first of two songs sung by Noel that signal, if not a mid-life crisis exactly (’Don’t Believe The Truth’ is released the week before his 38th birthday), then at least a kind of re-evaluation of his place in the world. Here he sings about being “fed up with life in the city”, while the ’Golden Brown’-ish ’Part Of The Queue’ is a pretty song about having to wait in line at the newsagent’s that has more in common with Victor Meldrew than with John Lennon.
Noel is, of course, notoriously a graduate of the back-of-a-bus-ticket school of lyric writing (’Mucky Fingers’ contains some guff about finding God in a paper bag that’ll make any sane person wince) but it’s tempting to imagine a line as disillusioned as ’Part Of The Queue’’’s “every beginning has broken its promise” as being directly about his band’s recent history. It’s also equally tempting to imagine that Noel wrote it simply because it scanned.
Even disregarding this, though, Noel’s weird semi-falsetto and curious nod to Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ on the hammond-tinged ’The Importance Of Being Idle’ are overshadowed by the line “my girlfriend told me to get a life/she said boy you lazy” – something confirmed by the presence here of ’Let There Be Love’, a six-minute scarf-waver left over from the sessions for ’Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’ (ie five years old) that puts paid to Liam’s claim that the new super-prolific Oasis wrote 100 songs for this album.
Liam’s own efforts make a fair fist of subverting that tabloid-friendly poetry-eating image: ’Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’ is a sweet but grudging apology to his brother, while ’Love Like A Bomb’ is possibly ’Don’t Believe The Truth’’s most affecting song: a charming acoustic shuffle made all the more charming by the fact that it doesn’t sound anything at all like the third Liam-penned track here, the brutish, inconsequential ’The Meaning Of Soul’.
Allowed off the leash to contribute songs once more, Noel’s lieutenants struggle to compete. Andy Bell’s overblown ’Keep The Dream Alive’ sounds most like the bassist’s last band, Hurricane #1, being basically the musical equivalent of “Dear Jim, please could you fix it for me to have Liam Gallagher sing one of my songs?” over six minutes. Gem’s ’A Bell Will Ring’ is sparkier, building on the drum pattern to ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ but adding a swagger that other portions of this album are markedly deficient in.
So where does all this leave us? Well, there’s certainly nothing here that’ll match ’Wonderwall’ or ’Live Forever’ for pub karaoke ubiquity, but with this record Oasis are at least tentatively stretching themselves in new directions. The end impression is that ’Don’t Believe The Truth’ will be base camp for their long trek upwards back to greatness after a decade of making records vastly more average than they really have any right to be. The best since …Morning Glory? Half believe the truth.