The Point
Last updated: 05 March 2020.

...red sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Oasis: the Rise and Fall of a Working Class Band

Gary Fraser casts his beady eye over what the Gallagher’s did next. Great albums, great fights, great attitude and a great deal of drugs, there was never a dull moment when these Burnage Boys were around. Were Oasis the best group of all time? Definitely maybe.

  

  

  

Two of the best albums of the past couple of years have been released by the Gallagher Brothers, Liam and Noel. Oasis of course are no more but the Gallagher’s still produce high quality music. Noel’s High Flying Birds (2011) is something of a modern classic, an album full of beautiful melodies, catchy riffs, which demonstrate that on a good day Noel Gallagher is up there with the best of them. Following the Oasis split, Liam and the rest of the Oasis line up set up a new band called Beady Eye. However, their first album Different Gear, Still Speeding (2011) was more than disappointing to say the least. Liam it seemed was lost without his older brother. But he has proved the critics wrong. The new album, simply called Be (2013) is a pleasant surprise and a welcome return to form. It took me a couple of listening’s to get into it, but that tends to be the case with most of my favourite albums these days. Liam’s voice is still the best voice in rock n’ roll and now in his 40s his voice seems to have improved with age. In fact, Liam’s singing is so good that one critic said recently that it’s as if John Lennon’s spirit is singing through him. Now there’s a compliment.

 

But like Lennon before him, who was asked until the end of his career, ‘will the Beatles ever back together’, both Liam and Noel face the same question about Oasis. The answer at the moment is no. But at some point I think they will. The money and the adulation would be too great to turn down. Oasis’s output in the last decade or so has not been good, a few hits, some misses but mainly a lot of average stuff in between. But it was their two albums from the mid-1990s which established them as one of the great British bands of all time, and Noel as the best songwriter of his generation.

If you were coming of age as I was in the 1990s Oasis were the equivalent of the Beatles or Stones in the 60s. The early 90s saw a great revival in the British music scene. It started with the Stone Roses and included a plethora of other acts including James, Blur, Pulp, The Verve, Ocean Colour Scene, etc. The music and attitude looked back to the 1960s, a time when British pop music ruled the roost.

It’s hard to believe that next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Oasis’s debut album Definitely Maybe (1994), perhaps the greatest debut in rock history. 1994: when only poseurs had mobile phones which were the size of bricks, before the Internet, Facebook and blogging. The hapless John Major was Tory Prime Minister and there was something ‘new’ about New Labour. Back then the British public still bought music in shops. Music was a collectivised experience. Earlier this year, I was personally pleased when HMV was saved. I still love sifting through albums and could spend hours in a record shop staring at album covers. For me, an album is a product that I like to hold in my hands. It’s why I never got into downloading because a really good album is more than just a collection of songs isn’t it? It’s the whole package including the sleeve notes in the inner cover which I still enjoy reading from cover to cover. In most instances rock journalism is written by sycophantic hacks who treat the music and the artists way too seriously. It’s crass, annoying and full of its own self-importance. But for some strange reason I enjoy reading it.

Anyway, back to Oasis. Definitely Maybe was followed by What’s the Story Morning Glory (1995) perhaps the greatest second album in the history of rock. It sounded like punk, but punk mixed with the rock sophistication of the Stones. Noel Gallagher had been writing songs for a while before he made it big. In the early 90s, the guy was walking around Manchester with a whole bunch of classics bursting in his head: Rock N Roll Star, Live Forever, Whatever, Some Might Say, Wonderwall, She’s Electric, Champagne Supernova. One of the things which made Oasis stand out from their contemporaries was the quality of what used to be called B sides. Acquiesce, Talk Tonight, Half The World Away, and The Masterplan. All classics and everyone of them a B-side. Not since the hey day of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards had good songwriting been this prolific.

It’s hard to imagine now the impact of first hearing an Oasis record. The music was upbeat and positive and Liam sang like someone owed him money. The guy had attitude in abundance. In the words of one critic he made a tambourine look like an offensive weapon. Oasis made you proud to be working class. It’s interesting that middle class bands more often than not write dirges. For Oasis, rock and roll was not something serious or pretentious. At the core of their musical vision was sheer hedonism: it’s about escaping the factory or the drudgery of manual work for a night of substance fuelled madness at the weekend.

Interviews with Liam and Noel were priceless. They were endearing, genuinely funny and often insightful. Their music has been described as the music of the council estate and class was central to who they were. They talked about it often. They talked about the dole, building sites, and how they hated the Tories. Liam yelled in Cigarettes and Alcohol, ‘it’s a crazy aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for!’ Liam, signed on regularly until his band made it big. When asked what he wanted to work at during his ‘job search review’ he told an incredulous job centre advisor that he wanted to be a rock and roll star. They stopped his Giro. Less than a month later he signed off with a six album deal! Imagine the face on the wee bureaucrat who stopped his dole money when Oasis exploded onto the music scene.

By 1997, Oasis had it all. They were rich, they had women and they had fame. And then, guess what? Yes, they blew it. Their third album, Be Here Now (1997) just could not live up to the hype. I can still remember buying it and rushing home to play it full of nervous anticipation. But there was no getting away from it. The album, as was of my mates succinctly put it at the time was ‘shite’. It took me another ten listens later to reluctantly agree. Be Here Now was bloated, over-produced and indulgent in the extreme. The songs lasted way too long, they were too loud and bereft of melody. I listened to it not that long ago in the car and I did think that lurking in their somewhere, behind all of the lead guitar riffs that go on for ages, is some pretty decent music. Why didn’t they strip it naked as they say and make it sound like Definitely Maybe?

The truth is they were too high on cocaine to care. The white powder may have fuelled their egos but it destroyed their judgement. I wondered why no-one had told the Gallagher’s what was obvious to my mate. The reason is this - by 97, they were too big to tell the truth too. And once you reach that point it’s downhill all the way.

In my mind, Oasis third album was the end of the 90s rock n’ roll revival which the press called ‘Brit Pop’, a term I never liked. By the end of the decade the big record companies were back in charge. The decade had begun with the Stone Roses and the ‘indie’ scene, but it ended with Robbie Williams singing ‘Angels’. The first time I heard this song I knew the party was over. Williams, who Liam had referred to as the ‘fat dancer from Take That’, was given a makeover by the corporations who then sold him to the British public as a genuine bona fide rock star. No longer singing manufactured crap for teenage girls too young and too gullible to know better, he was now a rock star. But it was phony. The real thing was Oasis and for a while, in an age before downloading and Facebook, the Gallagher brothers made some of the best music of all time. Go back and listen to the first album. Music is seldom this good or authentic.

 

 

Other articles by Gary Fraser in The Point can be found here

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