Friday, April 8, 2016

Oasis 1: Definitely Maybe

Once a band has passed into notoriety, it can be tough to go back to their beginnings with an open mind. But a glance through the booklet of Definitely Maybe, the first CD by Oasis, all of their personality is right there: the mod haircuts and styles, Liam Gallagher in a pugilistic pose or staring something down, Noel Gallagher playing guitar and/or mouth-breathing, both Gallaghers looking down their noses, and the other guys sitting around.
The so-called Britpop war hadn’t become a thing yet, so it’s possible to just enjoy the album as a solid collection of songs written by Noel Gallagher. If the legend is true, he heard Liam’s band rehearsing, told them their songs were awful, and promptly took over their repertoire. To his credit, or maybe proof he wasn’t a complete egomaniac, he knew Liam was the cute one, with a nasal whine comparable to Johnny Rotten’s in attitude (turning words like “sunshine” into four syllables), and let him remain the frontman while he stayed on the sidelines playing leads along the other guitarist and bass player, all three staring at their left hands on their fretboards.
The man could write catchy songs, with lyrics more designed to fit than mean anything—after all, the Bee Gees pulled that off for decades—to the point where the ones he stole weren’t immediately apparent. Only after you’ve given up what “Shakermaker” is supposed to be about do you realize that it’s the melody from “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”. More obvious is the T.Rex “Get It On” riff in “Cigarettes & Alcohol”, but Marc Bolan stole that from Chuck Berry anyway.
But depth isn’t everything when the tunes are right there. “Cigarettes & Alcohol” is terrific, and Rod Stewart even covered it a few years later in that brief period when he remembered he used to rock. The message in “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever” is pretty straightforward, so the arrangements make them even more memorable. “Live Forever” gets its boost from the falsetto tag on the choruses as well as the subtle piano buried in the mix (played either by Noel or their rhythm guitarist, consistently credited as “Bonehead”). There’s a truly dotty piano on the break for “Digsy’s Diner”, a song now called “Digsy’s Dinner”. “Up In The Sky” beats the same four-note riff into your head for four minutes, and kudos to whoever decided to add an acoustic guitar to those choruses.
The album was only a few years removed from the Stone Roses, EMF and other perpetuators of the Manchester beat, so “Columbia” and “Supersonic” placed back to back don’t have anyone missing original drummer Tony McCarroll much. “Bring It On Down” shows him off a little better, but by now the overall murk of reverb and tambourine can cause a headache. “Slide Away” recycles a lot of the motifs we’ve heard already for too long, so the acoustic busk of “Married With Children” provides some hope for their future.
Most of Definitely Maybe ended up as singles or B-sides before or after the album came out, so it’s clear they were going for quality. All of those singles had live versions, demos and other tracks from the sessions, which can now be found among the 33 extra tracks collected on 2014’s deluxe three-CD reissue. Some of those feature Noel instead of Liam, giving something of an alternate history. Plus, there’s “Whatever”, a stopgap single before their next album, that both predicts “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and rips off “How Sweet To Be An Idiot” by Neil Innes.

Oasis Definitely Maybe (1994)—

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