October 6, 2008

Bigger Brothers Long Written Off As 1990 S Leftovers Whose Contracts Outlasted Their Talents, Oasis Have Swaggered Back With a Surprisingly Powerful New Album


SO is this the start of a much bigger, baggier Oasis? After just a few listens to their new album Dig Out Your Soul, it sounds remarkably like it - and that comes as a genuine surprise. Noel Gallagher describes track two, The Turning, as The Stone Roses meets The Stooges (which is pretty accurate), and the ambitious, non- Oasis-sounding Falling Down as "the kind of song I've wanted to write for years". His intention for album seven (that's right, you may have missed a few) was to "write music that had a groove". Reviews to date have been gushing, fuelling the resurgence of interest in the band that began with 2005's Don't Believe The Truth. But clearly, if things are going right these days, they must have gone wrong somewhere in the past - or for the entire decade between 1995 and 2005, to be precise.

The band's new-found conviction on the single Lyla in 2005 was like waking up from an Oasis dream in which nothing of consequence had really happened for years. Liam getting his teeth knocked out in a Munich bar brawl in 2002? Ach, who cared? By the late 1990s the band was becoming too much like someone on cocaine at a party; someone who had been on cocaine, and at the party, for too long. Time was when the brothers Gallagher were everywhere: Liam and Patsy's arm-tattooing years, Meg Mathews and Noel's divorce, the spats and cancelled tour dates - all gone now

CYNICS will tell you that Noel's mojo was sucked, via the nervous system, into Tony Blair's egotron during their infamous Downing Street handshake in 1997 and that, after this, his songs were never the same. Whatever the reason, things changed. Definitely Maybe (1994) was the fasting-selling UK debut ever at the time of its release, shifting more than 7.5 million copies worldwide. Its follow- up (What's The Story) Morning Glory? sold more than 18m copies and remains the third highest-selling album in UK chart history, behind Queen's Greatest Hits and The Beatles' Sgt.

Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

But by the time of Be Here Now (1997), the wheels were badly rusted.

The album shifted 420,000 units on its first day and was hastily described as a classic, but, more tellingly, none of its tracks was included in the band's 2006 Sony swansong compilation Stop The Clocks. In 2007, Q magazine described the third album as "the moment when Oasis, their judgment clouded by drugs and blanket adulation, ran aground on their own sky-high self-belief ". Its bloated sound was down, according to studio producer Owen Morris at the time, to "massive amounts of drugs. Bad vibes. Shit recordings".

Oasis had become the last slice of cake at a party, with other people's fingermarks clearly visible in the marzipan. Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (2000) and Heathen Chemistry (2002) were both chart-toppers, but will be remembered as the revolvingdoor albums: founding members Paul McGuigan and Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs left the band during sessions for the first, and had been replaced, not entirely comfortably, by the second. Oasis had lost their swagger - and if there's one band that can't lose it's swagger, it's Oasis.

Liam's angry stance on stage - his hands behind his back as if they've been tied for an execution - was even wearing thin, and that was a real shame.

The look (most recently employed to good effect by drug lord Stringer Bell in the hit HBO crime series The Wire) has always communicated the band's central thesis: you could lunge towards me, grab me by the knees and headbutt me clean in the maracas, but you won't.

And that's partially because, even at their worst, Oasis have never been terrible - they just needed to grow up.

In the century past they were embraced by, and embraced, rock elder statesman Paul Weller, but their own transition to an older and wiser version of themselves has been plagued by inconsistency.

The first sign that they were over the worst was Don't Believe The Truth (2005). Peter de Havilland, producer and ideas man for the record, has described it as a "make or break album", adding: "In the industry, a whispering campaign was in full swing. Oasis had lost their edge [and] the future of the band was on a knife edge."

The album sold 6m copies and triggered a worldwide tour to 1.7m people in 26 countries. Dig Out Your Soul, they hope, will do the same. Noel describes it as "the album we've been leading up to since Gem [Archer] and Andy [Bell] joined the band [in 1999]".

Clearly, it has taken some time to incorporate those members - and still the personnel keeps changing.

Drummers have been a peculiar Achilles heel for the Gallaghers. Founding member Tony McCarroll was booted out before the release of What's The Story;

his replacement Alan White served for nearly a decade until an argument with Liam forced him out in 2004. Much of the bombast with guitars - on the fi rst album especially, but not exclusively - was, one imagines, a means of overcompensating for the (sometimes shockingly) poor drums.

That problem seemed to have been solved in 2005 with Zak Starkey, son of Ringo, who replaced White on Don't Believe The Truth. But Starkey quit following the recording sessions for Dig Out Your Soul, and has now been replaced by Chris Sharrock, formerly of The La's, World Party and, for the past 12 years, Robbie Williams's backing band.

IT'S a shame Starkey had to go: his drums are the standout instrument on the new album.

And, of course, there was his father, Ringo. The Gallaghers have always worn their Beatles obsession on their sleeves. Books could be written on how little they resemble their idols musically, but there are several similarities: not least their chart success with two different lead vocalists, and not least those Beatles melodies and chord progressions, lifted so blatantly you assume it's being done on purpose, without any deliberate malice. Also mirroring The Beatles, there has been an increasing democratisation of the band's songwriting duties. Originally, it was agreed that Noel would write the songs and lead the band, no questions asked, but that rule has been slipping for a while. The lighter workload bodes well for Noel on the new album: there are still superfluous lyrics about "merry- gorounds" and "revolutions in yer 'ed", but fewer than there have been for a good while.

Opening track Bag It Up sets out Noel's stall: psychedelic harmonies, thumping drums, Liam bellowing that "the freaks are rising up through the fl oor". (Get Off Your) High Horse Lady is bluesy enough to blow the stitching from the Confederate fl ag; Waiting For The Rapture lifts The Doors' Five To One guitar riff and runs with it.

Guitarist Gem Archer wheels George Harrison's sitar out of retirement for To Be Where There's Life - a slice of Madchester meets the Middle East with a baggy-assed bass line that would have Bez from the Happy Mondays popping moves until kingdom come. Bass player Andy Bell, on The Nature Of Reality, has Liam singing about "pure subjective fantasy", and then there are the songs written by Liam himself.

There are three on this album, which indicates a growing belief by Noel in his abilities. Little James, from Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, was the fi rst time Liam had written a song for an Oasis album, and, as Noel told Q recently:

"Little James isn't the greatest song in the world. In fact it's one of the ****ing shittest." Liam's first track on Dig Out Your Soul, I'm Outta Time, is also the best. By far. A piano-driven ballad (not three words you would necessarily associate with Oasis) it offers surely one of the best vocal performances of Liam's career (undercut with a sample from a John Lennon radio interview recorded two days before his death in 1980). Liam also wrote the album closer, the drearyish Soldier On - a melancholy sentiment if ever there was one.

For some time Liam has played home bird to Noel's night owl, expressing in recent interviews his love for SpongeBob SquarePants and The Weakest Link.

He runs 10 miles every morning from his house on Hampstead Heath and enjoys spending time with his two boys:

Lennon, who lives with his ex, Patsy Kensit, and Gene, who lives with Liam and his second wife, Nicole Appleton of All Saints. The partying is not what it once was.

Noel, by comparison, is a party animal, turning up everywhere from nightclubs to BBC Radio 5 Live, on which he regularly airs his opinions. But for Noel too, the stimulus has changed.

He gave up cocaine in June 1998, he told Q recently, after watching a World Cup match and feeling unwell. "I've been ****ed on drugs before, " he told the magazine. "I've been slapped awake by Bobby Gillespie in my house . . . This [was] something completely different."

Gem Archer describes both Gallaghers as "beyond positive people", which has never got in the way of their famous feuds. Lately, they have said they never talk to each other outside the band, which doesn't seem outwith the realms of possibility. In 1996 Liam heckled Noel during an MTV Unplugged Oasis set, having backed out of his singing duties shortly before the performance;

in 2000, there was the tour-threatening punch-up between the two in Barcelona, supposedly over one of Liam's stray comments regarding the legitimacy of Noel's daughter Anais.

The spikes are still out, but these days the brothers are less willing to go in for the kill. Following their recent media battle with Jay-Z - who headlined, controversially, this year's Glastonbury Festival - Noel admitted openly that both parties profited through publicity from the supposed spat. It seems a lifetime since his infamous comment (later retracted) at the height of the band's Britpop rivalry with Blur, that he hoped Damon Albarn and Alex James of Blur would "catch Aids and die". The message has been softened by Liam, if only slightly, for contemporaries such as Coldplay and Radiohead. "I don't hate them, " he told The Times recently. "I don't wish they had accidents."

The band's place in British music history was cemented with an Outstanding Contribution To Music award at the Brits last year. Definitely Maybe and What's The Story were subsequently voted the number one and two best British albums of all time by a HMV and Q magazine poll in February, and Noel was dubbed by NME recently as "the wisest man in rock". Both brothers, whether it's Liam in The Times recently on "chav" culture ("they look like dicks but fair play to them") or Noel in the NME on knife crime ("If you're not in the kitchen chopping a tomato, you're f***ing going to jail."), have found a certain stride. And in the midst of all this, the new album.

The Gallaghers have discovered the balance between burying the hatchet and staying angry: you find the groove, and build from there. You maybe thought it would never happen again for Oasis: an album to bring back the doubters and, hopefully, start a few more fi ghts.

Dig Out Your Soul is released tomorrow on Big Brother

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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