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It's big and it's bold, but then it had to be. Since (What's the Story) Morning Glory swamped their rivals, Oasis have consolidated their position through a combination of ruthless domination of gossip columns and a selective gigging strategy designed to foster an awed sense of enormity. Throughout 1996, they were as omnipresent as Tony Blair. And through all that time, they released no new material, apart from maybe a few B- sides. They may have started this segment of their career engaged in a parochial skirmish with Blur, but it was drawing to a close on another level.

Imagine, then, the pressure on Noel Gallagher when it came to finding the follow-up album, and particularly the first single from it. Sure, he consolidated further and opted for the familiar, but shouldn't Oasis be taking a few chances, shooting for the moon? Indeed they should: so it is that the familiar, in the guise of the chirpy teen anthem "Stay Young", gets relegated to support status here alongside the drab acoustic demo "Angel Child" and a scorching version of Bowie's "Heroes", behind the slow-burning, seven-minute-long "D'You Know What I Mean?".

This is a single with grand ideas. You can tell by the way the song comes topped and tailed with lengthy intro and fade sections that bear no logical relation to it. The intro, destined to be talked over by a million DJs, is noisy OASIS

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enough. Feedback squeals. Satellites bleep. A lone guitar tries vainly to add a choppy wah-wah line over the noise. It takes the drums, nearly half a minute in, to impose some order on this chaos, from which the song gradually materialises, as if beaming down from space. When it finally lands, it turns out to be slouching along with relative normality, almost a second cousin to "Champagne Supernova", with battalions of howling guitars, some played backwards, battling over its soul. At its conclusion, everything dissolves back into another minute of noise, the song slipping away like some primeval beast returning to its lair.

It's sonically impressive, certainly, but you have to wonder whether the song's really worth it. "D'You Know What I Mean?" is the most grandiose example yet of Noel's gift for manipulating meaningless phrases into persuasive semblances of significance. When Liam sings the chorus "All my people right here, right now, d'you know what I mean?", the only possible answer is "No" - yet such is the power of those guitars that you find yourself swept along in the implicit tide of acclaim. Search for meaning, and you're adrift in a sea of dodgy cliches like "Look into the wall of my mind's eye", which has overtones of both poetry and philosophy, without being either.

There's not as much musical theft here as usual, but Noel does manage the remarkable feat of getting two Beatles references and two Dylan references into 19 words, which has to be some kind of record: "The blood on the trax must be mine/ The fool on the hill and I feel fine/ Don't look back 'cos you know what you might see". You have to admire his cheek, really, trying to accrue significance by association in such an economical manner, but it doesn't help in understanding the song. But perhaps it's best to regard "D'You Know What I Mean?" more as an instrumental bearing a slogan, in which case there's no refuting Liam when the chorus eventually changes to "All my people right here, right now, they know what I mean". For in the distance, between query and affirmation, all the song really means is that Oasis are back, and they're bigger and brasher than ever.


The Fat Of The Land


It's odd to think that "Firestarter" was Keith Flint's first vocal performance with The Prodigy, so indelibly has he imposed himself not just on the group's identity, but on an entire nation's pop consciousness. Forget the parkas, guitars and floppy fringes - this, surely, is the true face of modern British pop: heavily mascara'd, pierced, gurning like a comic villain, and with two devil's horns of hair shooting from his pate like a mutant monk's tonsure.

Always treading a fine line between chart-friendly populism and cutting- edge weirdness, The Prodigy's run of hit singles constitutes the most sustained bout of pop experimentation since The Beatles, but is rarely recognised as such. Abjured by "underground" dance scene for their commercial success, the juggling act that Howlett routinely pulls off in his tracks has often been overlooked. But with Flint capering in your face, even the bizarre, industrial-strength elasticity of "Breathe" seems quite genteel.

Through all the changing styles of rave culture, Howlett has remained faithful to his hip-hop breakbeats, mad samples and wibbly noises. That remains the case here: "Funky Shit" is basically a Beastie Boys drumloop given a good going-over with snarling synth and quaking bass drum. The opening track, "Smack My Bitch Up", does pretty much the same job on the Ultramagnetic MCs sample that furnishes the track's title. Elsewhere, the instrumental "Climbatize" offers moody but muscular space-rock, while the closing cover of L7's "Fuel My Fire" pays explicit homage to the punk roots dimly discernible in much of the group's work.

It's not all up to the standard of "Breathe" - the collaboration with Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills on "Narayan", for instance, is too brazen an attempt to copy the crossover success of "Setting Son" - but crucially, unlike most products of British dance culture, there is barely a boring moment among these 12 tracks.