It’s hard to imagine now how massively influential and refreshing Oasis’ first album must have been in the mid-90’s. When I think of Oasis, I think of Noel and Liam Gallagher’s constant bickering, the band’s arrogance, their regression into self-parody and their spawning of a generation of annoying little twats who think they’re cool because they can play Wonderwall on an acoustic guitar. They may have gone from musical giants into a self-indulgent carnival troupe with hoards of brainless fans, but one thing you can’t take away from them is their initial impact on the music industry. When Definitely Maybe came was released in 1994 it took the critics and the public by storm, and rightly so. Definitely Maybe is Oasis’ first and greatest contribution to music.
I used to love Oasis. Back when I was about 14 or 15, Oasis were my favourite band. I thought Live Forever was the greatest song ever recorded, thought (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was the best album ever released and was adamant that they still had it with the release of their 2005 album Don’t Believe The Truth. As far as I was concerned, Oasis were untouchable. Then, quite gradually, I stopped listening to them. I lost interest. It got to the point where I hadn’t listened to them properly in years, and so deleted all of their music off my iTunes – all their singles, albums, B-sides, rare songs – everything. This was over 3 years ago, and as far as I was concerned my love for Oasis was a thing of the past. Then on Sunday past, I had a strange feeling that I hadn’t had for years. I really, REALLY wanted to listen to Oasis, but specifically this album. I can’t explain why. I had the song Slide Away stuck in my head, which preceded this desire, but where that came from I also can’t say. So I downloaded it on Sunday and have been listening to it all week.
I’m not interested in getting any more of Oasis’ work. I remember what it was like, I’ve heard Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger so many times it’s coming out of my ears. Their work is alright after that; maybe a bit more polished and mellow on their second album, completely self-indulgent and overblown on their third and fairly awful after that. But it’s Definitely Maybe that stands out for me for its explosive impact and fearless optimism. Let’s not forget that the rock music scene in 1994 was dominated by grunge and alternative rock, so to have an album completely defying that style was bold enough in itself, but they do it with so much confidence that it’s REALLY noticeable.
Live Forever is still a classic song to me. It pretty much epitomizes Oasis for me – Liam’s bold, towering vocal, singing Noel’s unashamedly positive lyrics over walls of crunching guitar. With such a beautiful melody, a sing-along chorus and a hugely confident approach, you can’t help but take notice. Liam’s voice is pretty distinct. You either love him or you hate him, but you can’t ignore him, and least of all here, where his presence is towering. But Live Forever is just part of the picture. While a single and an obvious highlight, we shouldn’t just focus on it. There are a number of very hard-hitting rockers, starting off with Rock ‘N’ Roll Star – a high energy, relentless song complete with Liam’s sneering vocals and Noel’s deeply penetrating guitar. We’ve got Columbia, a 6-minute, contemplative song that ventures into shoegazing territory, Shakermaker with its bluesy composition and nonsense lyrics, and Supersonic, another single with a catchy riff and lyrics preaching the importance of being yourself. (“You need to be yourself/You can’t be no-one else”) Noel’s songwriting at this stage was fresh, confident without being arrogant and full of life. The best examples of this are Cigarettes and Alcohol and Slide Away. The former, despite having a plagiarized riff from T. Rex’s Get It On is an incredibly admirable track. The lead guitar has never sounded so brash and bold, the lyrics never so direct. “Is it worth the aggravation/To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?/It's a crazy situation/But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol” It’s incredibly loud and sonically dense (the walls of guitar pretty much obscure the bass) but it’s one heck of a party track. I was viewing the video of the song on YouTube and one of the top comments is something like: “this song takes me back to the good old days of football, beer, women and fighting” Now, I don’t particularly like football, I don’t frequent pubs. My ideal evening would probably involve sitting down with a cup of tea and a good book. (By the way, I don’t have a girlfriend) But damn it all if I don’t want to jump up, go to the nearest bar and start a riot for the hell of it when I hear Cigarettes and Alcohol playing. Conversely, Slide Away is a more contemplative song, almost dirge-like in quality. Perhaps one of the greatest love songs of our time, and it certainly contains the best singing Liam Gallagher has ever done. He carries this song, singing the beautiful lyrics about his soul mate. As ever, Noel’s lyrical guitar says as much and portrays as much emotion as Liam’s voice. This, to me, is Oasis’ finest moment on record and probably their most underrated song.
Even the filler (Up in the Sky, Digsy’s Dinner etc) is great; Married with Children is an ironic and funny take on married life, and Digsy’s Dinner is a playful little track inviting a friend over for lasagna and strawberries and cream. It’s got a great little couplet in the bridge – “These could be the best days of our lives/But I don’t think we’d be living very wise.” Sort of sums up everyone’s attitude of being young, don’tcha think? Free-spirited, confident, and still at the age when the consequences of your actions are irrelevant. You’ve got that feeling that you could conquer the world. Oasis have totally got that feeling on this album, but not on any other albums. You know why? Because they did conquer the world. And when they were on top, they became arrogant, complacent and boring. Don’t give me that Oasis; give me this one, the fresh-faced, working class hopeful with a bit of sass and whose feet were still firmly on the ground.
Words - Adam