You all know what these songs sound like. Like tea and soggy biscuits, snaking dole queues, recreational drug abuse and rainy, wasted days, these are songs – not only born from all of the above – but microcosms of modern life: songs woven into the tapestry of British culture itself. Here’s a theory: if folk music is supposedly music of the people, but modern-day folk music generally consists of bearded, smelly plebs in Arran sweaters singing songs about fishing, then surely these songs are the embodiment of what contemporary British folk music really is? Songs for the terraces, for closing time, for parties – these are songs owned by the population of Britain. You can stop laughing now. NME can stop trying to cross the speeding motorway of theoretical bullshit. And we can all get on to the important stuff.
Theorising Oasis is like drinking butter – pointless and bad for the heart. How do you theorise the beat of a pulse, the strut of a peacock, the clang of a Les Paul? Just for a second though, bear with us. Yes, Oasis came to be at a time when rock music was on its knees (or splattered all over Kurt Cobain’s conservatory if you’d prefer a more visceral image), and yes, for a brief time in the mid-’90s they seemed to provide a soundtrack to colossal, cataclysmic social and cultural change. Yes, all of the above is true, yet, like the songs, you’ve heard that shit so many times before, it’s no exaggeration that this writer, upon typing those words on to the page, actually sighed. This is wrong. There is nothing about this record – and as a collection of singles, album tracks and B-sides culled predominantly from early era Oasis, we’re talking about a record dosed to the gills with rich pickings – that should ever induce the practice of sighing.
To understand these songs is to know what if feels like to be 18 years old, with a great haircut and a great set of clothes, walking into a club with more heart and hope than dough, and thinking – metaphorically at least – “Everyone in this shithole is going to suck my fucking dick.” These are songs about triumph and adversity (‘Talk Tonight’); about having nothing and wanting everything (‘Rock’N’Roll Star’); about being pissed off with the world, yet coming from such a poor lot, you’re too pathetically educated to be able to express such rage linguistically, and anyway, the cool-as-fuck, forever iconic, six-syllable stretched pronunciation of ‘Im-ag-in-aay-shee-en’ says everything you want to say much more succinctly (‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’). It’s also about fighting – and, if you take into account Oasis’ much underappreciated, career best dewy side (‘Slide Away’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’), forgiving. Put plainly and simply, these are songs about every intake of air that goes into your lungs, swills about inside you for a bit, and then returns from where it arrived. These are songs that chronicle the experience of life.
Let’s qualify that last statement: when Britpop ruled the roost and every half-arsed, talentless chancer (and Blur and Pulp) fancied themselves as a modern-day Alan Bennett – retelling tails of suburban strife via the eyes of detached sociological voyeurs – Oasis were singing songs of prize, choice-cut gobbledygook. No, these are songs about life in all its extremity, encompassing the minutiae of existence and the thrill of experience. Much like Liam wore Noel’s words like his own, these are songs for your life to wear. Consider ‘Champagne Supernova’ and its nonsensical refrain of “Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball”. Now close your eyes. Remember where you were when you first heard it. Now try saying it means nothing. Repeat with the couplets of ‘Supersonic’, ‘Morning Glory’ and ‘Lyla’. Turn stereo to 11. Those songs say everything about life. They document it. They pulled you through it time and time again.
‘Stop The Clocks’ is a faultless record compiled by a band riddled with faults. After such early promise, Oasis never delivered beyond the stream of brilliant early album tracks and B-sides that marked their inception into the world. And while there’s an argument that says there could be another 20 great songs bolted on to this record (‘Whatever’, ‘Cast No Shadow’, ‘Bring It On Down’), there’s not much worthy of inclusion that clocks in post-1996 within the scope of their discography. If anything, ‘Stop The Clocks’ serves as an unflattering mirror to Oasis circa 2006. A national treasure, forever amusing/inspiring interview copy, and an inconsistent creative force, yet a band – for all the Gallaghers’ bravado – at least 10 years past their peak. Where did it go wrong? Wah, that one’s for the theorists/marriage guidance councillors/drug dealers. This is an album of celebration – a toast to the band that embodied everything you ever believed rock’n’roll ever could be. And moreover, the band who embodied everything you ever believed life could be.
We’ll say it again: you all know what these songs sound like – but stop the clocks, take a look back, rejoice! Celebrate how they made you feel.