Friday, 31 October 2008

Oasis "Dig Out Your Soul" (2008)

♫ In-Depth Review: Oasis’ “Dig Out Your Soul” (October 2008) Most reviewers of this new album—the band’s 7th studio CD in 14 years—have been decidedly unkind, more than they have been in a decade or more, dismissing this album as ’more of the same old stuff’ and as a CD that soaks up all you’ll ever want to know in one hearing. Sadly, by Oasis’ high standards, the verdict is more or less right—but for the complete opposite of the reasons that are usually given. ‘Soul’ is something of a step backwards or at least sideways after the growing sophistication of ‘Heathen Chemistry’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’, but underneath its typical Oasis production sheen it’s actually quite an adventurous Most reviewers of this new album—the band’s 7th studio CD in 14 years—have been decidedly unkind, more than they have been in a decade or more, dismissing this album as ’more of the same old stuff’ and as a CD that soaks up all you’ll ever want to know in one hearing. Sadly, by Oasis’ high standards, the verdict is more or less right—but for the complete opposite of the reasons that are usually given. ‘Soul’ is something of a step backwards or at least sideways after the growing sophistication of ‘Heathen Chemistry’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’, but underneath its typical Oasis production sheen it’s actually quite an adventurouslittle album that tries valiantly to mover the Oasis sound away from crunching rockers and into trance-like dance numbers. The influences here aren’t compact singles by The Beatles and The Jam so much as the complex epics by the Stone Roses and loads of forgotten swirly psychedelic one-hit wonders, for better or for worse. And, like all Oasis albums from the third album onwards, it grows with every listen. The reason most critics seem to be having field day kicking Oasis again isn’t the fault of this record so much as the timing of it. ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘Morning Glory’ summed up their eras uncannily well and for his first few years in the limelight Noel Gallagher seemed to have an enviable magic touch about judging what his audience were thinking and feeling throughout the band’s earliest years. After skirting on the edges of critical acceptance for the second time around (2002’s Chemistry and 2005’s Truth both received reviews along the lines of ‘best Oasis album since the first two’), the most popular 1990s band discounting the Spice Girls (why oh why?!?) have hit another brick wall in terms of critical acceptance and this time its not really their fault. In this age of the credit crunch and pop idol wanna-bees it seems that guitar bands, sneery singers and songs this massive, epic and loud are out of fashion once again. Oasis have been here before— the long awaited ’Be Here Now’ (1997) came out literally days after Princess Diana’s funeral when the British psyche seemed to turn inward and reflective overnight and people wanted slow, primal ballads rather than overblown rock epics. Like that album, had Oasis released their latest magnum opus when they wanted to (ie July—Noel Gallgher reportedly told the record company to wait till October so that the group could watch England play in the world cup, little knowing they’d be knocked out at the qualifying stage) it would have fared so much better than it has done come the Autumn. A re-issue of Noel’s fine acoustic flip-sides or perhaps Oasis’ MTV Unplugged concert might have been a better bet for the current climate —but, uncannily like the mood of the nation nine years ago, this is an album ‘outta time’. By and large, Oasis haven’t done massive-sounding rock epics since 1997, but this time the band are better suited to the genre and the epics aren’t quite as overblown as before and the result is a brave if largely un-needed attempt to stretch their old sound once again. Alas, while many of these songs do shine out after a handful of playings, too many of them sound the same on first hearing, something I don’t think I’ve ever had to say about any earlier Oasis album. Noel has talked a great deal in the album’s pre-publicity about how his songs all seemed to fit a ‘trance’ groove and how he encouraged his fellow Oasisians to see if they could write something similar. While an interesting idea on paper, the practical upshot of this is that the old Oasis energy has turned to lethargy for the most part, with many songs going on for far too long or simply sounding like a repeat of the track that was on before and you often don’t notice that the song has actually changed. Another nice and typically Oasis idea in principle— a soundbite from John Lennon’s last radio interview with Andy Peebles, broadcast on December 6th 1980 – doesn’t actually add that much to the song, mainly because the mix is so poor you can’t actually tell what Johnny Rhythm is saying (and when you do decipher it, Lennon’s speech about there being ‘hope while there’s life’ only four days before his death makes Liam’s sentiment about making every day count sound more hopeless than hopeful). Liam’s songs have been progressing nicely throughout the last three albums and his contributions are once again the ‘sleepers’ on this album, the mournful ballads that grow on you after every listen. For a writer whose only had six previous songs to his credit, the three compositions here are all pretty impressive—though having said that, none are as good as Liam’s gems which were all undisputed highlights of the ‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ album of 2005. Noel’s songs are, just as on that last album, caught halfway between sticking limply to an old Oasis sound and trying something brave and new. When they work, they work really well—and when they don’t, reach for the skip button. Noel seemed to lose his songwriter’s confidence badly around the millennium judging by his rather tentative work since (despite several characteristic interviews braggingly telling us what a genius he still is) and his writer’s block still hasn’t quite healed itself judging by his six songs here, which still appear to be feeling their way round to what they want to say, instead of going for the jugular in classic old Oasis style. Worryingly, Noel seems to have written all of his six songs in the space of two 24-hour writing sessions according to interviews, sandwiched in between picking Gem’s kids up from school—and sadly this time there’s no magical three-minute bursts of despair like ‘Little By Little’ or ‘Gas Panic!’ to raise the emotion of the album. Depressingly, too, guitarist Gem and bassist Andy Bell’s contributions contribute just one song apiece and frustratingly the line-up that seemed to have settled in nicely during the ‘Truth’ sessions was disrupted yet again, with drummer Zak Starkey already committed to working on another project (the band get by with Noel playing the drums on a few tracks—indeed, the most impressive thing about this whole album is that everyone except Liam seems to have suddenly become a multi-instrumentalist, all three playing bass, keyboards and guitar according to the credits). Some of the new ideas do work, however, and they work well. ’Shock Of The Lightning’ is classic Oasis, a stomping rocker which sounds traditional and adventurous all at once, although it could have done with a few more twists and turns to it to make it a true Oasis classic. ‘I’m Outta Time’ tries perhaps a bit too hard to tear at our heart-strings, but Oasis are masters at recording spine-tingling ballads and this song of Liam’s about trying to find out where you belong is an interesting close cousin to ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ and ‘Let There Be Love’. ‘Falling Down’ is an interesting Noel-sung foray into American psychedelia— the more paranoid, chaotic branch of the genre— coming complete with a Mellotron accompaniment and an urgent guitar riff. It sounds like The Zombies re-interpreting the ’Beatles Love’ version of Tomorrow Never Knows/ Within You Without You and is all the better for it! Gem’s ‘To Be Where There’s Life’ is another interesting ‘grower’ song, the most overtly psychedelic Oasis have been since the under-rated ‘Who Feels Love?’ single in 2000 and it’s a genre Oasis have always managed a pretty high strike-rate with and nice to hear again. Bassist Andy Bell even gets to show off his sitar playing for the first time on an Oasis track! Closer ‘Soldier On’ is another interesting experiment, this time from Liam again, somehow transforming itself from a ploddy rocker into a full blown epic about marching on over obstacles and not letting them get you down. Its not quite up to Liam’s severely under-rated ‘Born On A Different Cloud’ (from ’Heathen Chemistry’), but at least he’s ripping off his better compositions here instead of giving us ‘Songbird’ for the 11th time! It’s also the one track here you wish would run for another couple of verses, so that the band can build up a true head of steam instead of letting the groove slip away from them. The rest of the album is mildly disappointing by comparison, simply because there’s not that much to get your teeth into, although there’s only actually one un-listenable track here—Noel’s ’Get Off Your High Horse, Lady’, which is basically Carl Perkins’ ’Hi-Heeled Sneakers’ sung through a loud of electronic voice distortion effects for four minutes — which still isn’t that bad a ratio for an 11-track album. Somehow, though, this is an album that sounds less than the sum of its parts, with even the best material average until you stick your CD player on ‘random’. A bad running order has been the downfall of many an Oasis album—sadly this one is especially poor, putting all of Noel’s songs at the beginning and the three most similar-sounding tracks as numbers one, two and three. The title ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ is also curious, showing up the faults of the album rather than its strengths—what we get are 18 slices of slow-burning grooves, with three rockers sandwiched in the middle, with even Noel’s guitar solos and Liam’s spurts of anger or defiance sounding somewhat muted in the mix, as if all the tracks have been white-washed to remove any sense of emotion, never mind soul. Ultimately, then, this isn’t the sort of album Oasis badly needed right now. It isn’t the album that’s going to recapture the band’s old audience and its not going to add many new converts to its list of fans, simply because it doesn’t have the power to move or get involved that all their other albums so far have done. What it does do though is add another couple of new directions for the Oasis sound to travel in — and make us wait hopefully that the next album might see real return to form. Rating: ♫♫♫♫♫ (5/10). world. That’s all for this week, see you next time (if you haven’t run away screaming!) ♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫♫

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