Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Oasis - I Was There Then

On 21 August 1997, I joined around 400,000 other people in purchasing a copy of the new Oasis Album 'Be Here Now'

The lead up to the release had been shrouded in hype and expectation, TV teaser documentaries, Radio station tempters of half-played tracks, and wall-to-wall 5 Star Reviews and gushing hyperbole about "the new album from the biggest band in the world".

What could go wrong?
Well, the album needs to be a step-up (or at least a step across) from the previous (and the competition), and needs to contain some cracking toons as well.

Was it the hype, the expectation, the pressure or the amount of cocaine flying around the recording studio?
Whatever it was, 'Be Here Now' fell short of expectations, and ultimately led to the downfall/re-configuration of the band who created it, and the death-knell of the genre it represented.

The 2 nights at Knebworth in Summer 1996 was pretty much the peak - there wasn't much more they could achieve, apart from re-group and do it all again.
But post-Knebwoth life got off to a shaky start:

Liam pulled out of an MTV Unplugged event citing a sore throat - there is a distinct possibility that the real reason was to annoy Noel, as he turned up at the Royal Festival Hall and heckled his brother.
Their next US Tour commenced within a week, but again Liam refused to go saying he had to stay and buy a house.
He turned up on the tour a week later, somewhat the worst for wear and really did himself and the band no favours in the US - his behaviour was now becoming the cartoon image that the media had created about him, and he did nothing to change this view (some say crystal meth may have played a part too ..).
The tour continued but eventually ground to a halt when Noel upped and left stating he could no longer work with his brother.  After much speculation that this was the end for the band, there was a reconciliation (of sorts) and the US tour was completed with no further major calamities.

Overt self belief, turned to self delusion.  Oasis, and more specifically Liam (although Noel came out with some daft comments too) now found themselves on the front of the Daily Mirror more often than the front of the NME.
Be fair, you give a 26 year old gobby kid from Burnage huge wads of cash, and tell him that he is brilliant.  And then follow his every move, trying to get him to do something printable, then he's going to do it.

Between Maine Road (April 1996) and Knebworth (August 1996), Noel had decamped to the Caribbean and assembled the songs for the next album.
The band reconvened at Abbey Road in October 1996 to begin recording.
The pressure and expectation, and the ever-present love/hate (mostly hate) relationship between Noel & Liam ensured these sessions were somewhat un-productive.
To avoid constant media attention, the band decided to decamp to leafy Surrey where they would be (relatively) free of distraction and media attention.

Somehow, amongst the haze of cocaine and near constant bickering (which ended up as the Brothers G rarely being in the studio at the same time) an album was created.
By all accounts, it wasn't the easiest conception - the producer Owen Morris expressed his concern that the material was "a bit weak" and was given short shrift.
Noel insisted on overdubbing everything, to the point of almost filling every spare channel on the desk with an additional guitar track.
The songs largely followed the tried and trusted formula of previously, but track lengths were extended and the songs seemed to lack focus and finessing of previously.  There is a feeling of "Oh, that'll do - let's just extend the playout a bit".  Also, the sheer amount of cocaine flying around the place may have clouded judgement at times as songs were jettisoned from the album in favour of "stuff written on the spot".
"Stay Young" ended up as another monumental Oasis B-Side when it was replaced on the album by  "Magic Pie" - not a bad song, but did it need to be 7 minutes long?

Preceded in July by the single "D'You Know What I Mean", quick sales and another Number 1 position ensured the continuing clamour for Oasis product.
Advance radio copies were delivered as late as possible to prevent "leaks" and sales on the black market (the interweb was still in it's infancy and it could take 5 minutes to download a song, and YouTube was still limited to 10 minutes maximum clip length).
This almost military control continued with the lead up to the release of 'Be Here Now' - big things were expected, and the scant promotion/pre-release only served to increase the hype.
Non-Disclosure deals were signed, DJs requested to talk over early plays, Journalists were given only limited hearing of the album.

Expectations were so high, that Be Here Now was effectively doomed before it was even released.

This album really was to be the culmination, and masterwork, of the band - their defining statement.
There was only one problem - it wasn't.

With the benefit of time and distance, a fair "soundbite summary" of the album is: 'The over-blown self-importance album'

"D'You Know What I Mean" kicks the album off on a high, which is maintained with "My Big Mouth", and despite my earlier reference "Magic Pie" is an earworm that will stay with you for days (or at least that's what happened after my re-appraisal listening).
"Stand By Me" is one of the better tracks on the album. It is a strong track, it certainly veers into standard Oasis fare territory, yet at the same time is instantly disposable.  Released as a single at the height of the hype, it perhaps suffers from over-expectation and a failure to deliver something "new", and due to Be Here Now being Noel's least favourite album, the song rarely got played live.
After that though, it all becomes a bit throw-away, dashed off, elongated and an exercise in the studio rather than songwriting and performance (Johnny Depp pops up with a nice slide guitar on "Fade In-Out").  There are moments, but the songs never seem to be going anywhere or justify their length.

Oasis really did seem to believe that they could operate at half power and still produce an album equal to 'Morning Glory'. A sort of "Sod it, that'll do. Now wheres my cocaine?" attitude is apparent in the messy, lumpy, self indulgence that inhabits this album. With all the hype leading up to it's release, it never stood a chance to be honest. But, listening again after nearly 20 years since its release, it's not that bad.  But then again, even when not comparing to the previous releases it ain't that great either. - it sits nicely in a sort of after 'Morning Glory', before 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants' type way.
They repeat the "finish on an epic" idea again with "All Around The World" - a song which gives Oasis their very own 'Hey Jude' (or should that be The Rules 'Shangri-La?*).
The full album version of the track ends with the sound of a door being slammed - perhaps merely intended to show the closing of the album, but as also became apparent, the relative failure of this album (in "love" rather than sales) also signified the door closing on all things Britpop-py.

* Note: Neil Inness re-nicked the string introduction used on Whatever and tacked it onto the front of "Shangri-La" - as he is listed as the writer, he can effectively to do what he wants with it.  Interesting though, that the original (and best) Beatles copyists (with The Beatles blessing) should be nicking from the (accused) Beatles copyists of Britpop.

Within a fortnight of release, the Be Here Now Tour commenced and would continue until March the following year.
During that time, the album went from "Rave Reviews" to being cited as "overblown nonsense".  The band fared not much better as relationships deteriorated, exhaustion took over, and inspiration fell flat.

Be Here Now pretty much marked the end of an era for the band.  Creation Records, despite selling records by the shedload was going bankrupt and sold out to Sony (their last act was to collect Oasis B-Sides together on the "stop-gap" album 'The Masterplan' in late 1998).
It was to be another 2 years or so before new material saw the light of day, constructed by a band shorn of all but 2 of it's original members.
When it did arrive, the (slighly) lacklustre (certainly on first listening) 'Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants' was met with mixed reviews (some savage, most of the "ho-hum" variety) and questioning whether the band would last the distance.
Even Noel Gallagher was having his doubts feeling he had nothing more to say (he was quoted as saying: "I'd said everything I wanted to say after "Rock n Roll Star") and no longer finding writing songs coming as easy as before.

"The bigger they are, the harder they fall", and Oasis fell with the hype and expectation of this album.  One could possibly cite the lack of direct competition to make the band work harder to maintain their status.  Blur (their only real contemporary competition) were in the process of moving on.  Indeed, their album 'Blur' released earlier in 1997 was not an identikit Britpop album, and even contained a track ("Death Of A Party") suggesting the genres demise.

So what was the competition?
A selection of 1997 releases prove that the bands and the record buying public were moving on from Britpop trappings, and perhaps 'Be Here Now' was not only a victim of hype, but a victim of not moving on (or: trying to stay partying until way past chucking out time, and then refusing to go home)

  • Blur - Blur
  • Spiritualized - Ladies And Gentleman We Are Floating In Space
  • Radiohead - OK Computer
  • The Verve - Urban Hymns (OK, back in Britpop territory)
  • Primal Scream - Vanishing Point
  • Super Furry Animals - Radiator
  • Cornershop - When I Was Born For The Seventh Time
  • Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northern Britain
  • Supergrass - In It For The Money
  • Charlatans  - Tellin Stories
  • Stereophonics - Word Gets Around (post-Britpop, if there is such a thing?)
  • The Prodigy - The Fat Of The Land
  • Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
  • Ben Folds Five - Whatever And Ever Amen
  • U2 - Pop

Plenty of good 'uns there - you can see what they were up against

They tried.  They didn't quite succeed.  But 'Be Here Now' is not the duffer it's suggested that it is.  OK, it ain't an essential, but it certainly stands up after 20 years distance.
A few quibbles maybe (bloated, over-produced, extended songs (or worse: half-finished or dis-interested sounding songs), better B Sides, a wall of hype and expectation that probably no-one could meet).

It may have killed Britpop (although the press, and thee bands involved were doing that themselves), but Oasis would return - albeit in a slightly humbler, less bravado (and arguably less essential) way.

D'You Know What I Mean

Stay Young

All Around The World

1 comment:

  1. Oasis is my favourite rock band!Thank you for this post!I know some similar guitar samples to Oasis!I share with u -