In-depth reviews of classic or neglected albums, mainly from the 1960s and 70s, plus a weekly newsletter featuring all the latest news, views and music. Artists covered include Beach Boys, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dire Straits, Grateful Dead, Hollies, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Kinks, Nils Lofgren, Monkees, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Searchers, Simon and Garfunkel, Small Faces, 10cc, The Who and Neil Young.
Friday, 4 July 2008
Review 99) Oasis "The Masterplan" (1998)
On which Oasis prove their tutors wrong and write some of their best material for B-side consumption...
Track Listing: Acquiesce/ Underneath The Sky/ Talk Tonight/ Going Nowhere/ Fade Away/ The Swamp Song/ I Am The Walrus// Listen Up/ Rockin’ Chair/ Half The World Away/ (It’s Good) To Be Free/ Stay Young/ Headshrinker/ The Masterplan (UK and US tracklisting)
ALAN’S ALBUM ARCHIVES
For The Record:
Ones to watch out for: Acquiesce, Talk Tonight, Half The World Away, Headshrinker, The Masterplan
Ones to skip: The only three tracks that sound like ‘B’ sides rather than shiny golden ‘A’ sides, though even this triplet are passable flip-sides:I Am The Walrus (over noisy cover of classic song), Swamp Song (overlong instrumental) and Stay Young (over obvious pop song).
The cover: Talk about bigheadedness, even a collection of Oasis B-sides is something to be studied and pored over say the band; the cover features a pupil desperately trying to teach the album’s music to a bunch of unruly, badly disciplined teachers (they must have taken this picture at my old school!)
Key lyrics: “We need each other, we believe in one another and I know we’re going to uncover what’s sleeping in our soul” “I’ll never say that I won’t ever make you cry and this I say I don’t know why I’m leaving, but I’ll be back another day” “I want to talk tonight, until the morning light, about how you saved my life, you and me see how we are” “Different versions of many men come before you came, all their questions were similar their answers just the same” “When I was young I thought I had my own key, I knew exactly what I wanted to be, now I’m sure you’ve boarded up every door…we only get what we will settle for, while we’re living the dreams we had as children fade away” “Semolina pilchards, climbing up the Eiffel tower…” “One way out is all you’re ever going to get” “All we know is that we don’t know”
Singles: All B-sides, Masterplan itself is perhaps the best known track here (this song and three otherswere also on Oasis’ double-compilation Stop The Clocks)
Original UK chart position: #2, interrupting a run of #1 albums - although a #2 peak position isn’t bad at all really for a compilation of B-sides that many fans already had (you can compare this album to the Beatles’ collection A Bunch Of Oldies But Goldies (or ‘moldies’ as it was re-named by John Lennon), which similarly broke a record-breaking run with a #2 compilation of old material at the mid-way point of that band’s career).
Official out-takes: None as such, as this is a compilation of previously released material. However, many fine period B-sides are notable for their absence from this set: the moody acoustic Take Me Away, a fiery live version of unreleased song Will Believe, the rough demo version of first album favourite Columbia (all included as B-sides on the back of first single Supersonic); the classic Noel G childhood ode D’yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?, the demented rocker Alive and a rather drawn-out live version of Bring It On Down (all B-sides to second single Shakermaker); a sweet acoustic alternate version of first album rocker Up In The Sky, the under-rated epic Cloudburst and a live version of Supersonic (all B-sides to third single Live Forever); the unloved orchestral A side Whatever only available on single; the moody acoustic ballad Sad Song available on the Definitely Maybe DVD; the jazzy pop-rocker It’s Getting Better (People) only available as the B-side to Roll With It; the very Oasisy street observation Round Are Way (B-side to Wonderwall); the moody Noel G pop-rocker Fame, the snarling Flashbox and a noisy cover of the Stones’ Street Fighting Man (all B-sides from theAll Around The World single) and finally the gorgeous Noel G ballad Heart Of A Star (B-side to Songbird), plus many more non-album oddities and rarities I probably haven’t even tracked down yet. While none of these tracks except maybe Cloudburst and Heart Of A Star are up to Oasis’ best, many of these tracks are still more deserving of a place on the album than, say, The Swamp Song. As you can see, there’s still plenty of material available for a Masterplan Volume Two one day! Oh and a final comment – you can hear two slightly different mixes of part of the Swamp Song as un-named minute-long instrumentals on the Morning Glory album, but if you’re enough of a fan to be interested in the B-sides then you probably knew that already!
Availability: Still on catalogue.
This album came between: Technically it came between Be Here Now (1997) and Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (2000) – both patchy albums but a lot better than their poor reputations suggest (highlights: the snarling Fade In Out with a pre-fame Johnny Depp on guitar and the dark, menacing Gas Panic! respectively) - although in truth this album covers the era of the great but too-well-known-for-this-list Definitely Maybe (1994) and Morning Glory (1995) (Highlights: the angst of Slide Away and the gorgeous acoustic ballad Cast No Shadow respectively).
Line-up: Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Tony McCaroll, Paul McGuigan and Alan White (produced by Noel Gallagher and Owen Morris)
Putting The Album In Context:
ROCK historians, go back to school (is that them on Oasis’ set-in-the-classroom cover perhaps?) While the world at large fell in love with the Mancunian’s breath-of-fresh-air singles and critics fell over themselves thinking up new adjectives to describe the brilliance of Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, the true heart of Oasis exists on their B-sides, with many of the best ones from the first half of their career handily rounded up on this album Masterplan. All of the Oasis LPs have had at least somebody banging on about how good each individual one is at some point in their lifespan and on the whole they’re right – Oasis are rightly proclaimed as one of the more important bands of the 1990s, but I would stake a claim at them being one of the most consistent bands too (yep, even the much-maligned Be Here Now has its moments!) Yet for me, this understated compilation of B-sides and obscurities is the most consistently brilliant of the lot – and it’s the one Oasis album that almost nobody seems to mention nowadays (perhaps because its not an album per se).
In essence, Masterplan is a ‘filler’ record to help the band’s first record label Creation patch up the holes in their finances and to let the band fill in time after the harrowing sessions for Be Here Now, when Oasis nearly split up for good. As such it should be terrible, full of songs that weren’t good enough to make the grade as singles the first time round and released as an after-thought to give the band time to lick their wounds. But Noel was on such a good strong run of writing form in the years 1992-96 that instead your jaw just drops, hearing the songs that Oasis originally intended to be simply a group of added bonus tracks for dedicated fans who bought all the singles. Most people think the band’s first two albums are good and they are - but the fact that oasis still had all this great stuff as leftovers shows just what a prolific and nowadays under-rated run of form the band had in their heyday. As a result, Masterplan is the last true ‘britpop’ album, the last effortless gasp among the run of groups that owned the charts between them for the middle period of the 1990s. People who didn’t live through the decade (gulp, I feel old suddenly) assume that in the 1990s the Spice Girls were king, with Take That and Boyzone their only real source of competition. No way my young whipper-snappers, the only reason there was such a heavy record-buying market back then was because of this band who suddenly made collecting music made by ‘proper’ (ie not synthesised bands) made up of a guitar, bass and drums cool again. Here, as on their first two records, Oasis manage a Beatlesy balance of abrasive noisy rock as confrontational as you can get and songs your mother could hum, without either side diluting the impact of the other, appealing to as big an audience as a single band can comfortably manage.
As the sleevenotes tell us, ‘a B-side is no excuse not to care’ and the quality of these seemingly ‘throwaway’ songs would be impressive enough for a 60s band when the exclusiveness of your flip-sides got you extra star ratings from your fans. Hardly anybody was doing B-sides in the 1990s, at least not like this – so far Oasis have yet to rip off their fans with instrumental/ extended/ scrambled/ remixed versions of their A-sides and instead of just putting one barely-sketched song on the back of their latest magnum opus, they often go to the lengths of specially recording two or three. The consistency of these seemingly off-handedly recorded B-sides is terribly impressive, with many of them fan favourites to this day, with a love and respect from fans that often outlasts the A-sides they came with (eg Acquiesce, a song still included in Oasis set lists long after the band stopped playing A-side Some Might Say). Noel Gallagher for one seems to think of these B-sides very fondly – perhaps because he plays a much bigger part in their recording than the A-sides, which are normally handed to younger brother Liam – and its no surprise to fans in the know that the elder brother selected no less than four of these Masterplan tracks for last year’s 2 CD Stop All The Clocks best-of(to put this in context the bands’ two celebrated classics Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory only get five apiece).
But it’s the throwaway-ness of these recordings that often makes them special, with the Gallagher brothers’ typical swagger sounding better than ever on some of these rough-hewn gems. Many of the Masterplan tracks sound like rawer versions of Oasis’ impressive wall-of-noise technique, with Liam’s snarling vocals even better suited to the rough, punkier recordings than he is their better known and glossily-produced A-sides. Yet there’s also a lot of one-off experiments too, with Noel especially prepared to expand and stretch the Oasis formula safe in the knowledge that the group’s core fans will understand what he’s doing – because its only them that were meant to hear these tracks the first time around. Noticeably, there’s plenty of deeper, more lyrical tracks – often featuring just Noel and an acoustic guitar in stark contrast to Oasis’ usual ear-crunching sound - which allow Noel G to be less self-conscious about getting preachy and philosophical, allowing him to think ‘hey its only a B-side, who’s going to hear it and where did I put the number of that French horn player?!’ If the band had recorded this kind of thing as an A-side for the world at large, more vocal members of their fan-base might have lynched them, but for a buy-one-song-get-one-track-freeB-side it shows a care and devotion that is only ever found in that most special of creative bands. Despite sounding very different to the usual Oasis fare, many of these songs are now some of the best-loved Oasis songs of all, tracks like Talk Tonight and Acquiesce being the first tentative steps to allowing Noel to step out on his own, a move which he seems to be doing more and more these days as he seems to be saving his best material for himself (luckily Liam’s writing is just as good these days, with the younger brother coming up with two of the biggest highlights of the last two albums: Born On A Different Cloud and Guess God Thinks I’m Abel).
Finally, lots of these Masterplan songs are early recordings (or at least early compositions) and show that Oasis’ brilliance were unquestionably there at the start. The effect is a bit like the intimacy of looking at someone’s baby photos—and then realising that they haven’t actually changed that much and wondering how to say so without insulting them. The best thing about these early tracks compared to some late and (especially) mid period tracks is that Oasis also sound like a true certified band here, one capable of improvising and backing each other up – even much maligned first drummer Tony McCarroll sounds far more at home on these B-sides where presumably Noel G is leaving him to get on with things instead of nagging him to play a complicated drum pattern slightly out of his reach. The biggest revelation is the work of the rhythm guitarist affectionately known to one and all as Bonehead and neglected bassist Guigsy, both of whom are at their best on these early songs, driving the band through their most outré swampy rockers like Headshrinker and adding such winsomely touches as the accordion on It’s Good To Be Free and the moody, eccentric bass rolls on The Masterplan respectively. The only negative point about the whole album to make is how many classic Oasis B-sides are still missing from this set (after all, the band still give their fans two or three per single to this day– and there’s an awful lot of Oasis singles around). For instance, it’s incredible to think that the band had so much material to choose from they actually left off fan favourites like the delicate acoustic D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?, the loud and proud Alive and the intriguingly original Cloudburst from this album, songs even their biggest and most deadly rivals wouldn’t have though twice about issuing as singles.
Acquiesce is a perfect opener, summing up the band’s swagger, optimism, slight edginess and their close relationship with their fans from the first. So good is this song its nearly always been in Oasis’ set-lists over the years, replacing many of their best-selling hits, and was originally meant to be an A-side in its own right before Noel G realised he was on such a roll of good material in ’96 that he could afford to put it out as a B-side. Released on the back of Some Might Say, in many ways it’s actually a better song than the A-side, with a much more natural sounding tune and a similar but easier to follow singalong chorus about the power of human beings to change things for the better when they believe and support one another. The band turn in a performance here worthy of the accolades that were already starting to accrue in this period, with a passion and excitement not heard this side of With The Beatles. The highlight of this song is the interplay between the two Gallagher brothers, who show off their similar-but-different characteristics by singing their lines about ‘being alive’ in two completely different ways. Liam snarls his way through the opening verse in true Lennon Walrus-mode, seemingly mocking those people who haven’t understood life’s messages yet in opposition to the ‘right on, brother’ lyric before brother Noel takes the lead for a demented chorus that displays Oasis at their sunniest. Listen out for the word ‘because….’ at the start of Noel’s choruses – all too often nowdays Oasis sound like two completely different bands depending on which brother is singing lead, but here the two are complementing each other, as if one is finishing the other’s sentences, and they do it rather well here. It’s amazing to think that this popular song is one of only – at a push – three songs to use this ‘contrasts’ vocal trick (Let There Be Love and the fade-out of Slide Away are the other two) which might have served the band well if they’d used the trick more. The rest of the band aren’t bad either, kicking up one of Oasis’ best and earliest wall-of-noise tracks where the heavy use of echo makes the band sound like some symphonic rock orchestra, rather than robbing the songs of energy like it too often did on Be Here Now.
This classic song is notably featured on Oasis’ best-of Stop All The Clocks, where it doesn’t sound out of place at all, despite nestling amongst some better known and better selling classics. Three things about this song puzzle me though: it starts with a teasing opening featuring an acoustic version of Morning Glory for no apparent reason (that song was recorded a while after this one was – not during the same sessions as you’d assume – or is there an alternate early version somewhere we don’t know about?), features backward talking sound effects (fair enough if you buy into Oasis’ Beatles references, but why is this otherwise straightforward track the only one to do this – are Oasis telling us this is their golden ‘Revolver’ era period or something?) and finally the song is called Acquiesce seemingly at random, as the title is never mentioned in the lyric and the theme of the song is about pushing loved ones forward, not giving way to them. Odd.
Underneath The Sky (B-side to Don’t Look Back In Anger) is a gentler, prettier little ditty that was obviously knocked off without much thought, but could have been another great little single if Noel had had more faith in it. Like many an Oasis song, the track seems to be going right where you expect it to until the middle eight (here played as an instrumental on a piano with some Stonesy boogie woogie chords, played as a duet between Noel and Bonehead). This passage comes in direct contrast to Alan White’s characteristic rolling-round-the-kit drum splashes and Noel’s fiery, restless
guitar burst at the opening – indeed, take the percussion and the guitar parts out and this song’s languid tempo makes it sound more naturally a ballad than the edgy rocker it ends up becoming. As for the lyrics they aren’t Noel’s best, but their pictoresque tale of living underneath the stars without roots or rules are quite moving when mixed with Liam’s multi-layered desperate-but-calm vocal and the edgyness with which many of the band are playing throughout the song. Inspired by a book of traveller’s quotes that Noel was reading at the time, this song is like many of Ray Davies’ tramp fixation stories from the mid 70s, with the narrator is so convincing about the gloriousness of the world he’s experiencing that you half want to get up to join him. Yet like Davies again there’s something just so slightly wrong about this track, as if its desperately trying to block out the problems of choosing a wayward, uncomfortable life as well as promoting the freedom the characters have when they leave these problems behind.
No qualms about Talk Tonite (dodgy spelling as listed originally but corrected for the Masterplan CD), another B-side from Some Might Say that positively trounces the A-side in terms of quality (and even that was pretty good it has to be said), with a sumptuous solo performance from Noel and a beautifully crafted sorry-for-itself verse and uplifting life-affirming chorus. The shoulder-shrugging lyrics and laid-back arrangement are at odds with the drama of the song, whose honest, acoustic vibe suits Oasis better than most critics or indeed fans ever give them credit for. The lyrics are some of Noel’s best despite the oh-so simple rhyming scheme, sounding like a message of love to a partner for having faith and helping the narrator realise his worth – with the narrator so pleased at what he’s hearing he never wants the conversation to end. Noel has always had a soft spot for this song, often wheeling it out in the solo portions of Oasis’ setlists and including it on the Stop The Clocks best-of. It’s perhaps easy to see why when you learn how the song was written – fed up after yet another spat with his brother and already disillusioned with fame, Noel temporally split from the band after a ramshackle gig in 1994 just a handful of singles (and no album) into Oasis’ career, vowing never to return. It took a chance meeting with an early fan, full of praise for the band and what it represented, for Noel to swallow his pride and re-join them again, which might be why the elder Gallagher brother performs this comparatively obscure track so often live: the band might not have existed had he not had the experience that inspired the song. It’s a good job for us that Noel took the hint, otherwise classic gems like this one might never have been written or recorded. Easy to miss, being more subtle and restrained than most of this period’s Oasis songs, Talk Tonight is a beauty, up there with Noel’s very best work.
Going Nowhere is more solo Noel, equally fragile and tender but this time performed with a full band (plus brass!) The song needs at least another verse to make it truly great (there’s only one verse and a chorus in the whole song), but at least Nowhere features one of Noel’s prettiest tunes and one of the elder brother’s best lead vocals to boot. Its sorry tale of being stuck ‘going nowhere’ and dreaming of what to do when the narrator is famous is quite sweet judging by the maelstrom that was going to hit its unknown creator in a few months time, although its sad that fame wasn’t all it was cracked up to be when Noel got there according to his later self-hating material. Despite the 1997 recording credit, Going Nowhere is presumably one of the large collection of pre-Oasis songs Noel wrote when he was unemployed, hadn’t yet joined his brother’s group and was an absolutely nobody in terms of the music business – yet just like Alan Hull in Lindisfarne, Noel had already written his best material in this pre-fame period when nobody knew who he was, with enough songs to take him through the majority of three albums with Oasis as well as sundry A sides and B sides (plus lots of unreleased material if copies of early Oasis set-lists are anything to go by). Another track that positively trounces its more famous A-side (1997’s disappointingly derivative Stand By Me, bravely left off the Clocks compilation in favour of songs like this one despite selling bucket-loads at the time).
Liam is back in control for Fade Away (B-side to Cigarettes and Alcohol), performed here as a barnstorming rocker but equally effective in concerts of the period as a quiet reflective ballad. The band’s typical wall-of-sound, which hasn’t been heard much on this album barring the opening track, is back in force here. Much maligned by modern bands, this distorted multi-guitar fest style is still pretty effective and nicely primitive-sounding and – along with Headshrinker – the band sound at their most punk rockish here. Despite being another of Noel’s early songs (it was B-side to only the band’s fourth single after all, just six months into their contract) Fade Away already finds the Gallagher brothers putting down the trappings of fame and giving us their utopian dreams of how life will be when they become ‘famous’. If you’re interested in this sort of material, look out for the lesser known All Around The World B-side The Fame, which is a less raucous but even better song on the same theme.
The Swamp Song (B-side to Wonderwall) is probably the best known song here, albeit only one minute’s worth of it from near the end of the song. This, you see, is the full version of the untitled instrumental heard twice on Oasis’ Morning Glory CD and while – like most repetitive instrumentals - it’s best heard in small bite-size doses at a time, this song’s opening is still among the most thrilling few seconds in the band’s career, with guest musician Paul Weller cooking up a storm on guitar and harmonica. A warm-up for the Morning Glory sessions, the mass cheers at the beginning were taped at the band’s Glastonbury performance in 1995 (it’s not a live recording despite what some journalists claimed at the time) and it’s a welcome change to hear the band at their rawest, without the layered overdubs they so often use. Like many instrumentals, though, it has nowhere to go after two or three minutes of playing time beyond repeating itself into oblivion/noise and – dare I say it – this song gets quite boring as Oasis tracks go. Perhaps the irate audience member chanting ‘come on!!’ at the start of this song had actually just been listening to the band’s performance of this song?! Normally I’d say this song was ‘filler’ material at best – but just looking at the long list of B-sides that didn’t get used on this compilation (see the ‘official out-takes column’) suggests that either a) someone from the band was particularly fond of this song and lobbied for its inclusion or b) Paul Weller was determined to do anything to get himself onto this album archive list (alright, Weller, calm down, you’re be cropping up on the ‘classic albums’ list a bit later on!)
I Am The Walrus (another Ciggies B-side) is also a poor choice for the album. A longstanding favourite in concert, dating right back to Oasis’ earliest years, this version of Walrus just doesn’t have the sneer or feedback to compete with other live versions of this song (see the Definitely Maybe or Live By the Sea DVDs to hear what I mean). Liam does his best to out-snarl Lennon on this Beatles favourite and his ad lib about it not mattering whether the band are out of tune or not and his brother’s response (‘yeah., but…’) before he gets cut off by his brother is priceless. However, the band performance behind the younger Gallagher bro sounds a bit too tentative and far too tinnily recorded for the bitterest, angriest, sarcastic nonsense song in rock to properly take off. Hearing a very Mancunian-sounding Liam murder the word ‘garden’ in a completely different way to Lennon’s Liverpudlian tonsils sang it is also disconcerting when you know the taunting original as well as I do, although that’s hardly Oasis’ fault. The long fade-out is an interesting deviation to the Beatles’ version though, dispensing with the theatrical Shakespeare over-dubs and George Martin’s scary strings in favour the sort of no-nonsense riff-filled rock Lennon’s Plastic Ono band played at the rock and roll saluting Toronto Festival in 1970 and showing what the Beatles themselves might have done to the song had they still been playing live in late 1967. (The otherwise illuminative sleeve-notes do themselves a disservice here, suggesting that performing the song was an ‘act of bravado’ (yup) because ‘even the Beatles didn’t do this one at the time’ (well technically, but then Lennon only played four more full-length concerts in his lifetime after writing this song and only one of them was with the Beatles, who would have definitely struggled to do this song justice on a windy January day on a rooftop in Saville Row, London).
As for the song itself, Walrus is a fascinating diatribe full of half conscious, half sub-conscious thoughts, which isn’t entirely unfocussed gibberish as most music commentators assume. Pete Shotton, Lennon’s close school friend and one of the few Beatles associates never to cash in with a coffee-table book about the band, remembers the song being inspired by a 60s pupil who was studying at Lennon’s old Liverpool school (Quarry Bank or Dovedale, its been lost in the mists of time which of Lennon’s old haunts it was) and commented to the Beatle that his set text that week was Lennon’s own book of subversive doodles In His Own Write. Told for nigh on 10 years by the majority of his teachers that he was troublemaker whose talent would never amount to anything, Lennon thought it hilarious that in the same classrooms he was laughed at his successors were now studying his works as if they were ‘art’. Hilarity turned to anger when Lennon realised how much more he could have done if the education system had recognised his ‘talent’ and opted to write the sneering diatribe you hear, a song that Lennon deliberately wrote so that it would be hell to understand for anyone trying to study it at a later date (believe me, he succeeded). Along the way, a few childhood memories got roped in (the ‘yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye’ for instance is a garbled version of a playground chant doing the rounds in the 60s, whose gruesomeness appealed to John and mirrored the stories in his book), while the title phrase is straight out of the works of Lewis Carroll (The Walrus and the Carpenter, if you hadn’t already guessed). In truth, Lennon didn’t know Alice In Wonderland very well and only remembered it vaguely – but as his book kept being compared to Carroll, Edward Lear and even James Joyce, the ever-curious intellectual Lennon dipped his toe into the waters of all three. In actual fact Lennon gets it wrong – the ‘walrus’ in the song is the ‘nasty’ one, the establishment figure who rounds up the carpenter and uses his artistic talent to enslave others: Lennon only read the story properly years after writing the song and admitted several times just before his death that he’d ‘made a mistake’ by choosing the wrong name and should have sang I Am The Carpenter instead. No matter, nonsense songs don’t come any better than this one – there’s enough imagery to placate any number of classes who want to study the song – and the snarling tones of the song come through loud and clear, which is presumably what made the song appeal to Oasis in the first place.
Moving back To Oasis, Listen Up (yet another Ciggies B-side) is much more impressive than the last couple of tracks, with Oasis’ wall of noise propping up a walking tempo beat and another of Noel’s interesting trying-to-find-my-way lyrics, even though this short song is another one that sounds raw and rather unfinished. An unusual synthesiser solo is an interesting touch, however and the lyrics have their moments: little did Noel realise that the world he seems to harangue for ignoring him in ’92-’93 will soon be treating him as the new musical messiah in ‘94-’95. Then again, it could be that this is another early ‘fed up with fame’ song that is already moaning about how record company needs and promotional ‘duties’ are leaving Noel with no time to write the very songs he needs to come up with in order to maintain the band’s run of success, a dilemma that crops up on this list quite often it seems.
Rockin’ Chair (B-side of probably Oasis’ weakest 1990s single Roll With It) is another short ditty knocked off between takes of some other song (probably the A-side). Yet this piece is right up there with the other classic Oasis releases in their magic year of 1995 when they seemed to get just about everything right (except that awful A-side anyway…), with an unusual fade-in at the beginning and an even more unusual half-apologetic vocal from Liam adding to the band’s growing palette of sounds. The song is so laid-back compared to the band’s usual style that the band sound as if they’re falling asleep rather than ‘rocking’ in their rocking chairs, but newboy Alan White’s sterling drum part and Noels’ rare acoustic solo are spot-on even so.
Half The World Away (B-side to the least well known but under-rated Oasis single, Whatever) is another of the album’s long line of sleepy Noel ballads, with some more philosophical musings about being stuck in a town where nobody has a future (it positively reeks of Manchester this song – see Graham Nash’s Cold Rain on CSN, no 70 on the list,to understand why!) Like its A-side, it deserves a far better fate than to lie for years on a single dating back to the prehistoric time when Oasis hadn’t yet taken over the world, despite its uncharacteristic pessimism when Noel speaks of things being cold and dreary in his life, his country and - unusually - across the entire planet. At least Noel chills the song out with his familiar refrain ‘I don’t feel down’ however – all you need to know to understand the elder Gallagher brother’s mentality is right here in this song, telling it like it is before working out what to do about it and put things right. The tune to this song is lovely, the keyboard accompaniment brings out its lilting feel nicely, while Noels’ reflective vocal is one of his better attempts - nicely charting the halfway line between his naïve but weary lyric which tells us ‘my body feels young but my mind feels very old’.
It’s Good To Be Free (another Whatever refugee) is a cute little song played with a great deal of menace. Liam sings about being free and enjoying all those little things in life that mean a lot, but the world-weary way with which he sings the song and the squeals of feedback in the guitar-part behind him make it sound like a horror movie. Free is in many ways the template for Oasis’ best late-period songs like Gas Panic!, Fade In Out, Where Did It All Go Wrong? and Little By Little, which embrace the darker, neurotic side of life rather than the great-to-be-alive anthems of the band’s first few singles. According to the sleeve-notes, the band were going through another of their minor squabbles in this period which got rather out of control during this session – which is probably why this rather innocuous song (which lyrically is more head-shrugging than finger pointing) sounds so downright nasty. (Noels’ comment at the end of the song – unrepeatable here – shows what a bad day the band are having). Bonehead tries to lighten the mood by providing a sweet accordion coda, but its too little too late – the listener has just been on one of the most harrowing journeys Oasis have so far put on record. The ‘all I wanna do is live by the sea’ line was pulled for the name of an Oasis video from the same period, whose bad pun on playing ‘live’ is almost as bad as one of mine.
Stay Young (B-side to the helicopter-heavy single D’Yer Know What I Mean?) is, like nearly all the band’s 1997 material, their weakest – an empty pop song written to give the stadium crowds something to chant to on the band’s latest tour, which seems to have run out of inspiration somewhere along the way. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this song, its just that the other B-sides on offer here are – almost unanimously – adventurous, making Oasis sound either more melodic or more lyrical or more multi-instrumental or just plain louder than you usually think they are. Stay Young is Oasis by numbers, with the lyrics about being ‘young’ and ‘free’ being the 6th album track to look at these themes already. ‘We’re unstoppable’ sing Oasis in the chorus, just at the point where the chink in their armour was beginning to hint for the first time that they weren’t…
Headshrinker (yet another Some Might Say B-side – now there was a value-for-money single!) in contrast might just be the best thing on the album. A terrific punkish rocker with Liam singing his guts out and the band playing at their loudest, the song is great in the way that only one-take slapdash recordings can be. All of the band really ‘get’ what they’re doing here and Liam’s delicious vocal, rolling his brother’s nonsense lyrics round his throat so that you get hit by the ‘sounds’ of the words rather than their ‘meaning’, is one of his best of all time. OK, OK, so the lyrics are a weak link, however much Liam tries to disguise them (rhyming ‘dog’ with ‘fog’ for instance or ‘ring’ with ‘sing’), but you can’t hear the words properly anyway - this song is all about atmosphere and the band have never sounded this urgent or ‘alive’ before. Not all the lyrics are bad either – I don’t know what the hell it means in the context of the song, but I defy anyone not to get chills when Liam snarls ‘I hope you don’t regret today for the rest of your lives’ down the mike while the band behind him are playing at 500mph. Classic stuff.
Masterplan itself (B-side of Wonderwall) is another high-point for the album and was even chosen as the ‘lead’ track for promoting Oasis’ Stop All The Clocks compilation. Why this song was never chosen as an A-side at the time is a mystery (although admittedly it faces some stiff competition from another out-and-out classic in this case), as Masterplan mixes the best of Oasis’ box of tricks, with dark and brooding verses giving way to a triumphant singalong chorus, both sung by Noel. It’s probably a safe guess to bet that any track Noel saves for himself to sing rather than giving to his brother is at least vaguely autobiographical or means something to the author that his other songs don’t and certainly Noel seems to have a soft spot for this song, reviving it whenever he gets the chance. The large sweeping tune shrieks ‘epic’ – not a term applied to many Oasis tracks, but just like their other candidate Champagne Supernova the track is expertly handled, building up gradually from a gentle, quiet start and the arrangement fully suits its grandeur. The lyrics are some of Noel’s deepest too, being nothing less than an essay on how mankind may have been guided by an unseen hand during his evolution - a subject common to Moody Blues and Pink Floyd record but not usually Oasis ones - although they’re not fully realised by the song’s end. The line about the ‘4 and 20 million corridors’ representing our possible future lives that we could all pass through laid out in parallel makes for a suitably chilling climax, however (Oasis must have passed through all of these and more since putting this album out, their history is that complicated) and Noel’s backwards guitar solo is a nice touch, one of his most virtuoso on record backwards or forwards. Best of all is the eerie chilling string arrangement, which fittingly recalls George Martin’s work on The Beatles’ I Am The Walrus and takes the song to a new other-wordly height. Listen out for a brief snatch of another Beatles song, Octopuses’ Garden, on the fade – all that care and attention gone into the song and now Noel wants to start pretending to be Ringo! I ask you!
Even so, The Masterplan makes for a suitably crafted and mature end to an album which shows that even Oasis’ hidden treasures are, well, treasured and takes us back to a time when world domination rather than critical sneers were part of the ‘masterplan’. Not every song is a gem, but then most bands nowadays seem to go out of their way to offer ‘bad’ B-sides so as not to drown out their masterpieces at the start. The fact that Oasis released such a consistent run of fine songs and continue to release two or three per single when money or career-wise they no longer need to is admirable and the adventurousness and range of the material makes that achievement doubly impressive. Even more than Stop All The Clocks, this little compilation allows you to turn back time to the last point when music seemed like it had something new and exciting to offer. If only we could get back there again.