Wednesday 15 August 2012

Oasis "Don't Believe The Truth" (2005)

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Oasis "Don't Believe The Truth" (2005)

Turn Up The Sun/Mucky Fingers/Lyla/Love Like A Bomb/The Importance Of Being Idle/The Meaning Of Soul/Guess God Thinks I’m Abel/Part Of The Queue/Keep The Dream Alive/A Bell Will Ring/Let There Be Love

‘I’m no stranger to this place where real life and dreams collide…’

Most Oasis fans will tell you that there’s no point in owning anything the band made from third album ‘Be Here Now’ onwards and that the band were only a pale shadow of themselves once the 1990s turned to the naughties. They’re wrong. Time and again on albums three to seven Oasis wrote the best music of the decade, pertinent emotional songs that dug a little deeper than anything on the two knock-out albums from their youth. The problem for fans is that Oasis lived their career backwards: the consistency and purpose that often only comes with age happened early on in their career when they hit the ground running and it’s on their later albums when Oasis occasionally stumble through the noise and confusion. None of their final five albums quite hits the spot all the way through and all of them, to some extent, represent two steps forward and one step back. Time and again in the Oasis canon a song will get you excited, make you cry, make you dance, make you learn something about the band you never knew before – and then fail to follow it up. Time and again each Oasis album was greeted as ‘their best since Morning Glory’ – and time and time again they got forgotten when the next album came out. ‘Truth’ is that problem writ large: it has the best solution yet to the ‘what do we do now we aren’t young and hungry anymore?’ by writing singalong pop songs celebrating having survived everything the world had to throw at you and singalong pop songs about characters seen in the audience who are also young and tired (no surprise that this is the most Who-like of Oasis albums, what with that band’s part-time drummer Zak Starkey on drums, with The Kinks also replacing the usual Beatley sounds as this record’s other key influence). However ‘Truth’ is also the album where Oasis suffer the most from being on auto-pilot, of ‘filling in’ songs that sound suspiciously familiar to what they’d done before. The ‘truth’ of what Oasis are and what they represent is suddenly more confusing on this album than all the others…

But you ignore the highlights of all of these albums at your peril, with each album containing at least one nugget of gold that even the superlative ‘Definitely Maybe’ can’t match. Songs like ‘Fade In-Out’ ‘Gas Panic’ ‘Little By Little’ ‘Falling Down’ and this album’s ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ are as good as music ever gets and had they all been put on one album Oasis would have my favourite record of all time. ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ , their sixth record, has more gems than most, with at least three other absolutely classic Oasis moments (‘Lyla’ ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’ and ‘Love Like A Bomb’) and it’s no surprise that this album in particular seemed to win critics and audience over in a way the band had never quite managed since 1997. But, as all buyers of the later Oasis efforts know, there’s an awful lot of dross to sit through too, with ‘Turn Up The Sun’ and ‘Mucky Fingers’ especially the weakest songs Oasis ever recorded until...erm...the next album (when [141] ‘Get Off Your High Horse Lady’ beats anything off this record hands down for sheer awfulness). There’s a confusion at the heart of this record (summed up nicely by the contradictory title) that Oasis have finally worked out how to do this and pull together – just as they seem to be growing apart.

Moodier and more ballad-filled than the average Oasis album, ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ is still quite an angry album. The title of the record is one that’s confused many since the record’s release and is notably free of the bravado of titles like ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’. There’s a feeling of deception in the air and a cover-up somewhere and I’m tempted to think that the band are trying to cover up the cracks already showing in their relationship here, although frankly the only way you’d know for certain is if you were a member of the band. Note this, though: longterm drummer Alan White quit early on in the album sessions and whilst no stranger to losing band members the way the band handled it was particularly poor and in great contrast to the excitement when he joined the band. The end apparently came when he had a spat with drinking buddy Liam after one bottle too many; however Noel jumped on the split and proclaimed to the press that Whitey had been kicked out the band for ‘having an attitude problem’. This seems strange for the only band member loyal enough to stick with the band through the ugliness of the ‘Be Here Now’ sessions (would Noel and Liam have even been able to call themselves ‘Oasis’ without another member of the band there across ‘Giants’?) Reading between the lines of what was said then and since, it seems more likely that after a decade (the longest anyone in Oasis lasted outside the brothers) Alan was just exhausted, tired of being the buffer between the brothers, of Noel insisting on doing things his way, of Liam leaving his vocal overdubs to the last minute, of the disagreements, re-recordings, the endless tours. Playing the drums is a very physical job, much more so than any of the others, and you’re often stuck behind the drums at the back of the stage behind your bandmates with no eye contact all night. This might be why so many drummers seem to quit AAA bands, much more so than other musicians. The problems might yet have been resolved: Liam admits he was in a mean mood the night of their argument, while a week off in the sun might have done wonders. But Oasis didn’t want to bother – they wanted to push ahead with new blood.

Very little, if any, of Whitey’s playing made it to the final album. This might be because yet again the band discarded a whole album’s worth of sessions, this time recorded in Las Vegas, admitting amongst themselves that the album simply ‘wasn’t working’ (four of the tracks were re-recorded for the record, none of them the best – everything else was discarded).This wasn’t a crisis in itself (it was actually something of a ‘good luck’ totem after the re-recordings made the ok ‘Definitely’ Maybe’ positively great) but it’s not the sign of a band fully in control of themselves ever. Though he lacks White’s sensitive-but-loud percussion abilities (instead going for wild noise in the manner of his godfather Keith Moon), Zak Starkey is a worthy replacement who gave the new sessions an added kick and whallop. The son of a Beatle (Ringo if you hadn’t guessed, though their drumming shares little in common), you sense that Noel and Liam would have hired him however good he was, but actually Zak was great. He had been hired by the new-look Who and is generally agreed to be their best replacement drummer for Moony: loud, hard and exciting there isn’t a gig out there that would have suited him as well. Unfortunately due to paperwork Zak was still technically a member of The Who in 2005 and was working for Oasis during his ‘time-off’. With both bands desperate to have him and eager not to get in his way they came to an arrangement where he could play with The Who half the year and Oasis the other, with the understanding that Zak would be credited on ‘Truth’ as a ‘session musician’ (even though he’s clearly far more integral to the band sound than that and ends up involved with more tracks than Liam!) This worked great for a year – but then Oasis got sarky about Starkey: which band would he choose? In the end Zak got neither: he left Oasis during the off-season of 2006-2007 and The Who imploded (yet again) leaving him uncharacteristically quiet (a covers album in 2016 was his only recording and one-off gigs with The Who his only live appearances in the past decade or so).

On the surface of the promotion for this album (made with a much bigger push than ‘Giants’ or ‘Chemistry’) everything was all smiles: Oasis were going to return to where they’d left off a decade earlier, their new-look band had now grown and shaped into a live behemoth, they’d made the best and most band-orientated record since ‘Definitely Maybe’. If anyone brought up the change of drummers at all it was viewed in the light of keeping the band fresh and youthful, as if Whitey was the only band member holding them back. But that’s not how the album sounds: there’s a sense on so many of these tracks of near-misses, of an annihilation that almost happened and a sense that the storm still rumbles on thunderously until the next lightning break. What’s notable now with the passage of time (well, seven years – that’s nothing for our site’s standards I know but bear with me) is how much evidence is here about the band’s split a full three years early and how, even more than final album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’, you can hear the different worlds that became ‘Beady Eye’ and ‘Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ competing for space on the same LP. There’s suddenly a wide gulf between the songs that Noel is writing (despair) and Liam (anticipation). The ‘rest’ of the band – the Beady Eye quotient – get much more say into the album than ever before and Noel gets just five of the album’s eleven songs to himself (a far cry compared to even the fourth record).

You might expect Oasis’ chief to be sore: this was his band, made to his vision and usually when a leading songwriter gets suppressed in the writing credits it’s because of greed and avarice. But not here. Noel said in interviews of the period that it was ‘about fooking time’ the others got their fingers out and started writing, claiming that he’d always dreamed of being in a band where everybody pulled their weight. Nice as far as it goes: it’s lonely at the top and it’s good to hear someone who’d already made it promoting other songwriting talents that were about to, but I think the situation goes further than that. After having an abundance of material all written in obscurity in his early twenties spread across Oasis’ first three years the songs have been drying up steadily for Noel. So far he’s got through albums four and five by sheer persistence, writing out his misery and throwing in just enough of a return to the old Oasis sound written on auto-pilot to keep the band afloat. The increasing gap between Oasis albums (what used to be a year is now more like three) is also a worrying sign of someone who doesn’t have as much to say anymore. It must have been with a rare feeling of gratitude towards his brother (however hidden) when Liam suddenly started coming up with the goods and the hiring of two new Oasis members precisely because they were tried and tested songwriters seems in retrospect like a canny move from a songwriter who knows he’s facing a writer’s block crisis. Much more so than ‘Giants’ or ‘Chemistry’, ‘Truth’ is evidence that Noel was running on empty by his mid-thirties. Certainly there seems to be a crisis of confidence in the elder brother’s songs for this album, which either re-work his old ground (‘Mucky Fingers’ is the fast and ‘Let There Be Love’ the slow versions of what any semi-talented fan would churn out when asked to write a song for Oasis) or that of others (the much-lauded ‘Importance Of Being Idle’ is so close to The Kinks’ work that Ray Davies should probably sue and I’m quite surprised he hasn’t). Only ‘Lyla’ (note the closeness of the name to another famous Kinks single though this one is really what The Beatles would sound like covering a Rolling Stones song...) really adds to his repertoire, a stunning production number about the toughness of femininity that goes back to reflecting what he sees in the band’s audience night after night for the first time in a decade. Largely, though, the tenth anniversary of the ‘Morning Glory’ album finds Noel chained not to the mirror and the razorblade but to his own artistic traps, not young enough to write like he did in the first part of his career, not miserable enough to write like he did in the second part of his career and not yet sure what to do in the third part of his career.

Instead it’s the Beady Eye-type numbers that work best, adding a poignancy and fragility unusual for Oasis at the time but one that makes sense now that we fans know the ‘Different Gear, Still Speeding’ album to come. The tone of these songs is largely one of vulnerable defiance, of seething tension about to explode into something big: ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’ is surely Liam’s song to his brother and their differences in this period, their relationship poised on a knife-edge that could go either way; ‘Love Like A Bomb’ is the very sound of something about to explode; ‘The Meaning Of Soul’ an angry punkish song desperate to strip away meaning and words to reveal the urgent sense of need underneath everything. For all his air of bravado arrogance there’s a sweet heart beating in the soul of Liam Gallagher and it’s to his credit that he was brave enough to let it show so early on in his songwriting (after all, whatever rock and roll star would write his first published song about his son on [82] ‘Little James’?) All three of his contributions are superb for this record, exploring recent Oasis themes of doubts and fears but in a very Oasis way, with a sneer. Gem only gets one full song but his ‘A Bell Will Ring’ is easily the best traditional-sounding Oasis song on the record (astonishing for someone who’d only been with the band three years at that time). It’s another song about something about to arrive, of waiting to pull something out of the darkness that will suddenly light your way (though unlike Noel’s songs of light he hears it as music, as a ‘bell’ that tells him where to go). Finally Andy Bell blots his copy book with the tired Oasis pastiche ‘Turn Up The Sun’, which is an intelligent but soul-less re-write of every Noel Gallagher song since he joined the band, but he excels like never before with the album highlight ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, a song about carrying on in difficult circumstances as long as possible. Overall the theme is one of a calm in between a storm: songs like ‘Abel’ and ‘Let There Be Love’ speak openly about searching for peace after a heavy conflict and ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ all but admits that a lifelong dream is ‘over’ (and what bigger dream could there be than playing in the best rock and roll group of modern times?)

For some reason, though, Oasis chose 2005 to make their big push to re-launch their career, after skulking (by their standards) in 2000 and 2002. I’ve always wondered why: this isn’t something you do when you are part of an unhappy crew but something that happens when you feel on top of the world. The answer seems to have been purely commercial and financial. Again, Oasis didn’t do things the ‘right way round’ in their career: ‘Definitely Maybe’ was so big so early that the band didn’t need to do the fawning game, they had fans more or less from the first (give or take a single or two to warm things up). The band had been given their own head and- thanks to the weight and sales they still possessed – they were largely left to their own devices even after McGee collapsed and Creation were bought out by the very aptly named Big Brother. The label gave Oasis two records to pull their socks up but wouldn’t give them a third; for the first time ever they ‘interfered’/’made suggestions’ on an Oasis record. After they heard back the ‘Las Vegas’ recordings they insisted the bands work with a big name producer, Dave Sardy. A one-time member of the 1990s band ‘Barkmarket’ he was currently hot after producing the band ‘Jet!’ Born almost simultaneously with Noel in 1967, he was the first producer the same age as the band rather than older: while his production is crisp and punchy, it lacks the depth and poignancy of any of the earlier Oasis CDs. He did though have an idea for how to modernise their sound. After all, by 2005, all of Oasis’ Britpop rivals were dead and buried or long forgotten in a sea of boy bands and girl bands and faceless pop –few bands from the 1990s (only the Super Furries and Stereophonics) had forged so hard for so long and the band’s skewered take on the music of the 2000s from the eyes of representatives from ten years before was pretty much unique (like much of the music around in 2005, this album is softer around the edges but with a harshness and directness in many of the lyrics despite the gentler music setting; think Muse and Kasabian, big that year). You can tell that Sardy is an Oasis fan, but the production sound still doesn’t quite fit them somehow. More successful was when Big Brother told the band there wasn’t an obvious catchy hit single. Stung, Oasis went back to basics with their most promising tune ‘Lyla’, re-cutting it from a sleepy Noel-sung tune that exploded slowly into a sizzling Liam-led hook-laden pop song. The most ‘pop’ moment in the Oasis canon, it was probably a sharp move that resulted in better sales than the singles from ‘Heathen Chemistry’. However maybe it was all that publicity that came off: follow-ups ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ and ‘Let There Be Love’ aren’t as obviously singles material but they did quite well in the charts too (‘Idle’ becoming the band’s eighth and final UK #1).

What we have, then, is a band who feel close to the end of their tether, ready to give up and call it a day, given a new launchpad to their career in terms of a bigger publicity budget and a more commercial sound. On paper this album is as soggy and vulnerable as any of its immediate three predecessors; on record this album sounds oddly bouncy and catchy. No wonder the end result confused so many fans – or that the band sarcastically titled it ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’. Many of the songs are about not endings but second chances, to be grasped while you can. If there’s a theme on this album then it’s one of redemption: ‘Be no tomorrow they say – well I say more’s the pity’ runs ‘Part Of The Queue’; ‘The sun will shine on you again’ goes ‘A Bell Will Ring’; ‘Come along, let’s make it tonight!’ screams the end of ‘Abel’ in an eerie coda that exists outside the rest of the song; ‘Shake off your tired eyes, the world is waiting for you’ goes the ‘new’ section of ‘Let There Be Love’ left unfinished during the Las Vegas sessions; ‘Love one another!’ runs the chorus of opener ‘Turn Up The Sun’. It’s as if the final dying embers of everything that drove Oasis on are re-igniting, with the band eager to make up for lost time and realising how special the experience of being in this band is.In short, this album could very nearly have ended up like ‘Let It Be’ but in the end became ‘Abbey Road’, a last hurrah of getting together and remembering everything that came before with a last gasp of the old working spirit before the end finally comes.

One comment made at the time, only half jokingly, was that at last Oasis has created something as good as the B-sides casually thrown out during the first two albums. Now unlike most fans I still believe that the band’s greatest work comes on their B-sides where the band don’t try quite as hard so even though that comment was meant to be a sort-of put down, it’s actually spot on for me. There’s certainly more adventure here than there was for large passages of ‘Shoulders’ and ‘Chemistry’ and I say that as a fan who loved both albums (with a couple of reservations). Played back to back with the arrogant powerhouse of youth that was ‘Definitely Maybe’ and you can hear much the writing has changed: songs about power, need and knowing winks to the audience have been replaced by guilt and uncertainty, as if the dodgy future laughed at on album closer [15] ‘Married With Children’ has now become a reality. ‘Dreams’ are hard fought for and fading, not the certainty they were on [7] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’. There’s also that sense of worry that time might pass before the narrators get a chance to put their point of view across – something unthinkable for the unshaken belief that ‘you and I are gonna live forever!’ What’s curious is that Noel (and to some extent Liam) are writing these uncertain and fragile sounding songs at a time when they were still part of the biggest act on the planet (even with less of a following from the glory days of the mid 90s this album still became one of the fastest number one albums of all time on release); by contrast the early Oasis standards was written when Noel (and to some extent Liam) had nothing; on the dole, dismissed by all and sundry and relegated to a life of clinging on, waiting for something to happen. Oasis effectively end their career in a complete mirror opposite of where they began (bar the stuttering attempt at re-starting over as a psychedelic band on ‘Dig Out Your Soul’), with the world a troubled and uncertain place. Sadly that’s the main reason why the songs on this album weren’t (on the whole) taken to heart by fans the same way their earlier work was – but it’s to their credit that Oasis should have gone on such a journey and ended up by seeing the world through quite different eyes.

Or almost different eyes. Back in the day Oasis B-side [37] ‘Acquiesce’s calls for brotherly love became one of the band’s best loved songs, not least for the fact that Noel seems to have written the song after a blazing row with Liam that saw the elder Gallagher brother walk out and declare ‘Oasis are over’. In it the narrator, though frustrated, reaches out an olive branch because ‘we need each other...we believe in one other...and I know we’re gonna uncover what’s sleeping in us all’. Ten years – almost to the week – Liam finally agrees with his elder brother on ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’ declaring ‘Let’s get one else could break us, no one else could take us if they tried’.  It’s as if Liam has just realised how important everything Oasis stood for really was – and how much he doesn’t want it to end (even if Noel is already looking to wash his hands of it all). It’s a special moment and a neat reflection of what didn’t change during all the years Oasis were around – that together the brothers were unbeatable. Last album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is, reportedly, a hurried album where Noel recorded his songs early on and Liam only did his vocals in the final days (the ones originally put aside from mixing). If true, then that makes ‘Truth’ the last real collaborative Oasis album and ‘Abel’ is a nice place to leave the band, whatever you make of the rest of the album.

‘Truth’ then is a good album, but it gets many basic things wrong. One thing that doesn’t quite work is the running order. A short note: when I first got to know this album it was thanks to a copy very kindly made for me by my friend Rob (who managed to beat me into the shops to buy it!) Alas his computer of the time was almost as weird as mine and copied the songs for the album in completely the wrong order. This running of the order – with ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ first and ‘Abel’ last – works an awful lot better than anything Oasis came up with and while I own a ‘proper’ copy now I still occasionally programme my CD player to play this record ‘the wrong way round’ because it sounds so much better like this; the one-two start of ‘Turn Up The Sun’ and ‘Mucky Fingers’ is just awful, slowing the record down to a crawl, with all the good stuff hidden away towards the end. My guess is that this album would have been better received still with a superior track listing closer to what my first copy randomly gave me! One thing I truly don’t understand though: why is the front cover a bunch of garage doors with the title written on them?! Considering this is the band who’ve given us flying globes, limousines in swimming pools and a classroom full of pupils studying the band’s lyrics, it seems a bit of a let down somehow and one thing the Big Brother marketing team most definitely got wrong.

The Songs:

‘I carry a madness everywhere I go’ is a great opening line for a song (and album), but somehow [115] ‘Turn Up The Sun’ never quite gets going, not mad fer it enough. Written by Andy Bell in full Oasis style, its full of the power and the noise and the slight threat inherent in the lyrics and comes with lots of Noel’s favourite ‘light’ imagery – it could be read as an invitation to the band to become fully inspired again. That’s sadly ironic though for a song that sounds unfinished and with little new to say, sounding like too many songs stuck together (it’s hard to imagine another Oasis song ‘declaring ‘love one another’ so openly either). That said, this piece of hippie philosophising does work in the way that the Stones’ flower power stuff worked so well (for me at least their greatest period), offering an edginess and fear that most ‘brotherly love’ songs don’t have. There’s a lovely instrumental section, too, where the band drop the usual wall of noise for a lovely melodic piano part that offers a fine contrast to the eerie march of the threatening verses. Liam sounds oddly uncomfortable with this song though – whether it’s the ‘Oasis by numbers’ feel of the music or the peace and love lyrics troubling him I’m not sure but he sounds as if he’s only giving this track half his attention. Andy Bell has a great harmony voice – the band should have let him use it a bit more on his own songs and let him take lead maybe. In the context of the album’s theme of fall and redemption it sounds as if this is a song written at the heart of the troubles of the band (lines like ‘back to the snow’ hinting at the drugs that slowed Oasis down somewhere around 1997) – if true then that would make this second song’s close resemblance to [37] ‘Acquiesce’ and how the band ‘need each other’ striking. It’s tempting too to see this as Andy Bell’s take on the dynamics in the band – arguably the band’s most sensitive soul in the later years, he bemoans the pressures of fame and success (‘the boys in the bubble they wanna be free’) and how he is powerless to stop the raging hurt between the brothers (‘I’m not your keeper, I don’t have a key!’) Hmm, actually this song is a lot more interesting than I’ve ever given it credit for before studying it, I just wish a slightly more melodic riff had been found for the main part of the song and that the ‘turn up the sun’ chorus line had been added to a separate song (its theme of making things brighter and bigger is at odds with a verse lyric about how much damage pressure and fame can do). Traditionally Oasis albums always start with a bang: this lumpy song is no match for [7] ‘Rock and Roll Star’ or even [95] ‘The Hindu Times’ and gets the album off to a timid start.

Alas [116] ‘Mucky Fingers’ is no way to progress either. A rather boring one chord stomp from Noel Gallagher, it’s the only song from this album that he’s continue to play in concert suggesting he’s quite fond of it. I’m not quite sure because, by Noel’s standards, the song is quite juvenile with its faux Dylan harmonica, its lack of variety and a lyric that while memorable and cleverly paced ultimately means nothing. Noel seems to be venting his anger at someone nameless– unusual for Oasis who only record out of anger when it’s a row between themselves, but this song sounds more like a dig at the band’s fanbase than band members to me. Its opening line about how ‘you think you deserve an explanation for the meanings of life’ but that the narrator has no idea how to give it is remarkably similar to the Moody Blues’ kiss off ‘I’m Just A Singer In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’ (their last song before a six year split). ‘You get your truth from the lies you were learnt’ – a line pretty close to the odd album title – sounds sarcastic, especially the way Noel sings it here, as if he’s laughing at fans (like me) who’ve poured over his lyrics for meaning when it was all a ‘game’ or a ‘con’, while he refers to his fans as ‘plastic believers’ (I’m surprised they don’t come with ‘rubber souls’ too). More generously he moves on to attack himself, claiming that he fooled himself as much as them with his ‘emperor’s clothes’. The result is a track that’s really uncomfortable, partly because of the relentless riff that simply won’t move off its boogie woogie bass line but mainly because our idol appears to be shouting at us. That said there are some good moments in this song: I love the line about fans ‘finding God in a paperback’ (a very Cat Stevens line that, about how spirituality should by definition be hard fought for and difficult to find, not passed on from one finder to the next) and ‘get your history from a  Union Jack’, a spot on line about all those idiots who see the past as a series of wars and empires, not the struggles of real people who may speak different languages but have the same drives, fears and experiences as everyone else (you do tend to see lots of UK flags flying at Oasis gigs – possibly from the Britpop days – which never fitted the idea of Oasis as a ‘world’ band singing for everyone regardless of colour, creed or gender). There’s a good song in here, then, but its struggling to get out across a terribly fragmented lyric and by letting his darker side show against the very people who love him most its Noel who gets his ‘mucky fingers burnt’ here. Though it is perhaps the most sneering song sung by a sneering band it’s not Noel who gets to do this but Liam, which traditionally means it’s one of its creator’s more personal songs - it may well be that the lyrics bothered the younger brother (most of his songs on the first Beady Eye album seem openly written to fans and are supportive and concerned for them for the most part) but may simply be band politics or that Noel really did mean this song personally.

[117a] ‘Lyla’, the album’s most famous song, is a great single that rather loses out on this album by being a third stomping mid-paced number in a row. Heard separately, though, it’s clearly the template Oasis should have been going in their later life as they take their younger days’ energy and hope and instead give it to their audience, tracing the story of the people still coming to gigs who use it as a temporary escape from all their problems. The song flowers up verse by chorus by middle eight, gaining in momentum with each segment despite being stuck to a chord pattern almost as monotonous and relentless as the song before it, only this time the powerpop chorus gives us all a release and allows us to escape feeling quite so trapped. Lyrically this is a rare return to [27] ‘Wonderwall’, with Noel writing about the strength of the title female character and how she has the power and strength to protect the narrator. As much as the narrator pretends to be brash and bold, it’s her whose the real tough one in the partnership (Noel has said it was inspired partly by Sara; I wonder too if it was partly inspired by the fans he’d just been ranting and raging at). The opening verse is a very poetic variation on [98] ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ as Lyla waits for the ‘stars to fall’ and catches the ‘silver sunlight’ she gets from the band – surely a metaphor for inspiration given its appearance in several earlier Noel lyrics. She takes what the band create and uses it in her own life to inspire her to better things which in turn inspire her creators, with Noel waiting ‘a thousand years’ for all the people he’s influenced to bounce back to him (he may also be thinking of repaying his own debt to so many past bands, Oasis being the most knowledgeable of past musicians’ work out there). The lyrics get a bit muddy after a sterling first verse and deliberately ambiguous, but if the music video is anything to go by Lyla’s bravery comes from nothing more than standing up to her peer group and refusing to follow their petty ideals (escaping to a club – to see an unpopular group? - before having her dink spiked and rushing home ill). The chorus of ‘Lyla’ is a thing of beauty, the pay off to a song of repetition and drudgery, with cascading harmonies that show off how well Liam and Noel’s voices go together and the ascending chord sequence is full of more optimism than any Oasis song since [34] ‘Morning Glory’ itself in 1995. The difference between then and now though is how humble some of these lyrics sound, with optimism coming not from the band but the character: ‘The world around us makes me feel so small’ is hardly something the narrator of [7] ‘Rock and Roll Star’ or [9] ‘Live Forever’ would have sung and yet it fits perfectly into this song, when life revolves not around the singer but the powerful woman holding him up and keeping him going. The band turn in their finest performance on the record too, especially Zak Starkey’s best drumming for the band, where everyone seems to be chipping away at a solid block of sound and sculpting something beautiful. Oasis even end the song with a fine piano part that seems to nick the riff from ‘A Bell Will Ring’ to come (‘A bell will ring inside your head and all will be brand new’) – whether intended or coincidence it’s a neat mirror of the album’s sister song about inner strength and gives the album a ‘structured’ rock opera type feeling that would do The Who proud. Noel’s version of the song – intended for the album and later released as a B-side – is if anything even more stunning than the final track, building up power at an even slower rate and clearly chiming with its creator who sings with all his heart (good an interpreter as Liam is, he doesn’t ‘feel’ this song quite as vividly it sounds to me). One of the highlights of the album and easily the best of the late period Oasis singles, this track is up there with the very best they ever made.

Liam’s [118] ‘Love Like A Bomb’, written with Gem’s help, continues the love theme although whereas the last song was all about strength and comfort through difficult times this short song is about the excitement and energy of the first flush of love, your sense that something wonderful is about to explode. The lyrics aren’t up to Liam’s other work, basically extending that whole idea of something good about to explode into life with some clumsy lines full of 1960s slang, but the melody-line is. Rushes of powerful energy give way to sweet melodic moments a la [99] ‘Songbird’, with a melody that seems to be ‘laughing in the sun’, darting this way and that quite apart from the darkness most Oasis songs deal with. It’s actually quite a 1960s song, what with the tambourine and tinkling piano parts and the sheer joy of the recording (with Noel perhaps notable by his absence) and could have happily sat on any 1960s Beach Boys album (even though Brian Wilson is unlikely to have ever used ‘bomb’ as a metaphor). More evidence of what an empathetic and romantic soul Liam is under his facade, it’s a sweet song that’s another of the highlights of the album and easily up to the standard set by his brother. It’s actually quite a Beady Eye-ish song this, too, what with the acoustic backing and light touches in composition and performance.

For most fans [119a] ‘The Importance Of Being Idle’ is generally regarded as the album’s greatest moment, but try as I might I really don’t get this song at all. The song’s theme of being lazy and not caring puts it rather too far for comfort into Kinks ‘rip off’ mode rather than ‘tribute’: basically it’s the tune to ‘Sunny Afternoon’ (the verses are virtually the same chords and you can sing one song over the other by changing hardly anything), the lyrics of ‘Sitting In The Mid-Day Sun’ (Ray Davies’ tale of a Tramp with freedom stretching out before him, dismissed by everyone else for being lazy) and the video for ‘Dead End Street’ (in which an undertaker has far too much fun at work). My guess is that the lyrics, which praise laziness, are immediately defensive about this for the fans who guess where this song comes from: Noel has lost the burning drive and creativity of his youth and can now only recycle songs. ‘I can’t get a life if my heart’s not in it!’ he cries as his defence for being ‘lazy’, although really it’s a laziness well earnt after such a full-on decade. Alas, though, like many songs about laziness there’s not much going on here past the principal idea: there’s a hint that Noel’s narrator is being pushed into something he doesn’t want to do but we never quite find out what. Noel’s decision to sing falsetto is an odd one and the novelty of it wears off long before the end of the song – he has a great voice when he sings straight so why not use it; all we’ve had on this album from him so far is this and the shouting on ‘Mucky Fingers’! No, what made this song a hit was the powerful band performance, with another strong stand-up-straight performance from Zak Starkey and the classy video which only featured the band in cameo (it’s the one and only Oasis video Noel actually seems to have liked given his hilarious commentary on the band’s ‘Time Flies’ set – his lines about being gradually replaced in them to the point where he becomes merely a ‘gruff Mancunian shaving’ in the background had me in stitches). As a song, though, ‘Idle’ simply doesn’t work, with only the urgency of the chorus standing out on a song that without the drums would merely be a generic gutbucket millionaire blues of the sort the old pre-fame Oasis used to laugh at. Ironically for a song about the joys of being lazy, it desperately needs more work. Then again, it became the band’s first number one single in quite a few years so what do I know? I do urge, though, every Oasis fan who loves this song and has come to read this paragraph especially to go out and buy a Kinks album though as that’s where this song’s inventiveness really comes from and the ‘steal’ here is far more blatant than any of Oasis’ supposed Beatle (or even Rutle) rip-offs.

Trust Liam to go in the opposite direction: [120] ‘The Meaning Of Soul’ isn’t lazy at all but a snarling burst of adrenalin that packs a great deal into its punkish two minutes. Far from the song suites he’s been writing lately, this song is mean and lean, barely varying the chord structure throughout. The lyrics are pure filler, sounding more like ‘rock’ than ‘soul’ and offering little insight into the hidden meanings of life either – its merely a list of great attributes the swaggering narrator has. It’s as if Liam wrote his other two songs for the album and came up with this title and thought – oops my reputation for hard rock’s slipping! He’s clearly got his tongue in his cheek as he boasts that ‘I’m ten out of ten, alright!’ before the song returns to ‘Lyla’ by having the band and audience address each other, the two combining and sharing the love they have in the room. Is this really the meaning of soul? It sounds more like the meaning of [7] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ to me, with Liam sharing with his audience what it means to look cool and feel good. There’s enough happening musically to keep things interesting, though, with a sturdy acoustic guitar riff that rocks as hard as any of the band’s electric songs, some fine band harmonies, a superb harmonica solo (by Gem according to the sleevenotes, for the one and only time) and some terrific overdubbed percussion during the chorus that sounds like the whole band stomping their feet. Not up to Liam’s two other songs on the album, perhaps, but still a pretty interesting song and featuring a grand performance. I just wish there had been an extra middle eight or something to keep the song going – although at 1:42 this song doesn’t exactly outstay its welcome either.

[121] ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Abel’ is Liam’s third song on the album and easily one of his best, right up there with [104] ‘Different Cloud’ and Beady Eye’s [160] ‘Wigwam’. Having studied his brother in detail on ‘Cloud’, this is Liam exploring his relationship with Noel, what it’s really like behind the camera gaze and publicity, full of real love/hate. It’s song of bitter betrayal and yet of coming to terms with the fact that you’re destiny lies with your enemy somewhere along the line and shows a real depth and warmth fans weren’t expecting. Liam still tries to ‘love’ his brother though (‘is that such a crime?’) asking for his help in searching for a ‘rainbow’ and telling Noel that the world is better when they face it together (‘No one could break us…if they tried!’) The title – which the rest of the band assumed was spelt ‘Guess God Thinks I’m Able’ until Liam dictated the spelling for the album sleeve – is a glorious pun, suggesting on the one hand the upbeat message that God must expect the narrator to cope with the challenges he’s sent or he wouldn’t have put him through it and on the other the betrayal and murder of Adam and Eve’s sons in the Bible. Cain, the elder brother, is a farmer who murders his younger brother Abel in a jealous rage after God chose to accept Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. You don’t have to dive in too far to see the symbolism of two brothers jealous of each other, but the rest of the imagery here is striking too: are the ‘sacrifices’ Noel’s jealousy over Liam’s songwriting? Is it Liam getting the applause for singing Noel’s songs? (We did speculate earlier that Noel was having something of a writer’s block at the time – it can’t have been easy watching Liam churning out so many good songs whatever he said in the press). Cain and Abel were rivals too who couldn’t live without each other – one growing crops and the other looking after the sheep that ate them, while the fertiliser from the sheep helped the crops grow – give them a guitar each and they too could have been Oasis, hinting that nothing has really changed down the years. I love this song, which takes all the usual Oasis tricks of quiet desperate verses exploding into a sunnier chorus but turns it onto the band themselves. Everything is done with so much more care than the rest of the album too, from the quiet moody acoustic opening to Liam’s glorious sneering vocal, a unique blend of attack and olive branch. But its the lyrics that make this song, trying to show how complex the relationship with his brother really is (the lines about falling out with a lover aren’t fooling anyone given the title) and saying ‘you could...’ before every line, giving Noel the next move. Along the way he pictures the pair as friends staying up all night listening to music, a ‘railroad’ (because their paths together ‘go on and on’) and nastily hinting that the pair could yet  be enemies (‘I guess there’s still time’). After all, while band breakups are two a penny, when a band in brothers break up it ripples across a whole family: it’s not as if their paths will never cross again, they do every Christmas (and if they don’t it’s the elephant in the room). Without causing a family rift, it’s hard not to speak to your brother; not speaking to a bass guitarist you barely knew, that’s OK, but someone you’ve known your whole life (in Liam’s case) clearly makes the split difficult. By and large, though, and in keeping with the redemption theme of the album, Liam wants to let bygones be bygones, offering out a hand of friendship. The ending, though, suggests conciliation is only a pipe dream: the track, so light and cautiously breezy up till now, slows down under the weight of a sudden injection of the Oasis wall of noise and gorgeous feedback, while Liam drops his gentler passive side and gets aggressive, ordering ‘Come along, let’s make it tonight!’ The squeal of feedback at the end is deliciously unpleasant, as the two brothers get ‘out of tune’ with each other. In retrospect this should have been the way the Oasis story ended as it’s the perfect finale…

If ‘Abel’ is a Beady Eye song a few years early, then [122] ‘Part Of The Queue’ hints at the kind of descriptive story-song with surreal tinges that Noel will be writing with his ‘High Flying Birds’. It’s better than any of the six ‘new’ songs on that album (the other four being Oasis outtakes re-recorded) without hitting the heights of ‘Lyla’ or its close musical cousin [142] ‘Falling Down’ from the next album. Noel’s clearly been listening to lots of Ray Davies again because this song is a dead ringer for the ‘other’ Kinks theme – the idea of a ‘star’ facing up to the fact that he’s no longer anything special and becoming a ‘face in the crowd’. Whereas Ray went to his destiny quietly, across the space of many many Kinks albums, Noel’s not going without a fight and the generally acoustic song soon becomes a sea of stinging electric guitar, echoey vocals and urgent piano riffs as he tries to ‘prove’ to the world that he’s still a star. Noel’s back to badgering his creator for help again (see [51] ‘D’Yer Know What I Mean?’ and all its copycats), crying that ‘Heaven won’t help me!’ before walking around a city he used to know so well and realising that ‘I lost my way’ (presumably it’s a trip back home to Manchester). The middle eight (‘There’ll be no tomorrow – more’s the pity’) sounds like this is Noel’s response to the band’s possible break-up and having to come to terms with the fact that the great Oasis adventure might be over. A scary closing round of ‘keep on trying...trying on’ suggests that he, too, is trying to offer the olive branch in the hope of getting the band over these obstacles , but the sheer terror of the surroundings suggests that he thinks it’s a lost cause already. Noel’s best vocal on the album by some margin, it’s a shame it’s ducked so low in the mix compared to all the effects and it’s a shame too that the song simply ends so suddenly, resolving to a very Beatlesy unexpected major chord at the end of a song that sounds like it has no resolution at all. Is this symbolic of the band patching up their differences? (Was it added on after the rest of the recording?) Or was it simply a coincidence? Either way, it makes for an odd and unconvincing end, not so much [7] ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ as small and humble, however much Noel wants to prance and preen.

A perfect song for the ‘middle’ number of our book, [123] ‘Keep The Dream Alive’ is the other album highlight, a simply glorious pop song from Andy Bell that’s everything Oasis are at their best: reflective but triumphant, battling but determined and with a killer pop chorus that’s as memorable as anything the Gallagher brothers wrote. Lyrically this is clearly another song about the band’s impending split and sounds very like a Beady Eye song again ([158] ‘Kill For A Dream’ is a dead ringer for it and may well be a sequel). No one seems to have told that to Liam, though, who when asked what it meant declared in interviews ‘I’m just the singer, an interpreter...the dream’s always been alive for me’. Surely that was just bluster because Liam excels himself here, that great angry strident vocal now teeming with guilt and regret as he desperately tries to make something happen that could never be (compare with his change in voice on [57] ‘Fade In-Out’ – Liam clearly knows this emotion, he’s sung it before). Liam couldn’t have asked for a better song that both celebrates Oasis’ past and fears it’s future – equally Andy couldn’t have wished for a better interpretation of his finest song to date on this song that’s a true anthem for anyone whose ever tried to do something extraordinary and important, only to have it ignored and ridiculed. A classy guitar solo from Gem (rare for this record) suggests that the song chimes in with his feelings too – in fact this is a strong band performance all round and sounds like the band playing everything live for once, without any overdubs. The lyrics on this song are extraordinary too: ‘Every night I hear you scream, but you don’t say what you mean’ is the perfect song for a bandmate caught between the bitter rivalry between the Gallagher brothers and the line ‘Every night I think I know…in the morning where did it go?’ will ring a bell with anyone whose ever tried to write words, music, paint a picture or any other ever-shifting mercurial artform you can only get a glimpse of before the inspiration vanishes forever. The chorus, too, is incredible: ‘I’m no stranger to this place where real life and dreams collide’ is real poetry, something that everyone can relate to and so well formed – why the hell aren’t schools adding song lyrics to their English curriculum, I’ve always maintained their brevity makes them the hardest and most impressive art form; Shakespeare never wrote a line anything like that good! It’s Oasis’ story in a nutshell too, where belief and optimism hit realities and obstacles head on. Nobody had more dreams than Oasis and nobody achieved more of them – and yet no one else had as many of those dreams turn bad either. It makes sense, though, that here at the very bitter end Oasis return to where they started (even via a new member), singing that they still dream of better tomorrows and that they will do everything they can to keep this dream ‘alive’. The song ends ominously with the narrator ‘waiting at the crossroads’, wondering whether his future is still with Oasis or elsewhere, but we know that he desperately wants to carry on and so do we, ending with a round of ‘Hey Jude’ style ‘na na nas’ to give the fans one last singalong if nothing else...Simply superb and proof that Andy was the perfect addition to Oasis.

[124] A Bell Will Ring’ is Gem’s contribution to the band and despite the fact that he only joined late it’s by far the most Oasisy sounding track on the album. It’s a gloriously upbeat message of hope and being a winner and must, surely, be a fourth straight song in a row about the band’s troubles. Seemingly written when the band got together it starts ‘A little space, a little time...see what love can do’ and is basically a hymn to the powers of music to overcome everything, even rows between brothers (the ‘bell that rings’ is surely that unspoken piece of inspiration that comes from really great playing from musicians on top of their game, reminding them of what they should be doing and cutting through all the rubbish that builds up between the band). The narrator is speaking to someone else, telling them that as they helped him through hard times (‘You pulled me through my empty nights, lying sleepless on your floor’) so he’s going to re-pay the compliment and back them up to the hilt. Surely its Gem’s own message of faith to Oasis, the band he always said inspired him long before he joined them and gave him faith that he too could become a professional musician (even if technically Gem was making music long before the Gallaghers were). A thankyou, with the very Oasisy certainty that things will all work out in the end, it’s a lovely breath of fresh air and hope on this often troubled album and Gem’s guitar work in particular shines like anything after so many rock-free songs. Again, it’s very Beady Eye and that’s no bad thing, although the song is frustratingly short and like so many others on this album really needs another middle eight or something to make it truly first class.

The album then ends with the healing power of [125a] ‘Let There Be Love’, a song Noel had been trying to finish since writing it early in the ‘Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants’ sessions in 1999. However he wasn’t at ‘peace’ with himself enough to write it then – only now that more water has gone under the bridge and he’s adopted to life as an older, wiser star. What he wrote then is pretty much what Liam sings here: wordy, not very meaningful lyrics common to most Oasis songs of the period together with a slow, stately piano riff that doesn’t sound a million miles away from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Liam tries hard but the song’s not really in his style, calling on him to be soft and sweet. It’s also a re-write of a Who song, ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, full of Meher Baba imagery about how all the water in the world (including that of tears) is a metaphor for love, the great unknown that can make you drown or offer you a re-birth. Faced with a choice Liam, on Noel’s behalf, chooses love – unfortunately lines about kicking holes in the clouds and a hole in the world’s ‘seams’ are over-written and airy-fairy by Oasis standards. The only time since [37] Acquiesce’ both brothers sing alternating sections, instead its Noel’s new part written in 2005 and sung by him that makes this song sparkle. Clearly relating to the band’s problems (and perhaps in reply to ‘Abel’), Noel sings a gorgeous second verse of comfort, urging a depressed character to get back into the fight of life because ‘the world is waiting for you’. Adding that he’ll always ‘be by your side’ and ‘filling up the sky’ with dreams, it’s a lovely redemptive moment, very similar to the Liam-Noel vocal passages on [98] ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’. This song doesn’t work quite as well as that masterpiece though sadly, perhaps because the song runs out of inspiration and rather shamefacedly simply goes back to Liam’s opening passage for a straight repeat, with none of Noel’s more upbeat optimism seemingly having an impact on him. The chorus also needs a few more words in it than simply ‘Let There Be Love’ repeated four straight times over too, but still – for a good thirty seconds or so (the bit where Noel takes over and this song goes from minor key worry to major key certainty) this is another superb and moving addition to an album full of little bits and pieces like that.

Sadly the moment of reconciliation didn’t last long before Oasis called it a day in 2008, just two gigs from the end of their final tour (although similarly sensitive songs from both Noel and Beady Eye make a future reconciliation hopeful, maybe, even if their twitter feeds and press bitching doesn’t). In a way, never mind – after reaching the highs of this album and proving that Oasis could still match the stands of their old work at least occasionally, there really wasn’t anywhere else to go, the band sounding older and wiser on parts of this record than ever before as they openly discuss the state of the band and what it means to be a rock and roll star a decade after they ruled the world. Even though not everything here is great and two songs (‘Mucky Fingers’ and ‘Idle’) are easily among the worst they’ve ever done, there is a real sense of moving forward and covering new ground on this album, where brotherly love and hope for the future are the key themes. After this it really was all over bar the shouting, of which there’s an awful lot on final Oasis album ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ where only Noel’s [142] ‘Falling Down’ comes anywhere close to the peaks of this album. When the band get this album right, as on ‘Abel’ and ‘Dream’ especially, they really were so much more than simply a relic from the 1990s – they’d gone back to being the leading rock and roll band in the world, showing the way to all the ‘newcomers’ who’d got stuck the same way they had circa 1997, finding new ways to update old sounds, some of the time at least. Though this album desperately needs another couple of great songs to match ‘Giant’ or ‘Chemistry’ the power of the second half is amongst the best twenty minutes in the Oasis canon. Brave and bold, forthright and apologetic, real and heartfelt, but still with the power of old, Oasis’ legacy deserves nothing less and though inconsistent this album remains an under-rated classic to be cherished by fans for shedding more light on the band than any album since their debut. 

Other Oasis articles from this site you might be interested in reading:
'(What's The Story?) Morning Glory' (1995)
'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)
Who Built The Moon? (Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds) (2017)
The Best Unreleased Oasis Recordings 1992-2013
Surviving TV Clips 1994-2009:
Compilation/Live/Solo Albums: 1994-2010
Non-Album Songs Part One: 1993-1998

Non-Album Songs Part Two: 2000-2015

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