Monday, December 5, 2011

A Desert in the Oasis

Drums of Death - Noel Gallagher w/UNKLE & Mike D (mp3)
F**kin' in the Bushes (live) - Oasis (mp3),+Germany.jpgBeady Eye. High Flying Birds. Whether these names mean anything to you depends on where Oasis falls in your musical universe.

When Oasis split up in 2009, the world yawned. Back in 1995, my longtime friend and music nut told me of his love for this supercool new band by describing them thusly, “They’re like the world’s greatest bar band... only with a massive Beatles fetish.”

“World’s Greatest Bar Band” isn’t the most original superlative, I’ll grant you. But if NRBQ and Southside Johnny can lay claim to such a title, I’m happy to give one of my votes to Oasis. I’ll bet Oasis blew the f**kin’ windows out of bars and stripped the paint off the walls in their early days.

The problem with even the best bar band, however, is that eventually it’s closing time, and Oasis kept playing even as the lights went up, the chairs were turned upside down on the tables, and the manager swept up the floor and locked the doors.

The sibling drama between Liam and Noel Gallagher might have amused their fanatics -- it did a sublime job of inspiring a character in LOST -- and it certainly helped sell a few Brit tabloids, but for modest fans like myself, we didn’t give a flip. Make music and make it good, and whatever you do backstage to each other is beyond our fleeting prurient concerns. I’m more interested in what kind of stroller Jennifer Garner buys than I am about why the Gallagher brothers might be breaking bottles over one another’s skulls.

Oasis Masterplan Album CoverReasonable minds can differ on exactly when the barlights went up on Oasis, but for me the answer is fairly easy: 1997. The following year, Oasis released The Masterplan, one of the greatest B-side compilations in rock history, which created the illusion of a band still overflowing with creative power. But they were already on the backslide.

Be Here Now, their third release, was less than highly regarded by critics. Not because the music was bad, but more because the Gallaghers didn’t know when the hell to stop a good song. Of the dozen songs on that album, only three dip below the 5-minute mark, and one of those is a 2-minute “reprise” of a 9-minute song. The other two under-5-minute songs clock in at 4:22 and 4:88.

Overlong songs are fine for a prog rock act like Rush, or for a jam band like Widespread Panic, but it’s deadly for a pop rock act or a bar band that idolizes the Beatles, a band who kept some ⅘ of their songs under the 3:00 mark and 95% under the 4:00 mark.

Had Oasis stopped drinking -- alcohol, and a little less from the cup of their own hype -- they could have cut this album down by 20 minutes and had a piece of pop rock art every bit as amazing and infectious as What’s the Story Morning Glory? and Definitely Maybe. Instead, you’re constantly pushing the NEXT button halfway through the song. Unless you’re drunk. lumbered through four more albums, each equipped with two or three catchy gems and a lot of forgettable crap, before Liam smashed Noel’s guitar backstage in The Moment That Killed Oasis for good in 2009. (Or at least until the 2015 “20th Anniversary of Morning Glory Reunion Tour.”)

In the past nine months, Oasis has emerged as a two-band Yin and Yang. Liam & most of the other Oasis band members formed Beady Eye and released Different Gear, Still Speeding last spring, and Noel and his High Flying Birds released their eponymous collection in late October.

And the truth of Oasis is in these two releases: Liam has the 'tude; Noel has the brilliance.

Liam was voted the greatest frontman in the history of rock by Q magazine (no, I’m not kidding) in 2010, besting all the names you, dear reader, immediately think of as the obvious choice for this title. While I won’t go as far as Q, I certainly appreciate the key factors that make Liam a helluva stage presence.

Different Gear... comes with plenty of self-confidence and moxie, but that’s about the alpha and omega of what’s good about it. Seriously, I can’t even remember the name of two songs, nor could I begin to hum the lyrics of a single Beady Eye tune. Until yesterday, I hadn’t listened to a single track on that album since the two weeks after I first bought it. Moxie is fun in the moment, but it’s the lipstick on the musical pig.

If High Flying Birds has a flaw, however, it’s the lack of lipstick. They’re the cute girl who could be a supermodel with a little bit of lighting and makeup. neither brother was going to be immortalized for lyrical talents, Noel was definitely the more gifted lyricist, and he was also the one capable of injecting a diversely-inspired sonic assault that managed to wink lovingly to his Beatles while also stealing from hip-hop and electronica and numerous other styles. Noel is -- as most successful modern rock artists are -- a master thief who happily leaves his calling card on the table.

Listen to “Drums of Death,” one of the rockinest mostly-instrumentals ever to bleed out your ears. Listen to “F**Kin’ in the Bushes,” which is basically Noel telling everyone else in the band what to do. (Which, by the way, is exactly why they hated him, because he knows better than they do and probably wasn’t shy on reminding them of that fact.) With rock candy like this, who needs lyrics anyway? (Which probably annoyed the crap out of Liam, since nasally whiny vocals was basically all he brought to the table.)

If you’re not well-versed on the Oasis oeuvre and need a place to start, I recommend The Masterplan. If you want to start with their most recent best work, then you’re much better off starting with High Flying Birds and jumping straight back to Heathen Chemistry or even Morning Glory.

HFBirds, is IMO, the best non-B-side compilation album by a Gallagher in 14 years. If it just had a little more lipstick, it would be awesome. As it stands, it’s just really good.


Bob said...

I honestly was not aware that they had broken up.

Anonymous said...

Cocaine is a hell of a drug...

troutking said...

They did rock the snot out of the Ryman when I saw them around 2007 and therefore I will be at that 2015 reunion tour!

Hank said...

Oasis put on one of the all time great episodes of MTV Unplugged*. You might remember it for Liam watching from the balcony, while Noel filled in as lead.

*Raising another question: best Unplugged ever? Nirvana? REM? LL Cool J? Eric Clapton? Jay Z?

Billy said...

@Hank - Excellent follow-up! Never heard the Jay-Z, but Clapton's was powerful beyond just the tear-jerker moment, and it forced me to reevaluate him after having ignored 3/4 of his post-Layla existence. For that, I'm most grateful for that.

LL Cool J is awesome unplugged, plugged or even Any Given Sunday.