|05-05-2005, 03:42 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2005
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The New Oasis Album/ Star Wars:return Of The Sith Corellation?
Oasis: Don't Believe The Truth__________________
On May 19th an historic day for cinema takes place when George Lucas releases the final Star Wars upon an expectant public. Aside from the assorted geeks and freaks who will be standing in line for tickets over a week before they go on sale, most casual fans will no doubt approach the sixth episode of the space opera with what can best be described as cautious optimism. Sure, they'd like to see something that reminds them of how they felt after watching The Empire Strikes Back as children, but they aren't going to hold their breath in anticipation for a movie that defies the previous two instalments and delivers something that has a little more going for it than simply looking like the most expensive episode of Babylon 5 ever made.
Still, no matter what happens when Revenge of the Sith finally hits screens this summer, the second-wave Star Wars fad has already taught us one key lesson: creative magic is not something that can be grown in a laboratory, and instead is a natural outgrowth of something much deeper than computer generated environments and slick marketing campaigns.
Sometimes the artist needs to take a step back and forget about how his product will be perceived by the masses, concentrating instead on what pleases HIM. After all, it is little surprise that some of the best art is created by people who have their backs against the wall - no one believes in them except themselves, therefore the only person they care about pleasing is the one who looks back at them in the mirror every day. Sometimes - MANY times - an artist will have an insular attitude to his work and in so doing end up touching millions of people.
It is somewhat ironic that in the same month as the sixth Star Wars film is born into the world, Oasis release their sixth studio album - Don't Believe The Truth. Like George Lucas, Noel and Liam Gallagher became the undisputed lords of a generation early in their career before tailing off to such a degree in future years that many people began to re-write their mental history book and question whether they really were that great in the first place.
And if you require proof of that you need only consider the countless articles, news reports, pointless feuds (Embrace, anyone?) and band break-ups that have taken place over the past eleven years and realise that, in spite of all that mostly forgettable madness, the one thing that truly has stayed fresh in people's minds is the music.
Definitely Maybe and What's the Story (Morning Glory?) have now gathered enough dust to prove that people were right to label them classics after only a few listens, and the b-sides from that period (lovingly incarcerated together on The Masterplan album) still do their rightful job of making people shake their heads in disbelief that such fan favourites as Headshrinker and Listen Up were confined to a place most bands reserve solely for throw-aways and remixes.
Listening to those songs now, you find yourself staring at a band without a care in the world. They're young, they're having fun, and what you're hearing is the soundtrack to it all.
This might give some insight into why the following albums failed to capture that spirit. By the time Be Here Now was being recorded there was too much expectancy from a world that felt it needed Oasis to keep it smiling, and in an attempt to please everyone - to go bigger, louder and longer than anyone else in the business - the band ended up delivering an empty promise. Add in the death of a princess (and with it the death of a shallow nation's fairytale idealism) around the time of the album's release and you have a recipe for disaster. The optimistic euphoria of an Oasis record amongst the carnage and tears of a grieving Britain was akin to having a series of Punch and Judy shows on the Tsunami-ravaged beaches of Asia.
No one was laughing, and Cool Britannia had come to an end.
After seeing in the new Millennium with Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, an album that again was out of sink with the national mood (Giants has a dreariness that makes you wonder whether Sony should have given away free Prozac vouchers with every copy), it appeared Oasis had finally run out of steam. Fans were asking the Gallagher brothers to re-establish a relationship with their cocaine dealer, and Robbie Williams was putting out scathing witticisms about the band's demise that even Noel seemed to lack the energy to answer.
2002's Heathen Chemistry - the first album featuring new members Gem and Andy Bell - was, despite its inconsistency and patchiness, a definite hint of light at the end of the tunnel. The biggest bright spots were the three Liam-penned songs, which possessed a freshness and vibrancy that his older brother was beginning to lack. Songbird in particular had a breezy innocence that could make even the most cold hearted bastard blush at how fluffy it made his insides feel.
Still, Heathen Chemistry on the whole was not enough to make the masses count down the days until the band would return to the studio to begin work on a follow up. I myself greeted the news that Oasis was recording a new album with mild indifference (and bare in mind there was a time when I would break out in girly laughter at the news of imminent Oasis material), especially after the sessions with Death in Vegas were binned because "the songs just weren't there". Though there was some relief when Dave Sardy was revealed to be taking over the control desk (and NOT the band, as many feared).
And so to 2005. It's a decade on from Morning Glory, the Loaded-reading, beer-guzzling lads who sang along drunkenly to Wonderwall on many a pub jukebox are now men, Coldplay are the latest flavour of the month band to have its collective penis pleasured by a fickle media, and Oasis finally have their new album ready for the critics who are no doubt praying it will be another nail in the band's coffin, just so they can use the pre-determined tagline "Don't Believe The Hype" in their articles.
Yet it turns out they may need to rethink their bile and vitriol, because Don't Believe The Truth is not only a significant return to form, but also presents us with the sound of a band that has finally shaken off the shackles of expectancy and pressure, and has instead made an album with the confidence and fluidity that makes the previous few efforts sound even more like the musical equivalent of trying to swim the Atlantic wearing a straight jacket and inflatable flares.
It's not perfect (few albums are) but there are less areas here in which your ears become bogged down and tired. There is more flow, tighter production and, above all else, some damn fine songs.
Oasis have always been known for kicking off their albums in style (even the dreadful Giants had the joyous two-headed monster that is f***in' In The Bushes), and Andy Bell's Turn Up The Sun provides an intro that sounds nothing like anything Oasis has recorded before. This opening landscape is painted with lightly ringing guitars that swing and sway like a field of poppies, which then turns into a more familiar No Man's Land of muddy filth and barbed wire fences as everything cranks up a notch and we are greeted with our first sight - erm, sound - of Liam Gallagher's authoritative drawl.
It's funny, no matter how tired Oasis threatened to sound in the past they always had a get-out clause in Liam's truly unique vocals, and when he sings "come on! Turn up the Sun, turn it up for ev-ery-one!" on this we feel morally obligated to jump up and open the curtains.
This song has the lumbering power of Columbia, rolling along like an asteroid heading for earth - there's no point trying to run away from it because you won't escape its shadow. And then it disintegrates back into the sound that it started off with, leaving you wondering if you've just experienced Oasis' interpretation of a Bruce Banner Hulk-out and reverse metamorphosis.
Don't make Liam angry, you wouldn't like him when he's angry.
One of the many disheartening things about the last couple Oasis albums was Noel Gallagher's penchant for putting his own vocals on several tracks. Unable to approach his brother's attitude and swagger, these songs would end up sounding like either yawn-educing dad rock plodders (Where Did It All Go Wrong, Force Of Nature) or sickly, overproduced fluff (Sunday Morning Call). Certainly, rather than hand back vocal duties almost solely to Our Kid, it seems Noel is now the official narrator of his own authorship (Liam sings exclusively on just one of Gallagher senior's numbers here).
Fortunately, Noel does an admirable job on his vocal performances, the first of which is Mucky Fingers, a driving, repetitive beat interspersed with Gem's electric-era Dylan harmonica and a set of lyrics so scathingly poisonous you could bottle them up and sell them to Rent a Kill "you get your mucky fingers burnt/ you get your truth from the lies you have heard/and all your plastic believers will leave us and they won't return". It overstays its welcome by a minute or so, but is still a decent effort.
Most people will have heard Lyla by now, the new single that could turn out to be misleading of this band's efforts in the studio, as despite the monumental Liam vocal and the refreshingly different drumming by Ringo junior, this is actually one of the weakest tracks on the album. The song feels like a self-parody, and the chorus is cheesier than a Dairy Lee triangle. Though, it must be said, the track does work more effectively within the context of the album.
If Lyla is one of the worst tracks here then what follows it is undoubtedly one of the best. Love Like A Bomb, the first of three Liam-penned songs on the disc, is the big brother to Heathen Chemistry's Songbird, and is destined to provide the soundtrack to beer gardens across the country this summer (and hopefully years to come). "You turn me on/love like a bomb/blowing my mind" sings Liam, a man who seems to find it easier expressing his feelings in the confines of his songs than in real life.
The Importance Of Being Idle captures Noel doing the best impression of I'm Only Sleeping he can muster ("I don't mind/as long as there's a bed beneath the stars that shine"), and like John Lennon on that song, this is sung in such a style it almost sounds like the author is not so much arguing a case for his laziness, but rather pleading for those around him to understand why he'd rather hide under his duvet in a darkened room than go out and work - even if that work does involve being a superstar rock n roller. The whimsical piano track effectively puts into music those random thoughts and ideas we all get during that moment between sleep and wakefulness, and once it's over you feel it's done such a good job of making you want forty winks yourself that you are thankful when The Meaning Of Soul comes along like a short, sharp injection of caffeine to the heart and snaps your eyes open again.
Another Liam track, Meaning is the shortest on the album, and plays more like a momentary outburst by Gallagher the younger than a fully formed song. Little surprise that it's been plonked slap bang in the middle of the album - it's a brief advert for madness, and Liam is in charge of the voice-over. Stand back.
Guess God Thinks I'm Able, aside from providing the best bit of word play ever seen in the title of an Oasis song, has verses that give some indication of what I Wanna Be Your Man (The Beatles/Rolling Stones) would sound like with Liam on vocals, "you could be my railroad/we'd go on and on". The best part of this song is the dreamy backing vocals that swirl and stir around the guitar and lyrics, elevating them to much greater heights than they would have reached without them.
After three Liam-written tracks in four songs, the Tasmanian devil gets a well-earned rest from Part Of The Queue as Noel descends into another one of his now habitual rants about alienation and isolation ("suddenly I found that I lost my way in this city"). The sound is reminiscent of The Stranglers' Golden Brown, and Zak Starkey's discombobulated drumming follows proudly in the footsteps of his father's work on Revolver. But it isn't like Oasis to spend too much time getting down about things, and Keep The Dream Alive is filled with the kind of uplifting, hopeful content that, back in the 90's, made it possible for 6-foot 5 Neanderthals to develop teary eyes and a habit of hugging members of the same sex ("my life is standing still but I'm still alive"). It is perhaps ironic, then, that the song was scrawled by Andy Bell, a man who wasn't even in Oasis at that time.
Determined not to be left out of the veritable song-writing orgy that Oasis has now become, rhythm guitarist Gem contributes A Bell Will Ring, which, along with Meaning of Soul, was premiered to a lukewarm reception at last year's Glastonbury. There is certainly improvement on the studio version but it is still a fairly throwaway track. Not so with Let There Be Love, a tune around in demo form for several years. Yet instead of using it in an emergency (such as when a b-side was desperately called for), Noel took what seemed like a fairly average song, wrote some new words for it, shared vocal duties with his brother and, voila, what you are left with is an instant Oasis flag-waving crowd pleaser.
I mentioned earlier in this piece that Liam sings exclusively on only one Noel tune over the course of this album, yet he still should give his big bruva a pat on the back when he sees him next because, although he is sharing the action on this, he has the privilege to sing some of Noel's best lyrics to date ("who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me? /who stole the soul from the sun in a world come undone at the seams?"). As good as this stuff undoubtedly is, and despite Liam having one of the most distinctive voices in the history of music, the shiver-down-the-spine moment here occurs when Noel comes in to the beat of the drums with "come on baby blue/shake up your tired eyes/the world is waiting for you". The song threatens to plod a little in the closing stages, and there is a badly calculated false ending and boogified outro, but on the whole it's a thing of delicate beauty. If Let there Be Love was something tangible that you could reach out and hold in your hand, you'd feel compelled to wrap it in cotton wool for fear of breaking it.
Don't Believe The Truth has a sound that is a world away from the overproduced excesses of recent Oasis albums. There are no fake choirs (as used to cringe-indcuing results on Sunday Morning Call and Little James) and Sardy has stripped down the sound of the LP so that many of the elements that make up the backgrtound of the songs remain where they should be - subtle and unobtrusive to their surroundings. He has also given the album a certain grubby sheen that lends a number of the songs a demo-feel that harks back to the days when Oasis were walking into the studio, laying their tracks down in a matter of days, and then going back out on the piss before the material became too familiar to them.
It is also apparent that this band is growing and gelling together to a point where they have finally begun to work as one complete organism. Indeed, the work of Andy Bell and Gem Archer cannot be underestimated here (since Bell has written two very good songs, and Archer, despite his own limitations on the composition front, has done a commendable job of assisting the inexperienced Liam with his).
And since there are now four songwriters in the band, Noel Gallagher seems more relaxed with his role within the grand scheme of things; he now knows he can EXPECT a number of quality tracks from his cohorts, rather than just HOPE for them, and this, it would appear, has given him the mental freedom to concentrate on his own slices of the action. The number of these Noel-written tracks may be only be a tiny percentage of what he was producing in the old days, but no one really expects a musician of his age to churn out results on that scale anymore, they just expect the songs he does write to have more about them than the likes of I Can See A Liar and She Is Love.
From the rate Liam is improving it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume the number of tracks allotted to him in the future would be gradually increased (he already has another composition on the b-side to the forthcoming Lyla - the lovely Won't Let You Down).
Don't Believe The Truth isn't the generation-defining album that was Definitely Maybe, and it's doubtful that it will go on to take over the world as Morning Glory did, but that's not the important thing here. The past may be gone but what this album does is prove that there is indeed still a future, and if that future is destined to consist of work of this quality being greeted with even a relatively mild reception by the general public, so be it, because you get the feeling Oasis are no longer trying to please the world and his dog, and are instead making music for themselves.
We still have a few more weeks to see whether much the same can be said of George Lucas, but where the sixth Oasis studio LP is concerned we can at least take comfort in the fact that some people have sussed it out at last.
Indeed, you might even say the force is strong with this one.
|05-05-2005, 08:55 PM||#2|
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Bay Area, CA
Local Time: 03:00 AM
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