Every few years another Oasis album comes out and people
fall over. Some hit the ground in disgust: ‘Oasis? Oafs in parkas fixated on an imaginary Sixties with a frontman whose first love is fighting German gangsters! Rubbish!’. Others crumple to their knees in tribal admiration, worshipping any sweatsozzled stage worthy of the Gallagher
The core question for both these camps is: ‘what is Oasis for?’ Flatterers know that, at a gig in one of the enormo-domes the band are wont to play in these days, they can lunge a beer-spattered, check-patterned forearm round their best mate’s neck, probably known as Craig or Darren, and go ‘mad fer it’ over ‘Champagne Supernova’ and ‘Wonderwall’.
Slightly more reserved fans see in them the replication of a great tradition in popular music: appropriation. The Beatles have always been Oasis’ target of choice. Noel rarely manages not to mention them in interviews, and Liam went around for some years actually thinking he was the resurrected spirit of John Lennon.
He’s not. But what Oasis have always managed to do is create a product that people want. They release an album and it sells, and there is no doubt that what they do is much more in the spirit of the tradition of guitar-based popular music than timid noodling by dance-fixated nerds on Moog synthesizers having to stop every five seconds to scrape their floppy fringe away from their eyes without disturbing their manscara.
To blast away these waifs with real rock and roll, Oasis storm back with their seventh studio album Dig Out Your Soul, a warm embrace of the tradition of appropriation. Here The Beatles become more than an affectionate albatross around the necks of Noel and Liam – they become a kind of daemon, supporting, bolstering, encouraging, but always leaving important decisions to the demands of 2008.
In earlier albums it seemed as if Noel in particular was afraid of innovation in the envelope-cauterising manner of his heroes. The attempts on 2001’s Standing on the Shoulders of Giants ended in critical contempt, although moments on that album, like the paranoid swirl of ‘Gas Panic!’, were worthy of minor Lennon/McCartney achievements. Noel got around the charge of backwardness by merely aping the Fab Four’s developments and assuming that would suffice for critics who wanted progression.
Let’s be clear; there is little real innovation as such on this album, unless you count quirky-ish beats and using a vocoder. Oasis would have no point if they tried to innovate in a spectacular manner.
Would we really want from this band a Radioheadstyle self-consciousness that spirals quickly into humourless defensiveness? A Kid A trajectory that shows a band so disconnected from their fans that they refuse to play ‘Creep’? Oasis continue to respect the taste of their fans, however banal that taste may seem to some high-brow critics.
As usual, most of the album is penned by Noel, with three offerings from Liam and one each from Gem Archer and Andy Bell respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the latter two are the most forgettable. Liam builds on his earlier promise with an elegant (for Oasis) turn on ‘I’m Outta Time’ and the psych-rock rave-up ‘Ain’t Got Nothin’. Noel remains the furthest from the Beatlesburden. This may seem contradictory, but what he’s managed to do is to make his songs sound just like… his other songs, and not like his musical idols.
The pulse of ‘Waiting for the Rapture’ and rocket-blast of lead single ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ anchor the first half of the album firmly in Noel’s classicist Oasis vein. There’s still the wide-eyed, embracing melody, the rather silly lyrics (‘I got my heebie-jeebies in a little bag’) but it all bubbles underneath what is actually very murky music for Oasis.
The album’s dense and multilayered arrangements mean that the aural world that the album creates is perhaps the most consistent, atmospheric and enticing since 1994’s breakthrough Definitely Maybe. So, what is the point? Well, Oasis are a fallback, a steady hand on the throttle, a cup of tea, a shag pile carpet.
They present no real difficulty, no need for anxious concentration for the listener, although on this work such attention would be rewarded. Their real purpose lies in the recreation of origins from the vantage point of retrospective appropriation. On this new album they’re exciting, energetic.
Liam is still probably the best rock and roll singer of the last twenty years and these songs point to a future that gestures to journalistic questions of musical purpose with a two-fingered salute.