Definitely Maybe at 20 – No Reunion, No Problem

As the 20th anniversary of the release of Definitely Maybe, Oasis’ brilliantly searing debut album, approached, there would always be rumours and hope that a reunion would be forthcoming, that the Gallagher brothers could at the very least put the hatchet on the floor, if not quite bury it.  Things hit fever pitch recently with the appearance of a short teaser video released online covering highlights of the band’s tumultuous career.  Alas, hopes of a tour were short lived as the next day it was revealed that the teaser was “only” a device to foreshadow the announcement that Oasis’ first three albums, the aforementioned Definitely Maybe(What’s The Story) Morning Glory and Be Here Now, had been re-mastered and were being given the anniversary edition treatment.

When the furore and disappointment had died down, and the angry hashtags abated, the news itself could become appreciated in its own understated way.  Admittedly, there would be no spark of combustion when ‘Fuckin’ In the Bushes’ flared onto the big screens, no stranger-hugging rendition of ‘Don’t Look In Anger’ and no spiritual cleansing to ‘Champagne Supernova’.  On the plus side, however, there also wouldn’t be any dodging of flying pint glasses of urine, there would be no tolerating Liam’s temperament (and tambourine) and no dreaded latter-days album tracks.  What actually came to pass, then, is far more important than a tension filled stadium tour – a reappraisal of the music that helped resuscitate British music and inspire a generation of not only future musicians, but anybody and everybody with the sense of hearing.

The name of Oasis has come to signify many things since the 90s faded into the 2000s, and the majority of it is not positive.  Perhaps most tellingly of all, the music played second fiddle to the headlines.  Both Liam and Noel were involved in particularly public divorces, Liam got his teeth knocked out in a Munich bar brawl, the line-up changes, including going through more drummers than Spinal Tap, and the constant trail of backstage bickering and violence.  Amongst all of this, a further four albums were released, and with perhaps the exception of Don’t Believe The Truth, they faded from memory rather quickly.  While a handful of fantastic tracks were produced in that time, with the likes of ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’, ‘Songbird’, ‘Little By Little’ and ‘Gas Panic’ being particularly noteworthy, the rest seemed to come from the ordinary and scuttled off into obscurity without much of a fuss. Every new LP release was trumped up as “the best recording since Definitely Maybe”, but of course it never was.  But there is no shame in that; there are a thousand albums that aren’t Definitely Maybe.

While it’s indisputable that Oasis didn’t progress much musically in the aftermath of their debut, it seems unfair to repeatedly beat them with that particular stick.  There are a whole host of equal, if not worse, offenders who failed to deliver half as much as Oasis did within the confines of a niche.  The only problem was they continually referred to themselves as the greatest rock and roll band in the world.  This is quite the claim.  If you’re being generous, there may have been a slither of time when that was true, but it certainly wasn’t an era and, quite frankly, there are a lot of people who like to see confidence that borders on arrogance fall flat on its face.  Sadly, Oasis duly obliged.  But now that the band will remain defunct for a while yet, it allows the eyes to wonder back to the beginning and remember just how important this band was.

Take your pick from starting points; first track on the album or first single from the album.  The latter is ‘Supersonic’, a fantastically abstract song that swaggers along with no apparent meaning other than to intimidate.  The lyrics do not reward analysis, but that’s beside the point; you hear it and you start singing.  It’s a reflex.  It’s in your veins.  The former is ‘Rock N Roll Star’.  It’s not just one of the greatest opening tracks to a debut album, it’s a statement of intent, the realisation of a dream, the presentation of gloriously imperfect rock n roll music performed by ordinarily talented people – the chest thumping, vein popping “tonight, I’m a rock and roll star” set off against the refrain of “it’s just rock n roll” encapsulates the frustration of dreaming such intangible dreams, and the cocktail of regret and jubilation when someone like you manages to break through and seize the moment.

Around these two titanic tracks the album rises, all grubby and grainy, losing none of the initial power it had upon release when it refused to let go of its clean, polished contemporaries until everyone had taken notice.  Oasis had guitars, a witty and insightful songwriter, a sneeringly brilliant singer and they had desire; the kind of desire that is only present in people who have been downtrodden their whole life, with no other future on the cards other than a continuation of every possible status quo. ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ articulates the emotions of every person who ever lived that life without question, cementing it as public property, a Peoples’ Anthem.  ‘Slide Away’ is perhaps the band’s greatest love song, presenting a poignant opposition to Wonderwall’s later, more lauded “there are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how”.  ‘Live Forever’ is simply one of the greatest songs ever recorded, the ultimate ode to self doubt, the confusion of feeling alone with your own inadequacies, but realising that you aren’t the only one suffering, and that it’s not terminal – “we see things they’ll never see, you and I we’re gonna live forever”.  The lyrics, the voice singing them, the music lifting them, still struck a chord with so many silent people that it was only a matter of time before the fan base would grow to overwhelming numbers.  It seems unfair to resign the remaining tracks as a footnote, because ‘Shakermaker’, ‘Up In the Sky’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Bring It On Down’ and ‘Married With Children’ continue the quality of the aforementioned songs and are equally as important in making the album as strong as it is.  Only “Digsy’s Dinner” raises a dubious question mark, but it did forever change the way some people say lasagne.

Positivity and hope abound, and it didn’t so much as capture the zeitgeist as play a leading role in creating one.  The follow up, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, has the songs that are synonymous with the mid 90s, at least as far as the greater general public is concerned.  ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, ‘Morning Glory’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’ saw to that.  And it is a fantastic album, there is no doubting it, but it’s a different beast, designed for larger audiences, blown with more bluster. Unsurprisingly, Knebworth followed, and so did a large chunk of the country, and Oasis were becoming the voice of a generation.  The release of Be Here Now in 1997 was the moment Oasis stopped defining peoples’ lives so succinctly.  The commentary of the moment presented on the record was that Noel Gallagher’s substance intake was impairing his better judgements.  It’s an album that still has its moments, but like the band members themselves, it was bloated and below par, and it was steadily downhill from there.

All creative industries are heinously cut-throat and ruthless, perpetually seeking something new in order to throw out the old.  Oasis blipped, and never fully recovered.  They captured lightning in a bottle, and even (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, outperformed Definitely Maybe commercially, if not quite critically.  After that, only flashes of this past were glimpsed at a time, some less potent than others.  Noel’s own powers waned, the seeming fate of all singer/songwriters eventually, and the man who consigned ‘The Masterplan’, ‘Acquiesce’ and ‘Half The World Away’ to B-sides ultimately shared the throne with his lesser able band mates.  As quality dropped and resentment grew, the end was nigh.    While, of course, artists in the purest sense of the word should always evolve and adapt, push themselves and their boundaries as well as their contemporaries and commentators, Oasis weren’t artists, they were just a rock n roll band.  For a brief period of around three years, they gave a voice to the awakening masses.  Not only that, and more importantly, they gave us a good time.  It sounds so simple now, but there is a starting lack of it in the current crop of rock musicians.  The millions of people who have pushed and swayed, bounced and tiptoed in fields, arenas and stadiums the world over will testify to that.  While we may not have the band back together to try and recreate that magic, it’s no great shame, because the songs that started it all off twenty years ago are about to come back into our lives, and embrace them we shall.