Friday 11 September 2009

Oasis "Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants" (2000) (Revised Review 2015)

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Oasis “Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants” (2000)

Fuckin’ In The Bushes/Go Let It Out/Who Feels Love?/Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is/Little James//Gas Panic!/Where Did It All Go Wrong?/Sunday Morning Call/I Can See A Liar/Roll It Over
Now that one of our beloved AAA groups is no more (that leaves just the modern-day Rolling Stones, the Wilsons-less Beach Boys, the Allan Clarke-less Hollies, three Moody Blues and the disintegrating Belle and Sebastian in terms of AAA groups left making records) it seemed time to devote space to one of the band’s lesser known albums recorded in an almost equally tortured and difficult time as in the present. I’m astonished at just how much badmouthing about Oasis has been going in the press since they officially disbanded a fortnight ago (almost as surprised as I am at the idiot modern DJs and journalists who claim that the Beatles were ‘nothing special’) – until their last effort Oasis had never released a ‘bad’ album without a classic song on it (even the Beatles made the mixed ‘Beatles For Sale’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ and the hugely over-rated ‘Sgt Peppers’) and their highlights are more than worth inclusion on this website. Most journalists are claiming that Oasis won’t be remembered at all in 10 years’ time – I seriously doubt that; we’ve forgotten it in the years since their fall from grace but back in the mid-90s Oasis were big and all-encompassing in a way we hadn’t seen since the 1970s (OK, OK so I’m ignoring our bete noires the Spice Girls for the moment – but seriously, the media just assumed they appealed to everyone and marketed them as such oblicvious of taste or common sense  whilst Oasis grew by word of mouth and only then became the darlings of Britpop). Indeed, so used to seeing Oasis touring and reprising their old hits are we these days that I think they’ve become a bit too familiar and the rest might do their catalogue a whole lot of good. Even the worst Oasis albums have grown in stature in the years since their release and there are oodles of forgotten or neglected album tracks nestling amongst their back catalogue.

Take this album for instance. Though not for everybody, this album is a quieter, subtler affair and is more about the detail than the ear assault, being much darker and heavier in tone.. Oasis broke up spectacularly during the making of predecessor ‘Be Here Now’, with the weight of audience expectation and band ego pitched against the fact that Noel Gallagher had used up his classic early run of songs on the first two albums and some extra-special B-sides. All that’s left for this album are the two Gallaghers and faithful drummer Alan White, hence the rather cagey album credits for ‘additional musicians’ (and none at all for the band members) which takes up half a page of the CD booklet in small type. In many ways, then, this is the start of Oasis mark #2, the highly under-rated model that may have never quite matched the original band’s fire and fury but still went a long way towards developing their sound (and despite what you may have read by other reviewers, their sound develops a huge amount between 1994 and 2009) and drawing on their strengths. Not every song here is a classic and that’s been the trouble with probably every Oasis album – consistency is not the band’s strong point as there are dips and troughs on their albums like few others. But when the band have things tuned in right and really do have things they want to say without being forced to rest on their laurels too much they can really punch above their weight – just listen to the two Noel-sung ballads on this album and the chilling ‘Gas Panic!’ for evidence of how strong Oasis could be at their peak. And this is, if not quite their peak, then their second wind, with the band at the last possible point in time where they can get away with a bravura title about being ‘giants’ without it sounding silly. Most fans were disappointed or actively dislike this record at the time and certainly the tide had turned well against them by the time of this album’s release (the Record Collector review for this album must go down as one of the most scathing in history) – but listen to this album again with fresh ears and you might be surprised by what you hear.

This album had a difficult, troubled birth and sounds like it too: this is a quieter, subtler affair and is more about the detail than the ear assault, being much darker and heavier in tone.. The camaraderie of the original band is long gone and that’s a shame – jovial guitarist ‘Bonehead’ and quiet bassist Paul Arthurs were always going to be overshadowed by the charismatic Gallaghers but they served an important role in the band’s dynamics that the future members never quite managed. The poor response to the sheer epic tone and massiveness of album ‘Be Here Now’ also prompted a major re-thinking of the band’s sound (that album is best heard a track at a time because 70 minutes of the stuff does turn the head a little, I have to say). It's an album made in transition this one: outgoing members Bonehead and Guigsy play on some of it (though not much, according to the former's memories of the sessions) while Gem only turned up right near the end. That means that for much of the record Oasis are a power trio, with poor Alan White stuck between the Gallagher brothers as Oasis make a record the same way that Wings made 'Band On The Run' - but with less confidence and without the near death experience in Africa. Noel, especially, earns his stripes across this record, playing pretty much all the guitar work and most of the keyboard/mellotrons, even buying a series of worn-out guitar pedals to give him a 'new' means of making his guitar sound loud and cavernous without so many overdubs (a technique that works rather well - I defy anyone to guess that 'Gas Panic!' was made by a one-man-band, a singer and a drummer, so live does it feel, while the ten Noels that sing to Liam's lead on 'Who Feels Love?' remains the key Oasis harmony moment). It's a shame, actually, that Oasis didn't make more records this way - and Noel will never again be quite so involved with an album, sacrificing his dominance in the band for a more equally shared partnership once Gem and Andy arrive and Liam starts writing more and more.

Though not the greatest album Oasis made by a long shot, there's more than a case to answer here against the usual tired critical cliches when the album came out that the nation's newest whipping boys 'hadn't moved on'. On the contrary, the only thing in common between 'Giants' and its three predecessors is the rather grandiose title: the music is coming from a much humbler and smaller scale than the confidence of 'Definitely Maybe', the certainty of 'Morning Glory' and the arrogance of parts of 'Be Here Now'. This album is Oasis' attempts to re-connect with their old audience who liked Oasis for their mixture of working class roots and art college lyrics, only it all sounds a little different here, mainly because Oasis and their primary composer Noel Gallagher (on the last Oasis album that isn't a democracy) are now that bit older. Noel has run out of songs from the band's pre-fame days - well, ones he wants to use at any rate - and in truth has never actually got further in the 'masterplan' he'd created than the 'third album' released as 'Be Here Now'. The slight stumble on that record was the first part of the plan that hadn't worked and it's changed the way he sees life for at least the rest of the band's career.

This is, you see, the start of a new side of Noel's writing that's only really come to the fore on occasional acoustic B-sides: despair. Till now the only things uniting Oasis songs have been that voice, those guitars and the sense of youthful exuberance and joy at experiencing everything life has to bring. This album still has that voice and though it struggles to replicate the guitars without Bonehead it gamely tries while throwing other elements like mellotrons into the mix, but it's the mood that's changed the most. Depressed songs like 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' and 'Sunday Morning Call' (a song Noel has always been said to hate - perhaps because it does sound alien compared to the older days) signal the start of a new, more thoughtful Oasis, one that's tasted the champagne and decided they prefer beer, but unsure quite how to undo their legacy enough to go back to where they were. Noel feels a phoney, caught up in a trap of his own making and is far more cross with himself for 'blowing' it on the last album and not representing the 'real' people who always felt Oasis spoke for them as any fan (this is also the period when Noel woke up to find a party he didn't remember having still taking place with people he didn't know in his kitchen, causing him to vow not just drugs as he famously told us he stopped taking overnight in this year but most ideas of excess and a millionaire lifestyle: the only sign of the old Oasis days are the cars in the garage he never did learn to drive). 'Baby the time is right to tell it all like it is' boasts 'I Can See A Liar' about a man who 'lives upon a throne...but he's all alone again'. Note that again: so many of Noel's pre-fame songs start that way, equating fame with friends and failure with loneliness and here he's right back where he started, only worse off because he's lost the confidence that things will all go his way again in the future. The fact that Noel had barely written a song during the past three years (with so much of 'Morning Glory' and 'Be Here Now' taken from older songs) the contrast between the songs he wrote then and are writing now are sharper than ever.

Though most reviewers missed it, so closely do Oasis resemble their 'old' sound on the singles 'Go Let It Out' and 'Who Feels Love?', there's a real sea of change throughout most of this album. The record starts not with a singalong anthem but with a dance track of all things, one covered in 'samples' (the in-thing of the millennium year) taken from the documentary film for the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. For those who don't know, this was a troubled event when the idea of rock 'selling out' was a major talking point and the show was marred by concert-goers who refused to pay for tickets which went into the hands of capitalist overlords and who set a few hotdog and burger vans on fire in retaliation for suppression by 'the man'. Though Noel is too 'sensible' a figure to ever agree with purist hippie philosophies like these, you can sense the doubts forming in his mind: were all those riches, blown so quickly, really worth it? Is that what the music was all about? Skipping the charming pastiche of old Oasis 'Go Let It Out', even second single 'Who Feels Love?' sounds strangely paranoid for a song that's primarily about redemption. 'Found what I had lost inside - spirit has been purified' runs one of Noel's most overlooked vocals, as he joins in with an all-too-rare moment of harmony with his brother on a track about readjusting your horizons, of discovering 'that this was not the present land they spoke of'. Noel is, however, pleased enough with where he's been and what he's seen to 'thank' the 'sun' (Noel's metaphor for his 'creator' in many years and albums' time) for the crowds of happy people who 'got' what he was trying to say. Caught right in the middle of thankful release that things have worked out and a fear that things might not work so well next time out, it's a fascinating track enhanced by a backing track that seems to be playing 'backwards' and for most of the time is, thanks to some psychedelic guitar. The slow stomp of 'Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is' sounds like the Oasis of old, but the attitude is cold and inward, not outgoing and inclusive. This is an attack like the days of old, but aimed squarely at the band not the world and it's jailkeepers. Even Liam's first song, the sweet and under-rated 'Little James' more than deserves it's place at the heart of the album: it's the gushing family song Noel wasn't ready to write yet (I'm impressed that Liam, still only twenty-seven, was) but it belongs here in a way it would on no other Oasis album. This is what the band's career was all about - family. Not just the brother's family, but the children lost in a scary world who need a voice that's theirs. Note though that even this song - one of the most carefree on the album in terms of lyrics, still sounds so sad and haunting, thanks to the mournful mellotron part that just makes the song and that killer hookline: 'It won't be long before everyone has gone'. Even bands desert you, the song suggests, so make the most of being loved while you can.

'Gas Panic!' is the big sea-change in Noel's writing and as such it divided fans greatly on release like no other. Building on the threat and fear of 'Fade-In Out', the highlight of the last LP, Oasis create an even scarier landscape where not just your enemies but your friends are after you. It's easy to imagine Noel, post-party, deciding that he no longer knows who his real friends are (he spends most of his hilarious commentary on the Oasis promos DVD 'Time Flies' going 'Why didn't anybody stop me?!') and that he can't trust anyone anymore. It's a far cry from 'Don't Look Back In Anger' - now the narrator is looking with fear and doubt over everyone he meets, no longer able to give them the benefit of the doubt. The fact that this song manages to be the most Oasisy on the album, but not (a typical guitar part circles not by another guitar but by the big black dog of depression that is the mellotron and a harmonica straight out of an R and B horror film) underlines that a major change is taking place inside it's creators head. Impressively, though you'd expect the rest of the band (well, what's left of them) to resent this change of pace, Liam and Whitey understand the track instantly, the singer declaring it as one of his favourites and the drummer stamping his acceptance with one of the best performances of his career, uncompromising and as 'emotional' as a drum pattern can be, the very sound of a scared man backed into a corner, sobbing, and trying to fight back with everything he's got while all around there's so much noise it sounds like hell breaking loose (there is, of course, nearly always noise on Oasis songs, but usually born out of the thrill of being alive, not the fear that you're going to die).

Still it comes, especially on the second side. 'You know that feeling you get when you're older than time?' starts 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' and suddenly Noel no longer wants to live forever or stay young- he wants the world to stop as quickly as possible. He's back on the 'betrayal' trip too, 'keeping the receipts for the friends that you buy' and warning the listener that the feeling of gloom 'sticks around until the day you die'. 'Never grow old' is the theme of this song, picked up by 'Sunday Morning Call', a song even sadder than 'Sad Song'. The new day used to be something to cheer in the past, a 'morning glory; where you could be any 'story' and the world was waiting to see how great you could be. Now the 'day that couldn't give you more' is a 'nonsense', Noel dismissing it with a curt 'but what for?' He feels empty, having taken everything the world has to offer but realising too late 'that you don't get it for free'. His tired retreat to usual Oasis words of comforts ('it's okay. it's alright') aren't fooling anybody: by the end of the song Noel is screaming, attacked by 'little voices in your head at night' (the line picked up by the director of the music video, who sets it in an insane asylum, even though the song's not really about madness at all, but frustration) and feeling 'what you're not supposed to feel' (ie for this line read 'this isn't how I expected to feel when I started this dream of being a rock and roll star'). 'I Can See A Liar' tries the old Oasis aggression but again seems to turn it inward, another song full of shock and betrayal. The album then ends with 'Roll It Over', a lengthy ballad that in stark contrast to the self-mocking 'Married With Children', the glorious uplift of 'Champagne Supernova' or the enough-already excess of 'All Around The World' sounds humble and stumbling. A song about being passed by, it sounds like Noel grumpily relinquishing his band's crown as the masters of the universe to the next wannabe pop stars down the line, hoping they don't fall into as many of the traps as he's just made.

How could the reviewers not hear this? How could 'Giants' be dismissed as just another Oasis record that doesn't move the band's sound on much? Even leaving aside the fact that the leap from 'Definitely Maybe' to 'Morning Glory' is more than most bands manage in a lifetime, this record couldn't sound less like its predecessors. It's a sad and sorry-for-itself album a million miles away from the rockstar posing of before, with Noel turning from the most mad fer it writer of his generation to the most mad about it. You could argue that this isn't what Oasis were all about and that there are a whole number of other bands out there who could do this sort of thing better. Pink Floyd are a more normal place to go if you're feeling down (it's worth noting how much Noel loves 'The Wall, not an album that strikes you as particularly Oasis-ish on any record except this one), while other period bands like The Super Furry Animals, Stereophonics or Ocean Colour Scene are more natural 'fits' for this album's brand of melancholia: it's hard to sound sad while riffing at a million miles an hour and sung in Liam's penetrating voice (which is why most reviewers missed it - always read the lyrics if you want to review an album I say). You could argue that there are other better or more consistent Oasis albums: though the world and his top-hatted dog always seem to pick on 'Little James' and 'Sunday Morning Call', my candidates for two of the blandest Oasis songs ever are 'I Can See A Liar' and 'Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is', while the brave stab at something different on 'Fuckin' In The Bushes' is a case of right idea, wrong place (it just doesn't fit on this album and certainly not as the first track). 'Giants' also looks a mess, even by Oasis standards, with a boring stock photograph of the night's sky in Manhattan that has nothing to do with the already pushing-it album title, nicked from the Isaac Newton quote then-recently included on the new concept of the  £2 coin (album sleeves were never the band's strong-points; this is also one of the last pieces of art to feature a picture of the Twin Towers,  with the album released some eighteen months before 9/11). I could give a hundred thousand reasons to build a barricade...

But there are a million more to break the barricade down again. This is, you see, an incredibly important album with many career highlights. Though I'm as fond of 'Rock and Roll Star' and 'Champagne Supernova' as any fan (and probably love 'Cast No Shadow' more than most), for me it's the best songs from this album and sequel 'Heathen Chemistry' that represent the real highlights of Noel's (and Liam's) songwriting. The band had three choices after making 'Be Here Now' and in turn they'll try all of them: writing generic 'Oasisy' songs, splitting up or taking a break (something Noel says he regrets not doing sooner) or using the slight fading of the limelight to change the band sound around to make it even more authentic for what an older band have gone through and experienced. It's the same step emotionally The Beatles made circa 'Revolver' (an album that's sadder than people give it credit for - growing up really does seem to equate to tears across this website doesn't it?) and Oasis have got there in less songs but across a longer period of time: the problem is that, creatively, Noel did most of his growing as a writer before the band even had a record contract and this is the first album he's made from scratch as a 'success' - and the first as a 'failure' too. No wonder it's such a confused sounding record and sadly that sense of confusion is the emotion that hits you most. Scratch behind it a little, though, and you'll find a band eager to change, to grow and to think in a way they'd never quite been able to do before. It seems almost a shame to report that the band will go back to finding a happy medium between the two halves of their career in later life, with family life robbing Noel of the need to make his voice heard through songs and writing about his career the way he has done up to here, with something much more important to distract him. Oddly enough, Liam got there first with 'Little James', cutting right though the trail of angst across the rest of the album to the heart of the matter with his first song (and thus doing what John Entwistle loved doing to Pete Townshend on Who records).

Like many an Oasis album, there’s a few too many returns to an old band sound that the band can’t carry off as well any more (both because the band are genuinely older and because they’re not the hungry wannabees any more) but on this album and ‘Heathen Chemistry’ the lesser moments are kept in check and simply show up how good the great moments are. All the songs for ‘Definitely Maybe’ and a large percentage of the songs for ‘Morning Glory’ had been written by Noel when he was an unknown hungry struggling songwriter, full of the bravura of youth and dreaming big. By and large the songs for ‘Be Here Now’ are Noel coasting, trying to replicate what he remembered about those feelings now he’s made the big time. ‘Giants’ is in contrast the real breakthrough for his songwriting, casting a weary eye over the past six years of events and endless parties and taking life a little more seriously. It’s also the chance for ‘re-birth’ in many ways, for Noel to re-write the band started by his baby brother in his own image for the first time Oasis might not have been standing on the shoulders of giants as such, but this album is easily the equal of anything else being offered in 2000 and found the band at least squinting at the horizon and all the things they could do in the future. The fact that the long and winding road that stretched out before them now seems to be at an end and circling back to where it once belonged should in no way detract from how promising this album once sounded or how many doors it opened for them in the following decade.  

 For such an experimental album it’s inevitable that there are going to be some failures along with the triumphs, but unusually Oasis decided to stick the oddest and least worthy of all of these at the beginning of the album. ‘Fuckin’ In The Bushes’ – surprisingly the only Oasis track to feature swearing and it’s not sung by the band – is the most uncharacteristic track they ever did in their 15-year career. There’s no Liam and precious little Noel on this track, with most of the ‘song’ given over to drummer Alan White at his pulsating best, keyboards from guest musician Paul Stacey (who should have become a full-time member given the level of his input throughout this album) and samples from the ‘Message To Love’ film of the Isle Of Wight Festival in 1970. They’ve been stereo-typed as a sour old bunch of grumps now, but actually the elder inhabitants of Woodstock and Isle of Wight ‘invaded’ by the hippies of the day showed a typical mix of disdain and curious interest in the goings on of the young in their respective towns during rock festivals seen today and the level of care and praise in the Woodstock film by the elderly surprises me every time I see it. So even though this song starts with an announcement from the festival barked in anger at how things made ‘with a lot of love’ have been destroyed by all-too familiar human greed, it doesn’t quite become the old-versus-young debate you expect (just listen to the sexaganerian’s summation at the end of the film and the end of the song: ‘life, nice, youth, beautiful – I’m all for it’). Presumably this is what struck the band too, with Noel coming up for the idea for the song after watching the long-delayed premiere of the documentary film on TV (which if memory serves was on in 1997). As we’ve seen, Noel was in a similarly mixed frame of mind at the time over the importance of rock music and his role in it and it might be that watching back the film one day the polarity of the words struck a chord. Sadly, though, what might have been quite an interesting song on paper doesn’t quite come off – the voices are too repetitive as in 99% of sampled music and drown out the guitars, whilst the guitar parts themselves make for an interesting curio best heard as a B-side or an out-take rather than an album track. Odd.

The first single from the album and first album highlight was ‘Go Let It Out’ and it was the first Oasis released to get almost universally panned. Certainly it’s not the most adventurous thing the band ever did, but as a stepping stone between their old and new sounds it’s a delight – crazy hazy lyrics, lots of guitars and a great bass riff but somehow the sound is more controlled than before, with a delightful mellotron lick spinning across the top of the song. One thing Oasis are often criticised for this their use of dynamics and that the sound of a song is often the same from beginning to end but that’s blatantly untrue (people said the same about The Beatles in 1963 if I remember rightly). This track is a good example – watch how it builds by layer and layer across this song, from acoustic to electric to bass guitars and then the voices and then the keyboard and then the whole lot get louder after the guitar solo at the end. Musically, this is one of Oasis’ most exciting anthems, upbeat and cocky swaggering more than matched by the gutsy performance (Liam’s vocals are at their sneering best at the beginning to the song). The only real fault in the song is the lyrics – Noel G is obviously trying to write a song of bravura to match his younger brother’s vocal antics but they hit Noel’s more poetic and psychological approach head on and the result is at times confusing. There’s nothing specificially wrong with the lyrics – indeed the last verse may be one of Noel’s best, citing that the only way ‘ordinary people’ can ever become famous is by being ‘clowns’ for their better off cousins’ entertainment because ‘we’re the builders of their destiny’ (its so Raymond Douglas Davies I can’t quite believe its not on a 1980s Kinks LP). But, hard as this song tries to be a uniter in the John Lennon sense of the word, trying to bring people without a voice together out of frustration and broken promises, the song is too much of a mouthful and too, well, ‘posh’ for its own good. ‘Go let it out’ is a catchy chorus indeed, acting as both a rallying cry for the humble to overthrow the big-headed and as a way of showing that we, too, have something to be proud about – but it doesn’t fit with a song filled with images like ‘paint no illusion’ and ‘clowns that caper in their sawdust rings’. Whatever. The music alone is worth the price of entry – its just a shame that the unequal lyrics gave so many reviewers to jump on this otherwise encouraging track.

‘Who Feels Love?’ has no such trouble, with its philosophical lyrics fitting nicely with this paean to psychedlia that wouldn’t have seemed out of place if it had been released in 1967. I’ve always considered Oasis’ harmonies to be decidedly under-rated (for two such different-sounding vocalists, the Gallaghers don’t half sound good singing together) and ‘Love’ features the best example of band harmonies on record. They also really suit this gentle eastern-like song, full of tape loops and backwards guitar, which sounds like a close cousin of any of George Harrison’s psychedelia-era Beatles songs. ‘Love’ is also the second well-arranged song on the album, fading in and out on some impressive backwards effects (notoriously difficult to get accurate) and an amazing backwards solo from Noel, matched together with a regular drum beat and a bubbling McCartney-ish bass which give the song the same sense of balance and yin/yangness as the lyrics. As mentioned, this is Noel the songwriter at his happiest, talking of removing a ‘thorn from his side’ and sensing ‘a million years between my fantasies and fears’. You hope that this track got written at the end of this album’s sessions not the beginning, because the ‘fears’ are very much present in the rest of the album (not that follow-up ‘Heathen Chemistry’ is all that much of a happier album, although it does seem to be Liam having the sulks on that CD). There aren’t many lyrics to go on here but what there are speak volumes: Noel talks of adapting to his sudden-found fame for the first time, accepting that being rich and famous is ‘not the promised land they spoke of’ and determined to ‘heal’ rather than hurt with his songs, now he realises what an important role he has a songwriter. Or something like that – as I say, there isn’t much to go on here but the lyrics obviously appeal to Liam who sings this song with a relish that won’t be found again on the rest of this album. And what relish – it seems strange that such a lovely and peaceful song is delivered with such a sneering and angry quality but somehow the younger brother fits the bill perfectly here, giving the song a depth and purpose it might otherwise be missing and sounding as if the narrator really has found peace only after an age of searching for it.

‘Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is’ represents the band’s last gasp attempt to hold on to their old sound and its obvious already that its way past it’s best. Instrumentally, things are pretty good on this track – the bleating morse-code keyboard parts, the sampled choir (featuring AAA associate PP Arnold), Alan White’s excellent drumming and Noel’s fierce guitar solo are all perfectly placed. But Liam’s vocal is less than convincing for once and the lyrics are pure gibberish. The track also disappoints after the second minute when it’s clear it’s played all of its hand already and there’s no other little tricks or overdubs to catch our interest. If only the band had treated this song as a demo and worked on its finest moments whilst giving it a better set of lyrics, this might have been another killer album track. Noel’s clearly having fun, however – his seemingly improvised ‘hey watch out’, buried right at the bottom of a busy mix in the middle of the song may well be the best bit of the whole thing, pitched in opposition to Liam’s knowing sneer. The sudden ending of the song – which comes to a full stop where you least expect it to – is just one of many reasons to reach for the skip button, however.

Most fans pick on Liam’s first song, ‘Little James’, as the album’s weakest link (indeed, its often cited as being the worst Oasis song of all) but apart from a dodgy lyric or two it’s not that bad at all. Indeed, the opening section – with more backwards loops, this time of keyboard effects (and returning to this album theme of things being slightly distorted and out-of-sequence) matched against an ‘Imagine’-like piano lick is one of the most effective openings on any Oasis record. The tune may be slight and the words, umm, peculiar (especially the second verse where Liam’s baby ‘swims the oceans like a child’), but there’s also a real emotion to this song and the love and care Liam feels for his eldest born comes over loud and clear. The band have been clever here, too, by ducking Liam’s vocal in the mix in favour of the sound effects, giving the track an eerie childhood-memory like feel to this song. Liam’s growl on ‘singing this song to you and your mum’ is priceless too – no one else could sing a love song this genuine and heartfelt with such a veneer of ridicule and contemptuousness! The best part of the song is the end, however, where the closing cascading keyboards join in with Liam’s na-na-na Hey Jude-like chorus and Noel’s swirling guitar work, sounding lost and hopeful all at the same time. Better things are to come from Liam’s pen, but this first song already has several good ideas in place and it can’t have been easy writing in the shadow of his elder brother (Liam’s songs are better than Noel’s these days, I have to say).

‘Gas Panic!’, however, is Noel at his best. Brooding, unsettling and wonderfully linked together (it’s the 4th song out of 6 to start quietly and then punch in with the power a verse in, a highly effective trick across this whole album). Noel’s penchant for writing wordy lyrics really suits this song – a close cousin of ‘Be Here Now’s best track ‘Fade In-Out’ – and the self-sneering by the narrator at his own weaknesses in having nightmares and being abandoned by kith and kin is highly effective in the middle of an album full of Gallagher swagger. From what I’ve heard, this song is about drugs and, interestingly, seems to be a pre-cursor of other anti-drugs (or at least anti-excesses) songs to come from Noel’s pen. With this reading in mind the song takes on a new meaning – the narrator has lost his friends and family by his partying lifestyle and the ‘enemies’ are the drug dealers and cronies dragging their celeb friend down to the dependent state Noel so despised in himself in the late 90’s. Like all the best horror films, the scaryness of the track comes from familiar ingredients being used in a new and terrifying context – Liam’s vocals sneer as much as ever but now the rest of the band behind him are cold and icy instead of being in contrast to their singer. The song really builds up to a crescendo in the last verse, with the ‘thing’ in the dark tapping on the window and ending a really fine ‘long dark night of the soul’ song. Like many of Pete Townshend’s works between 1973-78 this song doesn’t make for easy listening but for anyone whose ever laid awake at night wishing things would disappear, this song is useful evidence that you are not alone.

Noel takes over the album now, with his usual two vocal spots stuck together at the middle of the album, a device that’s highly effective, almost as if the band’s ‘conscience’ is taking centre stage (The Who pulled off that trick many times too, with Pete Townshend ‘taking over’ from Roger Daltrey at key moments in albums). Noel will never dominate an Oasis album as much as this one again, although interestingly ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong?’ is very much in the style of songs he usually gives his brother to sing. Another sneering song of self-contempt, this song takes on a new tone of regret and bitterness thanks to Noel’s dazed vocal, as the elder brother seeks addresses the listener directly and asks if we, too, have ever been as lost and confused as he has. I love the line about ‘keeping receipts for the friends that you buy’ – the greatest self-hate line not included on ‘The Who By Numbers’, but this is no comedy song; the sentiments seem deadly real. The chorus comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise, forcing the song out of whispered solitude into a frenzied cry of ‘I hope you know it won’t let go, it sticks around with you until the day you die’. The lyrical polar opposite of the band’s first real statement – the sunny and defiant ‘Live Forever’ – this is a character fed up with life, desperate to find the right path that he once found so effortlessly and can’t wait for death to come soon enough. We’ve said, often enough on this website, that Noel’s songwriting circa 1993 was exemplary – virtually every single song whistled by the average Oasis fan on the street was written in that period, when Noel was unemployed except for a short stint as the Inspiral Carpets’ roadie. The peculiar contrast of being a struggling nobody ignored and oppressed by everybody whilst writing his greatest work compared to his later years of coasting off his earlier efforts and being hailed as a megastar by everyone have really taken their toll on Noel in this period and Noel’s lyrics about ‘dreams you bought for your lies’ show how troubled about his talent Noel – temporarily – was at the time. Desperate to correct the balance, Noel can’t help writing these dark, brooding songs – the inspiration and optimism and above all escapism of the early Oasis songs are long gone by this album. Not everything on this track works – ‘I hope the tears don’t stain the world that waits outside’ is too gobbledegook and too much of a mouthful to sit comfortably on the chorus – but for the most part this is exciting, revealing songwriting with Noel at his very best. 

‘Sunday Morning Call’ is a more peaceful and yet still pretty turbulent look at the same theme. It’s a morning-after hangover song, with Noel having succumbed to yet another lifeless party he didn’t really need to go to and really suffering for it the next day, both physically and mentally. The line ‘you crawl into a day that couldn’t give you more – but what for?’ is key to this song and indeed this whole album, with Noel aware that his fame and his riches give him the power to do anything, but without his old muse and without the original band around him, what’s the point of it all? Noel talks again of feeling ‘what you’re not supposed to feel’ and, again, he’s confused by fame and all its brought him – instead of escape he’s got more responsibilities, instead of power he’s got more restrictions on what he can do from fans and record company alike (this is the first for new label ‘Big Brother’ after Creation’s demise) and instead of friends and associates he’s got hangers-on and band divisions taking up his time instead. Noel was never cut out to write the whole ‘rock star moaning’ template song that U2 et al have mined for years, Noel’s too much aware for that and registers that a lot of his problems are his own doing, caused by being led astray. In contrast to Bono’s work, the lines here about ‘sniffing away’ the tears caused by the conscientious voices in his head so that he can ‘dance till the morning light’ are among the most revealing and memorable in Noel’s career. Interestingly, this song ends optimistically, with Noel’s typical optimism showing on the lines ‘it’s OK, it’s alright’ – this theme of redemption will find its true outlet in follow-up album ‘Heathen Chemistry’ but here, in the middle of chaos, it takes you by surprise. Taken as a song this is, perhaps, a little too subdued and understated to make a full impact and Noel’s tired and weary performance, whilst perfectly fitting with the song, just gets lost among the shouts and shrieks of his brother on the other album tracks. As a piece of songwriting, however, this is a delight and ranks right up there with the best self-hating songs of all time, a perfect mix of the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band ‘primal scream’ album and Pete Townshend at his most drunken and hurting. 

The third and final mis-guided idea is ‘I Can See A Liar’, which is clearly a second attempt to return to the ‘massive’ sound of ‘Be Here Now’. Liam’s much more awake for this song and the lyrics and riff he’s given to work with are much better – and yet Oasis have done this sort of thing many many many times before and there’s really nothing to learn from this song unlike the others on the album. The everyman Oasis narrator is back to swaggering and despairing of those in power above him ‘living their sleazy lives’, but unlike before there’s no real reason for him to feel confident and he doesn’t take any action to put things right except worry ‘I wonder what he thinks of me?’, hardly the world-setting-on-fire message of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ or ‘Up In The Sky’, although if you poke this song with a stick long enough it does reveal some answers. The references to ‘liars’ (source of the song’s biggest mishap, by the way, rhyming it with ‘fire’) seems to refer to the ‘hangers-on’ ridiculed on the rest of the album, with a drug addict ‘coming as he goes into overdose’ in a pointless stream of wine, women and drugs. The reference to ‘King Creole’ is an interesting one – a merry old benevolent soul looked after by servants who eventually suck the life-blood out of him is an interesting comparison for Noel to make given his other songs on the album and after you get to know it it’s plain that the painful chorus with a nasty monarch sitting on a throne ‘living a sleazy life’ is the narrator himself. Alas, this sort of sentiment which is referred to directly across the rest of this album is all but hidden in this track and there’s no hint of it in Liam’s crusading angry vocal as he sits in two minds, ‘troubled in his heart while laughing at the thought’, very much aware that he’s just become one of the mindless lifeless people he’s spent his whole career damning. A poor man's 'Headshrinker', both psychologically speaking and the song!

Thereafter the album winds down a bit, although closer ‘Rollin’ Over’ is still worth a quick mention in our ‘pro’ list of tracks. A curious song – and a curious choice as album closer – this is among the most uninvolved and un-ear catching songs Oasis did and yet, in its own quiet way, this song is a success too. Liam sings on Noel’s behalf once more but this song is more like ‘Sunday Morning Call’ than the usual Oasis anthems of old, complaining about all of the unwelcome guests and trappings that come with fame without the narrator having the strength or energy to do anything to get rid of them. The song’s curious hook ‘does it make it alright?’ is deliberately ambiguous, with the narrator asking himself (or perhaps his audience) if he is right to criticise his hangers-on so when, after all, the Gallaghers used to be in the same ‘fan-like’ mode themselves around musicians a few years back. After all, unlike the Beatles who were largely protected fiercely by manager Brian Epstein, Oasis were approached by anybody and everybody in the 1990s and got hit on by every fellow musician, politician, sportsmen and monarch for attention and ‘freebies’– so many years of this and anybody’s liable to crack, especially with the added pressure of having to keep coming up with the goods to keep them all happy and in pocket. Again, this is more of a sketch than a song and desperately needs some more verses to make it work successfully, but the lyrics paint just enough of a picture for us to understand this song and the line about ‘people who sit at my table but never bring a chair’ is a classic of the highest order. There’s something deeply uncomfortable and unsettling about this song, though, you can’t quite put your finger on – and there’s something doubly unsettling about making it the last track on the album without even an untitled ‘hidden’ instrumental track to clear the palette a la ‘Heathen Chemistry’.

Did we say this album was troubled? We meant terrified, desperate and broken to the core. And yet, despite its many gloomy predictions and its self-hating feelings, it’s hard to feel down when hearing this album. The tried and tested Oasis wall of noise, so often a source of hope and invincibility, sits here in contrast, mocking at the narrator’s short-comings whilst reminding him of the heights he used to climb so effortlessly without ever quite letting go of that hopeful spirit. The name of the album itself implies that the old Oasis belief and confidence has not deserted the band and that, thanks to overcoming recent pressures and difficulties, the band can now go further and deliver more than they ever could before. ‘Giants’ is a giant of an album and yet, when it came out, it was cruelly marked down for being ‘more of the same’ and saw Oasis firmly confirmed to the ‘has-been’ shelf by all but the most faithful fan. Don’t believe the untruths – rescue this important milestone from its current standing and stick it back on top. It’s not as consistent as ‘Morning Glory’, doesn’t have the eclectic nature of ‘Masterplan’ and has nothing like the infectious youthful swagger of ‘Definitely Maybe’. But seen in the context of Noel’s career so far and Oasis’ to the bitter end (as it will surely be now – I’ve heard rumours of Liam carrying on alone but can’t really see that happening) this is the deepest, darkest, most important Oasis album of them all. And forget what the idiots in the media are telling you about Oasis being a second-rate Beatles or, even more laughably, a lesser Arctic Monkeys – they were the band of their generation and it’s oh so awfully sad that they won’t be around to remind us of their greatness any more. Modern music will never quite be the same again and old fogeys like me probably won’t have even this tenuous connection with it. Oasis truly were a sumptuous delight in the middle of an arid desert and their passing will be missed badly.          

Other Oasis-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Be Here Now' (1997)

‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002)

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005)

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008)

'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011)

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011) 

'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015)

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