The second Oasis album was an embrace of their rock-star status–a boozy, druggy, rocking nod to the sounds that had inspired them
Once upon a time, I was really into this one band from Manchester, a city that has had an amazing music scene for decades.
At one point a city in the shadow of Liverpool and London, the Mancs held their own with the Hollies during the British Invasion, helped birth punk with the Buzzcocks in the Seventies, and made depression sexy with Joy Division and The Smiths. Plus, there were the Happy Mondays.
But the band that first grabbed my attention was, well, shall we say a little “derivative” of other acts that came before them. Oasis was damn near inescapable in 1995 and 1996, in no small part to a song that I won’t be talking about until well into this review because it’s a patented trick on the part of music critics to string you, the reader, along like that. But (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was Oasis’ embrace of rock-star status, a boozy, druggy, rocking nod to the sounds that had inspired them and a cocks-out macho-palooza that also contained a sensitive song beloved of open-mic nights at bars everywhere. But more about that later.
I knew of Oasis before this album, Definitely Maybe having come out the year before and featuring the hit single “Live Forever.” I was in the first full flowering of my Beatles fandom at this juncture, and Oasis seemed like the perfect modern-day rendering of the Fab Four even if, as I become more rock-history-savvy, they bore more of a resemblance to the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. For one thing, there were five of them (like the Stones) and they were anchored around two brothers who couldn’t stand one another (like the Kinks). I still fondly recall the “MTV Unplugged” where Liam Gallagher, the lead singer, begged out of the performance and left Noel, the older Gallagher who was also the songwriter for the band, to save the day by taking over. Just to be contrarian, I would often think of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” as my favorite (What’s the Story) track, because it was Noel doing the singing. I even pronounced that I’d buy a Noel solo album should one ever come out. Flash forward to when Noel did put out a solo record; I had moved on and wasn’t interested.
The Battling Gallaghers had a good run of publicity-making brawls in the mid-to-late Nineties, but if the music hadn’t been good none of that would’ve mattered. As it stands, “(What’s the Story)” is the “hey Ma, we made it!” record of Noel and Liam making it big as rock stars, which is all they ever wanted to be. Liam had started the group and, much like Dave Davies, asked his older brother (Noel was a roadie for Inspiral Carpets, which is the only thing I know about Inspiral Carpets) if he’d like to join. Noel, the Ray Davies in this scenario, agreed, but only if he got to write the songs. With album tracks like “Hello,” “She’s Electric,” and “Some Might Say,” it seems like Liam made the smart choice; with Noel’s lyrical contributions and the work of the other band members (Paul McGuigan, “Bonehad” Arthurs, and Alan White), the band sounds confident, cocky, and assured on this album. There are two untitled instrumentals here, collectively known as “The Swamp Song,” and “Roll With It” is goofy fun.
But the two best songs on the album (yes, even better than “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” which still holds a place in my heart for namechecking Ian MacDonald’s fantastic Beatles book Revolution In the Head) are “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall.” The latter, probably the biggest hit off the album and Oasis’ signature tune, definitely shows the debt that they owed to the Beatles; its title comes from an obscure George Harrison side project, and the sound of the song seems evocative of “Eleanor Rigby” thanks to the orchestral accompaniment. The video was likely my first exposure to Oasis, and with the Caesar haircuts and moody attitudes of the Gallagher brothers, I saw something in them that I lacked at the time: the ability to carry myself with assurance. I was not yet sixteen when the album came out, and puberty had been brutal to me. Like a lot of sensitive kids, I wanted to seem as cool as my heroes, and at the time Oasis became my heroes. And long before I would even think to make the comparison, “Champagne Supernova” was like “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” a bizarre but enjoyable drug odyssey that captured the effects of what it was like to be high (or so I thought at the time; I still don’t have much experience with drugs to know for sure).
VIDEO: Oasis “Champagne Supernova”
This was, in retrospect, Oasis’ crowning glory: 1997 would bring on the hubris of Be Here Now while Radiohead were redefining the pop landscape with OK Computer, and eventually the band would fall out of favor in the States, though they sustained a presence in the UK for another decade.
In 2009, the band split up, but I’m sure someday a lucrative offer from a beer company (a natural sponsor) will give us the reunion tour/fisticuffs between Noel and Liam that we crave one day. But for now, there’s the music to remind us of when we were young, and when music was so important that a music video shot in black and white could rock our worlds.
They may have never been the Beatles or the Stones, but Oasis were the best Oasis that we could hope for, and that counts for a lot.
AUDIO/VIDEO: Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (full album)