OASIS (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (Creation)

How to follow up one of the two most successful albums of 1994 part two: as Liam implores at one point, "Why, why, why, why?". "Morning Glory" is the soundtrack to a year of sporadic brilliance, random violence and fickle fate in the Oasis boot camp, marked by the Tap-esque turns in the tale of the world’s most mobile rhythm section. Perhaps fittingly, there are many occasions when the album sounds musically bankrupt and exhausted: how much further can things slide after you’ve actually admitted stealing old Gary Glitter riffs? You’ll have heard the Status Quo plod of "Roll With It" and "Some Might Say": suffice it to say that they are not untypical. "She’s Electric" is "Digsy’s Dinner" on autopilot, completely devoid of enthusiasm. The title track catalogues the changes most concisely: over a tune that could charitably be described as workmanlike, Gallagher moans "All your dreams are made/When you’re chained to a mirror and a razor blade". Compare this with the impish nudge-nudge hedonism of "Cigarettes And Alcohol", and the appearance of a broken band becomes even more apparent, as if they’ve gone from "Please Please Me" to "Let It Be" in less than eighteen months.

Even in the midst of all this decay there are a few moments of unadulterated genius: current single "Wonderwall" is packed with the sort of nonchalant, feel-good-factor singalong charm that made "Live Forever" such a life-affirming gem, and ignoring its blatant "Imagine"-y piano intro "Don’t Look Back In Anger" is similarly wonderful, and almost guaranteed to be blaring in a megastore near you from now until Christmas. "Champagne Supernova" is the sort of mock-rock epic Paul Wellar (who appears again here, surprise surprise) invented with "Whirlpool’s End", and "Cast No Shadow" attempts to get philosophical (not entirely unlike Paul Wellar’s "Broken Stones", come to think of it). Yet even these outbreaks of quite-goodness are dragged down by a lousy production which is almost entirely devoid of treble. Maybe it’s intended to be authentically swampy, but it still sounds more Manchester Ship Canal than Cripple Creek.

"The story", then, is that Oasis have managed to make an album that’s almost entirely average, while a certain other British beat ensemble not so consumed by their own hype have added a worthy volume to the Britpop rack. Game over for a bit, I’d say.

OASIS Be Here Now (Creation)

Or how to fool most of the people most of the time. In the face of overwhelming statistics my inane ramblings here are of even less importance than usual, but I’d like to offer a few facts, rumours and opinions on the third phase of Oasis’ plan for world domination.

Firstly, everything about "Be Here Now" is huge - the hype, the production (even though it’s bogged down in the usual muddy mire that passes for ‘sound quality’ on Oasis albums, a definite case of "Never mind the quality, check out the width"), the length of the songs, even the cover (at nearly nine millimetres it has the widest spine of any double album in my collection - shelf domination, as well as world domination, seems to be on the agenda).

Then there’s that cover photo. "Definitely Maybe" had them lounging in a deluxe Manchester semi’s living room, packed with enough iconic idolatry for you to get a handle on the still-reasonably-hungry combo’s likes and loves. The photo of early-morning Berwick Street (so I’m told) only added to the bruised sore-headed comedown that was the best bits of "(What’s The Story) Morning Glory". And what does "Be Here Now" offer us? More self-reverence than a James Brown concert, apparently: the wooden shop calendar displaying the album’s release date, the white Rolls Royce in the swimming pool with the same number plate as the van on the front of "Abbey Road", the retro television displaying the scene back to infinity. Even on a twelve-inch square canvas the cover just looks a mess, so lord knows what a nation of CD buyers will make of it after ruining their eyesight squinting at it.

Looking at things from a commercial aspect - laughable, I know, given how many squillion units it shifted in the first seventeen seconds of release, or whatever - unclean thoughts raise themselves again. When "Definitely Maybe" came out three singles had already been extracted from it, "Morning Glory" had had two. Coming out only six weeks after its first single, are legions of happy shoppers going to be rushing out to buy an Oasis song they’ve already got every three months for the next year? Those b-sides had better be good. And it is with sadness, although little surprise, that Oasis’ commendable practice of including an extra track on the vinyl versions of their albums has reached a dead end.

Chin up though, ‘cos it would only prolong the agony of listening to the darn thing. Make no mistake, for this listener "Be Here Now" proved to be a long slog, far more than its seventy-odd minutes would suggest. With precious little variety in melody, pace or instrumentation, it makes their first two albums sound like Captain Beefheart in comparison, or the Spice Girls sound like Sun Ra. Future music historians may well view "Be Here Now" as the defining release in the whole lamentable Noelrock movement - you’d be hard pressed to find another album that so accurately showcases the sound of a band as dedicatedly pursuing the lowest common denominator.

As a quick check, scan through the lyrics of your copy and see how many Beatles references you can find - I counted half-a-dozen (seven if I modify the rules to allow for the fact that Lennon covered "Stand By Me"). For extra excitement (i.e. greater than none) during listening you could always jot down the number of times you’re reminded of the riff from "Slide Away" (two, for me) or draw parallels with "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" (for example in the way second-rate (at best) material has been drowned in studio trickery and effects). Or try sitting through "D’You Know What I Mean?" without noticing any similarities to The Stone Roses’ "Breaking Into Heaven". There is one moment of relative brightness (note the stress) in the form of "Fade In-Out", but sticking a quite good tune halfway through a turgid album ain’t exactly going to shake the world of contemporary music to its foundations.

Not that "Be Here Now" is that contemporary, either. I have heard rumours that most of the songs herein were written as long ago as 1991, when perhaps turgid characterless retro rock might’ve had some novelty value. "What’s the matter with you?/Sing me something new" mewls Liam at one point. Such as - let me see now - such as "Slowly down the hall of fame", perhaps, or maybe "They want to be adored"; how about "The blood on the trax must be mine/The fool on the hill and I feel fine".

In fact the crushing predictability of this album is only matched by the equally crushing inevitability that, after eighteen months of being having it blared at me in Virgin Megabores and suchlike up and down the land I’ll probably end up thinking that, well, it’s not that bad really, quite tuneful and melodious, sort of thing. And then Gallagher Bros. Ltd will crank the handle again and out will churn a galaxyload of hype that will almost fail to disguise a seventy-odd minute serving of Noelrock that maybe doesn’t have, oh, I dunno, quite the same spark or songwriting genius as the last time round. And so the lowest common denominator slides inexorably lower. Until that unhappy and uncritical day arrives, shed a small tear at how "Be Here Now" will outsell recent works by Radiohead, Primal Scream, Spiritualised, Wilco, Daft Punk, Trans Am and just about every other startling, fantastic, visionary album released this year. Combined.

OASIS The Masterplan (Creation)

Its almost become a tautology that Oasis give good b-side, so an album of 14 of them should be worth a listen. And yes, "The Masterplan" is at least the third best Oasis album, and certainly a finer monument to Noelrock than the Weller compilation reviewed below. Any album that opens with "Acquiesce", surely one of their finest four minutes, is already on nodding terms with greatness, but back it up with the wistful melancholia of "Rockin’ Chair" and "Talk Tonight", the simple truths of "Stay Young" and "Fade Away" (presented here in a version that will surprise anyone, like me, who only knows it from the "Help" charidee album), the thunderous, bluesy, Weller-assisted "The Swamp Song" and the self-explanatory title track and you’ve stumbled on one of the finest albums of this or any other year. And no, I can’t believe I’ve just written that either, but it’s true.

Conspicuously absent on "The Masterplan" are lumbering, massively overdubbed six-minute songs with singalong choruses stitched together from other people’s old track titles (in fact only two tracks here date from the "Be Here Now" era), and even some of the assembled have been subject to the revisionist hand of the brothers’ Gallagher: an allegedly live "I Am The Walrus" (recorded at a Sony conference sound check, with crowd noise caked off a Faces bootleg album) has its outro curtailed, and the guitar solo on "Listen Up" (a bit of a "Slide Away"/"Shakermaker" recycler but fun nonetheless) has been chopped about a bit. Which suggests that it’s not too late for them to unleash the quite-good forty minute album that might still be lurking somewhere within "Be Here Now"...

To summarise: if you haven’t bought the singles, these b-sides are easily as good as legend tells, and if you gave up on them after that last album there’s enough evidence here to suggest that Oasis aren’t yet entirely a spent force.

OASIS Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (Big Brother)

If only they hadn't copped out of calling it by its proposed title, "Where Did It All Go Wrong?". The least you need to know about "Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants" is that it's not as good as "Be Here Now", even, and amidst the overwhelming air of underachievement that pervades these grooves is a nasty undercurrent of bitterness and rancour towards those that are gone: this is the first Oasis album to carry no band musician credits, as if Bonehead and Guigsy are being written out of the histories as swiftly as possible.

What "Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants" demonstrates conclusively is how dreary they've become, the ten tracks presented here being almost universally stodgy and mid-paced. They might make some concessions to the late twentieth century in the form of the odd outbreak of scratching and sampling (even then the samples coming from such contemporary sources as "Message To Love", the documentary covering the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, and Johnny Jenkins' cover of "I Walk On Gilded Splinters") and the Kula Shaker cod mysticism of "Who Feels Love", but the result remains unrelentingly stodgy.

The root cause of all this continued malaise appears to be that Noel has forgotten how to write a decent song. Despite producing almost two ("Definitely Maybe", "The Masterplan") and a half ("(What's The Story) Morning Glory") albums of certified classics, these days he seems happy enough for empty, meaningless platitudes ("Go let it out/Go let it in/Go let it out/Don't let it in" means what, exactly?) and recycled distant echoes of a marketing man's idea of what classic rock should sound like ("Roll It Over" is Rod Stewart asleep in 1971). At least they render Liam's first published songwriting effort, "Little James", less embarrassing than it would've been had it surfaced on either of their first two albums. But, of course, it wouldn't've done, because in just about every aspect apart from the name, Oasis now and Oasis then are practically two different bands.

OASIS Familiar To Millions (Big Brother)

Following two almost universally pointless albums, a revolving door of line-up changes and the usual background bickering and infighting you could argue that what the world needs least now is an Oasis live set, especially one as pretentiously puffed up as the triple vinyl (or double CD, or DVD) under discussion here. From the swaggering title to the blatant, borderline grammatical back cover hype a la "Let It Be" ("a rock 'n' roll triumph with unprecedented atmosphere; 70,000 people each night captivated by the bands every move and blown away by the scorching sound and stunning imagery. Witness for yourself Britains finest rock 'n' roll band at the peak of their form.") "Familiar To Millions" is something other than a modest and intimate evening in with your favourite Manc scallywags.

There are sporadic moments, however, when it makes a claim that almost supports the hype. The Titanic opening rumble of the instrumental "Fuckin' In The Bushes", wrapped in the appreciative hollering and stamping of that huge audience, actually whips the listener up into something approaching frenzy. Oasis couldn't make the b-sides "Acquiesce" and "Step Out" sound bad even if they didn't try, and they emerge as the highlights of this sprawling set. The covers of Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" and The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" - the latter, taped at an earlier American gig, inexplicably tagged as a bonus track even though you can't buy a version of "Familiar To Millions" without it - aren't brilliant, but a useful acknowledgement of influences just the same. And you get the banter, asides and experiments that are obviously absent from their studio works: the moment when the hired hands break into some jazz noodling, for example, much to Liam's disgust, or the way "Cigarettes & Alcohol" mutates into "Whole Lotta Love".

But such delights are few and far between. For the most part, "Familiar To Millions" has to fight against the same 'wall of sludge' production ethic that has marred their studio albums, exacerbated by the lisping, dragging reverberation endemic in playing loud rock 'n' roll in a football stadium. There might be some of the most popular guitar rock of the past decade represented on this album, but you'd be hard pressed to tell from the versions included here, which are dangerously low on spark and dynamism. But then again, the only live Oasis material I've encountered that has actually impressed me was the "Live By The Sea" video, which captured the band between their first two albums, arguably at a peak before everything went champagne supernova. "Familiar To Millions", by contrast, is the sound of a big, bickering, complacent rock circus in stasis, and if you weren't there and aren't an Oasis completist, is barely worth the considerable shelf space it demands.

OASIS Definitely Maybe (Big Brother Recordings)

Given the distance between now and the last half-decent Oasis album in living memory, it's something of a shock to revisit "Definitely Maybe" and recall that, once upon a time, they could have been contenders, perhaps even were. There's at least one part of genius in the way this record united just about every disparate popular music lover behind the Gallagher cause, how it wrapped up style, swagger and substance into one big, frothy, nudge-wink delight. Nearly eight years after the fact the flimsiness of what has followed has possibly made it sound even greater with the passage of time. Add a stomping horn section to "Rock 'N' Roll Star" and you've essentially got The Rolling Stones circa "Exile On Main St", "Columbia" is an astonishing display of front, bravado and monster riffing, and songs such as "Live Forever", "Supersonic" and "Slide Away" (a template for almost everything attempted by The Verve) just keep getting better. Of course, the production's still lousy, and the lyrics rarely rise above nursery rhyme standard, but "Definitely Maybe" is as close to unsullied perfection as Oasis have ever been, and, very probably, will ever be.

OASIS (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (Big Brother) 

Oasis’ second is not without the occasional audacious flourish, for example the few stray bars of “Wonderwall” that open the album, or the untitled fragments of future b-side “The Swamp Song” that pepper the tracklist. But really, how desperate for a unifying voice we must have been as a nation back in the mid-90s to install the Glitter stomp of “Hello” and “Roll With It”’s unambitious boogie in one in every four households.

Even I would admit, however, that there’s some great music here. Apart from Liam’s bleating, “Wonderwall” is unimprovablely lovely, even if I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Equally nonsensical it may be, but as a “Hey Jude”-styled exercise in rock classicism “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is faultless. There’s some good music here too: “Cast No Shadow”, “dedicated to the genius of Richard Ashcroft” according to the credits, would sound lumpen on “Urban Hymns” but here its slide guitar and strings demonstrate what giant steps Oasis were taking barely 18 months into their recording career. Unfortunately, the remainder is undemanding, lowest-common-denominator sludge that reaches its nadir with the charmless “She’s Electric”.

Reissued on vinyl alongside the rest of Oasis’ studio discography, thereby potentially at least deflating the north-of-crazy prices original pressings fetch on eBay, “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” sounds no better than I remembered it, despite this short-sided double album being pressed on “super heavyweight” vinyl. Borderline acceptable at best – mainly during the album’s few quiet moments – “Morning Glory” and “Champagne Supernova” seem like nothing more than sculpted distortion, and not in a good way. Still, at least the original’s triple gatefold sleeve – sort of a Soho riposte to the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” cover – has been retained, as has vinyl-only bonus track “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday”, a song that’s every bit as intellectually stimulating as its title suggests. The reissue also packs new sleevenotes by Hamish MacBain, whoever he was.