Living in the past
The new Oasis album has the swagger and singability we've come to expect. But, warns Andy Gill, don't expect innovation
Like Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher constantly measures himself against the past: his tunes echo others' genius, and his rhetoric (such as it is) nags on and on about the size of his band's acclaim, the vastness of their shows, and his place in rock history. His ego is demanding enough to accept only The Beatles as precursors, which leaves him, at this point in Oasis's career, effectively searching for routes beyond The White Album. The route he's chosen here is heavier and more laden with guitars than before, but retains a firm hold on the basic requirements of melody and memorability. It sounds like nothing quite so much as The Beatles crossed with Status Quo, with a few Stones-y touches signifying a slight R&B loosening of the band's tight pop sound here and there. It's hardly innovative, but mostly enjoyable.
To this end, there are more mid-tempo, singalong anthems here than on the previous two albums put together, from the triumphal assertion of "D'You Know What I Mean?" to the feelgood sentiments of the nine-minute- long "All Around the World", which is effectively "Hey Jude" with slightly different "nah-nah-nahs'' and a few more glances at one's watch. So enamoured are the band with this track that it's even reprised at the end of the album with a shameless parade of Beatlish strings and horns - a vulgar and grandiloquent touch, albeit one which helps distract attention from the mundanity of "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)", the big dumb tune that precedes it.
The front end of the album fares better: "My Big Mouth" follows "D'You Know What I Mean?" with a reassuring swagger, Liam singing about "walking slowly down the hall of fame" from amid a blizzard of guitars. The melody has the great cumulative logic of classic pop, but the production leaves a lot to be desired, with bass and drums buried behind the tide of shrill guitars. "Magic Pie", which follows, is a fine song, reminiscent in both mood and sound of Traffic's "Dear Mr Fantasy", though you can't help wondering how much better it might have been had Liam sung it rather than Noel: it's like giving Ringo "The Things We Said Today", or letting Keef sing "Satisfaction".
From there, the album dips sharply into generic Oasis material like "Stand By Me", "I Hope, I Think, I Know" and "The Girl in the Dirty Shirt", the latter an exercise in slouching piano-based R&B so dull and draggy it could be by Paul Weller. "Fade In-Out" is a vast improvement, a psychedelic blues that shambles in on a bed of shakers and congas before Johnny Depp, no less, chips in a serviceable slide-guitar break. It's the closest Oasis have come to the Stones of Let it Bleed or Beggar's Banquet, which in Gallagher terms constitutes something of a break with tradition - only, of course, to connect with a different tradition.
"Don't Go Away" is very nearly a great song, though a touch too reminiscent of "Don't Look Back in Anger"; the title-track, another swaggering mid- tempo rocker with Status Quo overtones, a whistled hook, and a piano coda that recalls Ian Stewart's work with the Stones, is the most immediate thing on the album, the kind of song you can sing along with virtually before you've heard it. It's a fine enough record, but ultimately one that lacks the spark of innovative genius that marks out a truly great album. Certainly, compared with Fat of the Land, it's still in thrall to history. The Beatles references might be less in evidence than before, but their place has been taken by others - Quo, Traffic, the Stones, even The Turtles - no less whiskery. It would probably be a mistake to ask otherwise of a neo-classicist pop songsmith like Noel Gallagher, but Be Here Now leaves the question of Oasis's future direction still very much a matter of conjecture. Or is it the case that, in their world, there simply is no future, just ripples of the past?
`Be Here Now' is released on Aug 21 on Creation CRECD 219
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