Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working class heroes

Noel (right) performing with Liam Gallagher at...Image via Wikipedia

I was truly gutted when the last tickets for their concert in early 2009 (in Singapore) were sold out only five days after the being available for purchase. Needless to say, I had been late. But the evisceration was complete a few months later, when Oasis decided to split up, for good. Brothers in arms no more, the Gallaghers had decided that they had had enough of each other, on stage and off it. And that was the end of close to two decades of sibling rivalry, endless swagger, Britpop hysteria, a devil-may-care attitude, gigs the size of small cities, revisionist ‘Beatle’-esque riffs, trashed hotel rooms and mostly great rock ‘n’ roll music.
I, for one, was hooked right from that sunny winter morning in 1994 when I picked up a copy of 'Definitely Maybe' at a store in Lucknow's quaint Aminabad market. This was ironic, because the music on the cassette was sharply in contrast with the characteristics of the place of its purchase – all refinement and sophistication. None of that on the record, though. From the first loud, unapologetic, brazen and screeching riff of the album opener ‘Rock ‘n’ roll star’, you knew that these lads were made to put the rough edges back in British rock. Not since the Stone Roses’ 1989 self titled masterpiece, had eleven songs so perfect been assembled on one debut album. And it didn’t end there; the follow up - the marginally more introspective ‘What’s the story (Morning glory)’ – was an even better record in many respects. It sounded like the morning after to their debut album’s exuberant night out in town. I never got down to actually understanding what a ‘Wonderwall’ meant (a question also posed by Travis in their single ‘Writing to reach you’), but it was bloody awesome. Again, there wasn’t a single weak song on the album and both these albums continue to make it to any and every list of the ‘Top 10 British Rock Albums of All Time’ kind. The brothers’ Noel and Liam shared a fractious relationship at best, but when they came together in a recording studio, it was mostly magic. Noel’s lyrics could be infuriatingly vague, but delivered through Liam’s powerful nasal drawl, they sounded worthy, somehow. ‘Some might say’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’ are prime examples. What followed ‘Morning Glory’ were superstar status and the distractions that came with it. Cancelled concerts, drug abuse and microscopic media scrutiny – all of which eventually derailed the band’s proposed conquest of America. Here was a chance to be the single most relevant British act across the Atlantic since U2, and the band had promptly hit the self destruct button. But the lads had taught me well – I didn’t look back in anger.
Instead I looked ahead to their upcoming offering ‘Be Here Now’, which many say was the beginning of the end for them. While it was commercially successful, the overproduced and overblown album saw the band wilting under the pressure of their own self belief (now bordering on mild narcissism) and feverish public expectation. Suddenly, the hysteria was over. Their arch rivals, Blur, had moved on stylistically and sonically, in a bid to reinvest themselves. The great Britpop movement was done and dusted and Oasis didn’t seem to stand for anything anymore. Two mediocre albums followed in the shape of ‘Standing On the Shoulder of Giants’ and ‘Heathen Chemistry’ and by then, clearly, no one was paying any attention except the dedicated and faithful. I stayed faithful despite the band’s declining fortunes. Foremost of the reasons for doing so was the fact that they still made music for the same reason I listened to it. To enjoy myself and have a good time. Simple concept, but one lost on a lot of recent material from today’s more ‘cerebral’ bands. Oasis helped a whole new generation wake up and enjoy rock ‘n’ roll music, for the reason rock ‘n’ roll music was invented - to sing loudly with eyes closed. No tr

Cover of "Be Here Now"Cover of Be Here Now

ying to be clever and no trying to save the world. While their contemporaries like Pulp and Suede were going glam and posturing themselves as avant-garde sophisticates, Oasis were happy to be working class, a people’s band if you will, honest and direct. I wasn’t there in 1996 when they played to 250,000 screaming fans over two nights at Knebworth, but friends who were said it was like turning up to support your favorite football club - your loyalties completely firm and unyielding, in spite of the looming threat of relegation. Countless bands have been inspired by their ‘lads next door’ attitude to music – Keane, Travis, Embrace, Twisted Wheel, Jet and The Enemy have all sighted Oasis as a huge influence and that is testimony enough to the band’s lasting legacy, despite remaining more or less static in sonic approach coupled with the unwillingness to experiment. The band, contrarily, believed that experiments were best left to dedicated scientists. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with them either, if I could churn up an album of B-sides that most bands of standing would kill to put on an album. One only needs to listen to gems like ‘Half the world away’, ‘Rocking Chair’, ‘Stay young’ and ‘Acquiesce’ off 1998’s B-sides compilation, ‘The Masterplan’, for confirmation of the band’s melody-making credentials. Following Oasis had another, more entertaining benefit. The sound bites. Never shy of having a word, the band always stayed in the media glare, thanks to the famous Oasis-speak. When the brothers weren’t bad mouthing each other, they were busy laying into other bands. And when there were no bands around to lay into, they were talking about themselves, always crossing the line separating self-confidence from arrogance. If the music was great, the talk was even better. Like the time in 1996, when their record company gifted Noel a Rolls-Royce and Liam a Rolex watch. When asked about it, Noel replied, ‘It’s true, but odd choices for gifts, coz I can’t drive a car and Liam can’t tell the time.’ Their comment about Blur’s ‘Damon (Albarn) and Alex (James) getting AIDs and dying’, at the height of their rivalry in the mid 90s is stuff of legend. Or the oft quoted, ‘We’re not arrogant; we’re just the best band in the world’, variations of which found their way onto the backs of thousands of T-shirts and bumper stickers.
I once thought that the band would ‘Live forever’, and the classic retro melodies would keep coming, but their split is probably a good thing in the end. For demise leads to eventual regeneration. Liam and the rest of the band members are to apparently carry on as ‘Beady Eye’ and Noel will mostly go the solo route. So, twice the music. Bring it on, chaps. For now, a huge thanks for the music. A line off the band’s last (and most assured) album ‘Dig out your Soul’ comes to mind at this juncture. In the soulful ‘I’m outta time’, Liam poignantly asks, ‘If I’m to fall, would you be there to applaud, or would you hide behind the mob?’ I know where I’ll be.

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