A dizzying array of styles and textures

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The Independent Online
So, it's official: Oasis are, apparently, more popular than The Beatles - and presumably, by extension, even more popular than Jesus.

According to a survey in Music Week, the Gallagher brothers are now more widely loved by all sectors of the British record-buying public, beating the Fab Four into second place in the All-Time Favourite Top Ten.

Of course, it's only a poll, and thus best taken with a pinch or two of salt, but still, there it is, in black and white: more popular than The Beatles.

Even those who spend their days caressed by the light- orchestral balm of Classic FM, find endless fascination in the slow trickle of talk on Radio 4 or turn to old Motown compilations and that worn-out copy of Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms", give Oasis the vote.

The Music Week survey has the Gallagher brothers not only clear favourites among the under-25s, but second favourites (after The Beatles) among the 25- to 45-year-olds, too.

Ironically, it is the very fragmentation of pop during the 1980s which led many to give up on it (remember all those New Romantics flouncing around in mummy's clothing, or obscure rap music) that is responsible for the current popularity of Oasis.

During that decade, the music business became more a case of business than music, with the major multi-national corporations seeking to increase their market share by absorbing smaller labels like Virgin and Chrysalis, often at absurdly inflated valuations. By 1994, six huge companies - Sony, Thorn EMI, Time Warner, Bertelsmann Music Group, Polygram and MCA Matsushita - controlled the world-wide distribution and marketing of virtually all pop music.

The immediate effect was the imposition of cost-cutting corporate strategies on a business which traditionally operates by instinct. The result was that the in-house talent-spotters - the A&R men - lost out to the accountants.

As a counterbalance, the independent sector which sprang up during the punk boom of the late Seventies took over most of the talent-spotting duties: all the big acts of the last 10 years, from REM to Nirvana, and Pulp to Oasis, cut their teeth on small indie labels before being swallowed up by the multi-nationals - either directly, like REM, or through their label being acquired, like Oasis.

This fragmentation of the marketplace led to mainstream pop acts experiencing a shorter shelf-life than before, and the fringes becoming a feverish blur of activity.

At the same time, the computerisation of sales returns from record shops means that the charts are less open to hype. They now reflect more accurately the true state of sales, with albums less likely to sit at number one for months on end, and a much faster turnover of hit product in areas previously viewed as marginal, such as rap and rave music.

Ultimately, the mainstream, as signified by the old Radio One/Top Of The Pops consensus, all but dissolved a couple of years ago, leaving a plethora of sub-genres - rap, indie, metal, swingbeat, jungle, Britpop, and any number of house/techno variations - forming a tapestry of styles and textures.

Accordingly, the BBC's coverage was forced to change course to reflect the new breadth of popular music - controversially at first, when Radio One started to lose listeners at an alarming rate, though it's undeniable that, like the charts, it now reflects more accurately the genuine spread of musical tastes in Britain, with individual shows servicing the needs of rap, indie and techno fans, and a broader, all- encompassing playlist.

For many older listeners, though, this was the end of the road: they simply couldn't keep up with the dizzying variety of modern pop, and settled instead on the comforting familiarity of the "Gold" stations' bland Sixties- oriented programming.

For some, it is a path of no return. But for many others, the old baby- boomer allegiances still linger, not least an affinity for guitars, harmonies and memorable tunes, which is why Oasis are so immensely popular even among the mums and dads.

With songs drawing freely on former pop glories, they're simply the easiest straw to clutch at, the most hummable option available in the great wide, baffling world of modern British pop.