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OK, so I was wrong: After listening to Oasis’ 1997 album Be Here Now—the band’s third full-length studio effort and a sickly, three-legged mutt of a release—I predicted that the rabble-rousing Brit-pop band was done for good. The group had never been so utterly blatant in its Beatles adoration—does anyone really need 12 variations of “All You Need Is Love”?—and the result was lazy, treacly, and unlistenable. Musical doom, the voices in my head informed me, was imminent. Maybe lead singer/hirsute hooligan Liam Gallagher—upon realizing that he was not, and would never be, John Lennon—would finally go mad-dog bonkers and kill a fan or himself or his older brother Noel Gallagher. And maybe Noel, if he indeed survived his younger sibling’s meltdown, would finally break away from Liam’s tiresome shenanigans and take solo flight. After all, Noel may not be as subversively handsome as his bro, but he writes all the band’s songs, plays a lick-lovin’ lead guitar, and possesses a strong, tender singing voice.
My gift for prophecy was still looking legit in 1998, when longtime label Epic, for the first time in a long time, found itself without new Oasis product and released The Masterplan, a 14-cut collection of the band’s myriad B-sides. Sure, a lot of the old “unreleased” stuff is good—hard-coated, sweet-centered “Acquiesce” is a concert staple and one of Oasis’ best tunes—but that’s just the point: It’s all old stuff. A prolific songwriter for a good part of the ’90s, Noel was running out of gas. And utterly lovestruck by the band’s first two albums—1994’s auspicious Definitely Maybe and 1995’s groundbreaking (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?—I was running out of patience, stubbornly unwilling to accept anything but glittery pop rocks from the band that charted with “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Wonderwall,” and “Champagne Supernova.”
But then a series of events occurred that would prove me decidedly unsupernatural: Noel started hanging out with some new brothers—the Chemical Brothers, that is—and unearthed a vat of much-needed electronica inspiration. And Liam, well, Liam married actress Patsy Kensit, promised to yank the coke spoon from his nose, and decided to become a daddy (to a son named Lennon—a fact we’ll leave alone for the sake of blubbering fatherhood).
Which brings us to the present day—and an end to my budding clairvoyance: On the new Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, the band’s second most satisfying output after Morning Glory, Noel forgoes the saccharine overdose and remembers how to build edgy, multilayered rock songs without referring to the Joy of Fab Four cookbook. And Liam—who still occasionally hangs on to the end of pretty words until he’s imitating Fran Drescher—has finally learned to sing without sounding as if he’s trying to loogie on the listener. The Top 40-friendly choruses are still intact, but the bad-boy sneer the Gallaghers displayed so brashly on Definitely Maybe has been renewed. Yeah, yeah: Oasis’ lyrics will forever be simplistic window dressing for the catchy hooks—”Champagne Supernova” was only a handful of postcard greetings, anyway—but come on: Have you ever tried to air-guitar in your underpants to “Tangled Up in Blue?”
Album opener “Fuckin’ in the Bushes,” a song so good it would have made crapfest Be Here Now worth buying, is fortified with a heartbeat-altering John Bonham-like drum loop, a wickedly Cream-y guitar line, ominous keyboards, and fuzzed dialogue samples from Murray Lerner’s concert film Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival. The instrumental is new territory for Oasis, but leader Noel—while obviously Chemicalized—isn’t looking to give club kids new raving fodder: In the end, rock ‘n’ roll ultimately trumps electronica (as well it should).
The Brothers Gallagher have always done bitter best, and Standing on the Shoulder of Giants plays hardest when the boys have a score to settle. “I Can See a Liar” kicks off with the steady arena drumming of early-’80s .38 Special, with Liam showing a smooth restraint ripping into the real and imagined backstabbers who long for his pop demise. The breakneck chorus soon explodes in a battle between 100 dirty guitars and swooping, angelic harmonies—and it’s all just so blissfully Oasis. Noel takes the lead vocal on “Where Did It All Go Wrong?,” a caustic sing-along reminiscent of the kiss-off of Morning Glory’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” And “Put Your Money Where Yer Mouth Is” takes yet another stab at fellow Brit-poppers—attention: Blur—that gets louder and angrier as the challenges, and guitar parts, build up.
With the exception of Liam’s first writing credit, “Little James,” an overblown “Hey Jude”-esque weeper written for Kensit and her son fathered by Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr, the sweeping, epic statements that Oasis just can’t resist are relatively dry-eyed. “Sunday Morning Call” is an anthemic pick-me-up for a depressed pal, and the big finish, “Roll It Over,” is a slow-burn “Live Forever” that stays relatively grounded until Liam starts mixing his so-white whines with an overheated choir and a plugged-in string section.
Hold on a minute, folks: I’m getting another vision here. Getting clearer, getting clearer. Oh yeah, this is good: After Oasis completes its upcoming world tour, I see Noel, thoroughly energized by his return to writing form, taking time off to do a dubby, trippy solo project. And I see something else, too: Liam, thoroughly tamed by his newfound paternal responsibilities, will have another child. This time a daughter. Possibly named Ringo. And finally, I see Oasis reuniting in 2003 for a drum-bass-guitar throwback album that will keep me rockin’ in my boxers well into my 30s. There, that oughta stick. CP