6.Oasis – Definitely Maybe
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
- Live Forever
- Up In The Sky
- Bring It On Down
- Cigarettes & Alcohol
- Digsy’s Dinner
- Slide Away
- Married With Children
Imagine if there was a band so arrogant that, when playing songs in empty bars to crowds that could barely care less, they had a song called Rock N’ Roll Star and it wasn’t some arty farty hipster commentary on some infamous ‘star’, but rather a proclamation. Imagine if its chorus line was “Tonight, I’m a Rock and Roll Star.”
I mean, to do that, you’d have to either have incredible self-belief, arrogance even, wouldn’t you? Or it’d be a wind up.
Of course, at this point you’ve seen the title and the cover; you know of whom it is I speak. You know the answer even if you don’t know the song; it was arrogance, buckets of it.
I can already picture myself, an old man, telling my grandchildren how they don’t make them like they used to. But then, why do I need to picture the future for that? Sure, I don’t have grandchildren, but the rest? They don’t make them like Oasis anymore, or at least it doesn’t happen like that. Not now. They came up the hard way, bullying their way onto bills, making everyone listen. But in the end, the music won out and in 1994 the world got given Definitely Maybe.
It is not so much a debut album but a statement of intent. Opening with its advisement for the listener that, hey, I’m a rock and roll star, three tracks in informing the listener that I’m gonna live forever, stealing a T-Rex riff and making no attempts to hide it. This wasn’t a band coming quietly, gracefully. But they were ripping up the rulebook. England was stale, socially and musically. The top forty was full of mediocre pop, mainstream dance and not a whole lot else. The grunge thing had never quite happened here and died with Cobain anyway, as far as the UK was concerned. A shot in the arm was needed. Noel Gallagher knew that and he made it count. Guitar music mattered again. Many bands enjoyed career highs in the wake of Oasis’s own magnus opus.
Because for all the success that would follow, make no mistake - this is the Gallagher & friends masterpiece. It doesn’t try to hide what it wants to be, and what is that? Well, it’s a rock and roll record that doesn’t shy away from its influences. Beatles. Stones. 70s glam rock. The baggy scene. People always went on about Noel Gallagher wanting to be the next John Lennon (though it has always been Liam who has really rode that horse) but he has always been much more McCartney – a real ear for melody, writing songs people want to hear. The formula was simple. Loud guitars. Seriously loud. Melodies that get you on the hook, and in 1994 Liam Gallagher had a voice that could be angelic but with the distinctive growl that became more prominent over the years. Aged 22 and without the lifestyle impact, his tenderness on Slide Away and Live Forever is barely matched across the history of popular music.
The album spawned four singles, Supersonic being the first. In what would become a trademark, Liam sings lyrics that mean pretty much nothing and yet manage to paint a vivid picture, all the while over infectious riffs. The second was Shakermaker, and for the first and certainly not last time Noel would find himself in hot water from the rip-off police, the New Seekers demanding lyrical changes, The Chief all the while upset that The Beatles didn’t sue him for its similarity to Flying. It’s Oasis at their most indie, probably the weak point of the album but that reflects more on the quality of the rest.
The other two singles, then. Cigarettes & Alcohol. Stealing the riff from T-Rex’s Get It On but making it meatier, and importantly, producing a much better song, it manages to do what so many more articulate men have tried and failed to, in its summation of the state of play. You can write thousand word social commentaries, but what’s the point really when you could just say, “Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for? It’s a crazy situation but all I need are cigarettes and alcohol.”? It’s a sentiment that tells you of why so many loved Oasis, and why so many hated them. But this was the mid-90s, economic crises, unemployment. The north was bleak (I can’t speak for the rest), unemployment high. What’s the point of it all? Might as well just get leathered and have a smoke aye.
Of course, the other single was Live Forever. It’s one of those songs that astonishes you every time you hear it. Did they really just do that? The distinctive beat, the opening chord and then “Maybeeeeee…” Allegedly written for the great Peggy Gallagher (mother to Liam, Noel and their less talented brother Paul), it still gives me goosebumps now. “I think you’re the same as me, we see things they’ll never see, you and I are gonna live forever.” For a band who were never renowned for lyrical prowess, they hit the sweet spots plenty on this record with simple and yet utterly meaningful sentiments.
The rest of the album is magnificent too. Up In The Sky shouts at the establishment and bounces along. Bring It On Down is explosive, Digsy’s Dinner a joyful singalong about lasagne, Married with Children a Beatlesesque putdown to an annoying girlfriend (the chorus line of “your music’s ****e, it keeps me up all night” was actually coined by an ex of Noel’s who was irritated by him keeping her up writing songs at night). The vinyl and Japanese versions also featured a solo effort from Noel, Sad Song a rather poignant piece, as the title would suggest, about companionship.
But above all the other songs already mentioned, there are two that stand even higher. Slide Away captures the tender side of both brothers, with Liam’s finest ever vocal and some of Noel’s tenderst lyrics. And Columbia a cocaine-fuelled, hazy groove, the first song the band ever released to radio (albeit in different form to the finished version that appears on the album). It begins almost eerily, then the music starts, then Liam comes in. And for six minutes you sit there, taking everything in, not really sure what’s going on. It is not a complex song. But it is mesmerising. It showcases everything that was great about Oasis, but they never really made any other song that was like it. The groove of the verses finally gives way to Liam shouting “yeah yeah yeah!” before Noel leads the way, driving the song to its fadeout and making you want to hit repeat.
For some, this album was the foundation that they built on with the following year’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? while for others it was one that they never lived up to afterwards. But to expect any band to top a beginning – an album - like this is nought but unreasonable. It managed to speak to people, even when it was saying nothing. The simplicity of the music grabbed the listener, reminding the public just how pleasant the fuzz of an electric guitar can be. Fast forward two and three years and guitar music dominated the UK (okay, along with the bloody Spice Girls). It was the most important album of its generation, but more importantly, it was the best.
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a ‘perfect’ album. If there is, it’s Definitely Maybe.
Write-up by GIMH