One wonders what the young, hungry and infinitely profane Noel Gallagher – the yob-poet gob o’the North with a ring of coke crust around his nostrils and a sheaf of era-defining songs stuffed into his back pocket – would have made of his older, wiser and still infinitely profane self these days. From atop his citadel he watches keenly with magpie eyes the comings and goings of a musical landscape he helped to shape. He deigns to descend from time to time to pour scorn where needed or praise where deserved. Occasionally, he gets his band together and they make an album. The album itself tends to be less important than the act of its creation; nobody really expects anything earth-shattering but it’s nice to know Oasis are still around, like dormant gods of a bygone era, stirring occasionally in their slumber but never approaching anything like full potency. They’re the sort of band a youthful Noel Gallagher, the one whose ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ dreams weren’t real quite yet, might have snortingly derided as something unprintable.
Yet, despite the fact he’s made it explicit in recent interviews he doesn’t give a monkey’s what anyone says about Oasis, if there’s one thing that strikes you immediately on your first listen to ‘Dig Out Your Soul’, it’s that it sounds like a band not exactly reinvented, but certainly rejuvenated. There’s a new-band urgency and invention to it, a sense that Oasis are no longer straining to ‘be Oasis’. Take into consideration, for example, the fact there’s no big piano anthem, à la ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’, nor yer-my-besht-mates moment like ‘Little By Little’ or ‘Let There Be Love’. The closest we get to a ballad is the floaty psychedelia of Liam’s ‘I’m Outta Time’. In fact, ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is – more or less – the rough’n’ready rock’n’roll album the Gallaghers threaten to make every time the critics are down on their current effort but somehow never get round to.
Opener ‘Bag It Up’ – complete with a not-so-subtle steal from ‘It’s Raining Men’, of all places – is a pounding rhythmic mess of distorted psych-rock that doesn’t sound like the work of a band in their 15th year. It sounds vibrant and cocky and a little bit cheeky, with Liam snarling about having his “Heebiejeebies in a little bag” and “going for a walk with the monkey man” before a coda that fades into a swell of noise. It’s still unmistakably Oasis, but it’s playful, less obvious and unafraid of going into unexpected places. ‘The Turning’ continues in this vein by getting into what could technically be classed as a ‘groove’ (not to be confused with ‘going dance’, mind), with a verse consisting of a melodic drone of classic Oasis garble (“We live with the numbers, mining a dream for the same old song”) that gives way to a climactic BRMC-style pseudo-biblical chorus about rapture and fallen angels. Dark and brooding, it’s only part two of a five-song streak that represents the strongest start to an Oasis album in years.
Lead single ‘The Shock Of The Lightning’ is a pretty good approximation of where Oasis are at in 2008. That same Gallagher swagger still courses through it, but it doesn’t have to rely on terrace-chant choruses (of which Noel’s probably exhausted himself by now) to get its point across. The Noel-sung ‘Waiting For The Rapture’ similarly shirks the obvious route, with its ragged ‘Five To One’ riffage sounding almost like a poppier Queens Of The Stone Age. But let’s not marginalise Liam. Of his three contributions to ‘DOYS’, one is truly inspired, one is merely good and the third is a bit rubbish, albeit in a fun way. The former is ‘I’m Outta Time’, the album’s softest moment, which sounds not unlike a softer, sweeter ‘Comfortably Numb’ (without all the heroin doom, obviously). Liam’s no Morrissey, but what he lacks in lyrical nous he makes up for in sheer audible soul and wide-eyed earnestness. That said, “If I’m to fall, would you be there to applaud?/Or would you hide behind them all?” sounds like it might be directed towards the ever-critical Noel. ‘Soldier On’, meanwhile, is a doomy, swirling psychedelic march set to a looping blues riff that closes the album in suitably atmospheric fashion, and ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’’ – about his infamous Munich brawl of 2002 – is spirited but a bit inconsequential, with Liam’s rasped instruction of “Here’s a song, sing along” belying its rather lazy rehashing of the previous album’s ‘The Meaning Of Soul’. It’s one of a handful of duds, of which ‘The Nature Of Reality’’s cod-mystic quagmire is probably the worst offender, with more vague lyrical clichés about all things on, of and in the mind over a sluggish melody that doesn’t really go anywhere. Gem’s ‘To Be Where There’s Life’ – another of Oasis’ infrequent dabblings with the east – is a bit better, its drone-rock groove (there’s that word again) at least a sideways detour into new-ish musical vistas, but it doesn’t quite come off. There’s the sneaking suspicion that the songwriting democracy installed by Noel to steady the ship after ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’ may not always be compatible with quality control.
But just when you worry things might flounder, The Chief crops up with a song as good as anything he’s written this century. ‘Falling Down’ is a distant cousin of both his Chemical Brothers collaboration ‘Setting Sun’ and ‘DBTT’’s ‘Part Of The Queue’ – a swoonsome, blissed-out melody sung by Noel over jaunty, ever-shifting drums. Atone point he declares “We live a dying dream/If you know what I mean”. Nope, we’ve got no idea either, but it’s one of those grand Oasis moments where you don’t have to. So, where does all this leave them? Well, when you consider Oasis’ largest evolutionary leap so far has been using drum loops on a couple of ‘SOTSOG’ tracks, ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ sounds like an astounding act of musical creationism. Liam continues to impress as a songwriter, although he’s at his best and most inventive when he’s at his sweetest. And Noel, for his part, seems no longer bound by slavish devotion to writing typically ‘Oasis’ songs, with Oasis all the richer for it. But more than anything else, there’s a feeling that ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ might actually be their best album in over a decade. In other words, not quite the fabled, oft-promised “Best one since fookin’ ‘Definitely Maybe’!” but certainly the best one since fookin’ …Morning Glory’. And you never thought you’d hear that, did you?