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Oasis "Be Here Now" (1997)
D'You Know What I Mean?/My Big Mouth/Magic Pie/Stand By Me/I Hope I Think I Know/The Girl In The Dirty Shirt/Fade In-Out/Don't Go Away/Be Here Now/All Around The World/It's Getting Better (Man!!!)/All Around The World (Reprise)
Psst! Do you want to know who I think really killed Princess Diana that fateful night in a tunnel in Paris in August 1997? Blur - that's who! All so they could claim a march on their biggest rivals Oasis and end up having the slightly better critical kudos ten years later. Or maybe it was Simon Cowell and his bunch of X factor/Pop Idol wannabes, who so wanted to replace the era of Britpop (when musicians could actually play) with a never-ending sea of manufactured number one hits by boys and girls who only actually met up the day they went into a studio. After al, it has to be one of them! (Or Prince Phillip! Or the Al Fayed family! Or the paparrazzi! Or then again it could just have been an accident?!
How else can you explain the rise and fall of the third Oasis album? The success of 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Morning Glory' had lead up to such hype in the record-buying world that it seemed nothing less than another 'Sgt Peppers' 20-years-and-a-bit on and - for a full ten days at least - 'Be Here Now' was considered almost unanimously to be the best of the bunch (and not just by the critics either - 'Be Here Now' even beat 'Morning Glory' to the coveted 'Greatest Albums' poll in Q magazine - and that was voted for by readers). And yet ask the average Oasis fan nowadays to name the band's worst album few would point fingers at any different album except 'Be Here Now' (seeing as nobody bought 'Dig Out Your Soul' anyway), labelled as 'the album that killed off Britpop'. If anything the album's reputation has fallen further still down the years to the point where this album has come to symbolise everything that is excessive, cocaine-fuelled, expansive and expensive about the mid 90s music scene (which was 1970s prog brought a few years too early to the 60s retro table).
What does Princess Di have to do with all this? Well, 'Be Here Now' came out on August 21st 1997, when the world was after something 'big' and England was after something 'big' in particular. Tony Blair has just been elected in a landslide of hopes and dreams as much as votes, and a more-glorious-than-usual Summer (ie it only rained half the time) did wonders for the public psyche. A new Oasis album was just what the country wanted - and so what if it was a little bit overblown in places - that was what came of having a band that was wonderfully 'mad fer it'! Then Diana died on August 31st and the country went into mourning - a ridiculous amount of mourning, with books of condolences available to sign in the most unlikely of places doted around the country and a record profit margin for the florists that year. The public suddenly didn't want something big and expressive - they wanted something tiny, sensitive, humble, 'the people's pop album' for 'the people's princess'. God help us, they wanted Elton John and 'Candle In The Wind', not nine minute videos full of helicopters and a song that only uses three chords (but what a three chords!...)
That's why nobody admits to owning or buying 'Be Here Now', which was at the time the fastest selling album in British chart history selling 350,000 copies on it's first day (finally beating an old record The Beatles had had since 1964) and yet the album still comfortably lags behind most other Oasis records like 'Morning Glory' (22 million) and 'Definitely Maybe' (somewhere around 10 million). That's also why it seems to be the Oasis album most commonly spotted in charity shops. So where does this album stand today in the great pantheon of other Oasis records? Well, it's clearly not as good as either of its two predecessors and suffers terribly from 'third album syndrome' (featuring leftovers from the first two records and material written quickly on the run when the pressure kicks in). Not one of the songs here reaches the marvellous triptych that closed 'Morning Glory' so successfully and far from giving us something light years ahead of what we were expecting we seemed to get something more akin to a band on their first album (rhymes used over and over again in songs, the same three chords used on several songs, a similar sound and texture on everything). Noel himself admitted that he wrote a grand total of one guitar lick in the six months after 'Morning Glory' and wrote most of these songs in an unusually disciplined but still inspired fortnight's 'holiday' in contrast to most of the earlier songs that had taken years to perfect. And yet, 'Be Here Now' is equally far from the disaster it's often made out to be. Taken out of context, almost all of these songs sound better away from their parent album (which is in danger of sounding like one long song) and there are several great moments that take the band in new directions fans simply weren't expecting (creepy album highlight 'Fade In-Out' and psychedelic 'Magic Pie'). At 71 minutes this is also good value for money, being arguably the longest 'first issue' single AAA album (ie not counting double or triple LPs or CD re-issues with bonus tracks) despite containing just 11 songs (and a brief reprise). Ironically enough, it's this third album that's much closer to the 'trademark' Oasis sound of the Gem-and-Andy post-split years, a landscape where bravado swagger has to be earned and where life is out to trip you up, however optimistic you felt when you woke up. In fact, had people listened properly, it's a much more fitting album all round to the year of 1997, when Diana's true qualities were revealed to the world in tabloid after cash-in book and Tony Blair's position as our saviour began to look as artificial as his smile.
Love it or loathe it, this album has a stance that makes it sound rather unique amongst AAA albums, if not all albums ever made. Almost every song on this album is simple, to the point of using only a minimum of chords and 'pop' lyrics that sound like they come from an entirely different writer to the one who'd spent his career till now writing 'anthems'. Most of these lyrics come from a humbler place, with a writer content to enjoy the simpler things in life rather than be the spokesperson to a generation as Noel so desperately wanted to be on albums one or two (this makes more sense if you realise that almost all the first two albums - and a fair chunk of this one - were written long before Oasis even had a record contract, penned by the elder Gallagher during stints on the dole or working as the roadie to the Inspiral Carpets). And yet, few albums are as loud, boastful and downright bombastic as this one is. Nearly every song, even the ballads, come accompanied by a dizzying roomful of guitars all playing in synch ('Stand By Me' is reputed to contain ten full mixing channels full of separate guitar parts!), there are orchestral overdubs to more than half of the songs (all sweepingly grandiose) and the running times of nearly every track are extended to the point where they run pretty much twice as long as they'd need to. The cocaine reportedly used during these sessions - which knocks anything even John Lennon or Syd Barratt did into the shade - has a lot to answer for (most albums made on cocaine tend to be 'big', slicing away at the musician's judgement as they try to match the big noise in their head; by contrast albums made on traditionally softer drugs like LSD tend to be all about thinking of the record as an extension of their maker's flowering brains).
Many articles of the time refer to Noel's 'masterplan', so much so that the guitarist even wrote a B-side based round the phrase (one of his best and the title track of a B-sides compilation released in 1998 to make up for the 'disappointing' sales of this album). As early as 1992 Noel was writing in his notebooks how he wanted the first album to be a cross between 'the rolling stones' and 'the stone roses', with the second maturing in a 'mid 60s Beatles' kind of a way. The third album? This was to be the mad one, when the guitarist's dreams had all come true and was to be full of all the expensive overdubs the band probably couldn't afford on their first two albums. Pleased by how his faith had paid off on the first two Oasis records, Noel clearly concentrated far too much on his 'masterplan' for this record (I'm intrigued what, if anything, Noel had planned for a fourth album although sadly that doesn't seem to have been in the notebooks that came up for auction ten years or so ago). 'All Around The World' for instance, the best known song from this album, is thought to have been only about the third song Noel ever wrote but deliberately kept back ('for when we can afford the fooking strings!')
'Be Here Now' often sounds as if it's an album barking at us, trying to get our attention rather than capturing it with finely honed stories as on 'Morning Glory' (or sheer charisma as on 'Maybe'), not least because the music press have set such store by this album everyone involved thinks they have to make it 'bigger' and 'longer' rather than 'better'. At heart 'Be Here Now' is a humble album, caught at the exact middle ground between Noel enjoying his fame and fortune and believing his own hype and beginning to realise that his life is still empty even having achieved most of his dreams already. It should have been recorded acoustically (like the band's 'Unplugged' show), the song's should have lasted three-four minutes maximum and it should have sounded innocent rather than worldly-wise, like the two other albums tried so hard to be. But what could the band do? Liam's famously purring voice was born for sounding big and brash and too big a change in the band's sound could have been artistic suicide; arguably he wouldn't have felt the connection with his brother's deeper, moodier songs just now as the most powerful 25-year-old on the planet anyway, although he'll be the best singer big brother could have asked for in another five year's time (Liam's comment on the tours of the time after singing one of the band's first singles, 'write some more of these baby's Noel!' and his brother's look of disgust says more for the state of the band at the time than any amount of press coverage of band bust-ups could). As a result, too often when you hear this album you're trying to listen out for how these songs might have sounded and if you have even a vague regard for this album I fully recommend digging out tapes of the band's 1997-98 tour when the song's sound tighter, rockier and more 'Oasisy' than they ever did on the record.
That said, the band didn't do an awful lot of touring for this record because they didn't really exist as a band any more after making this record. At the time fans weren't really bothered (this was about...ooh...the 7th time the band had broken in the three years since their first single!) and news that Noel and Liam weren't speaking wasn't exactly unusual either (Liam pulling out of the band's MTV Unplugged gig at the last minute and leaving big brother all of five minutes to re-learn all his lyrics as few months earlier didn't go down too well, especially when Liam returned to heckle what was left of the band from the 'box' overlooking the stage; as did failed attempts to crack America when the band should really have been at home cementing their reputation in Britain). But this was the big one. Two of the band's founding members - who'd been in the band longer than Noel - quit for good after this album and, great as their replacements were (and more of a 'band' as Oasis became), the group will never have the same 'homespun' feel again. You can cite all the normal band reasons for the break-up (musical differences, money differences, Noel getting too big a slice of the pie, Noel not having enough respect for them as a band, not enough rehearsal, too many hangers-on and way too much drugs) but the crucial difference between recording this album and the other two was that Oasis had already done everything they'd set out to do. They'd released a great debut album and trumped it with a second as well as finally beating CSNY's 1974 Wembley record for the biggest audience at a single rock concert in Britain at Knebworth in 1996, as well as goodness knows how many records for their run of singles. Anything from here on would have been repeating themselves - and, indeed, this album sounds so urgent not to go down the same path as the first two albums that it does everything it can not to repeat anything that came before (unfortunately many of these album songs repeat from other songs on this album instead). Legend has it bassist Guigsy and guitarist Bonehead were pushed, fired by Noel after one attack on their playing too many, but actually both left first sensing that push was coming soon anyway (first drummer Tony McCarroll in his book reckons it was Guigsy's laidback air and run of days off ill that first raised Noel's ire, but that a clash over music publishing has seen the drummer ousted first and the other two humbled into silence when they realised that any of them could go at any time). Whatever the cause - and whoever fired or left first - you can tell listening to this album that's it by a band in disarray, not having fun as per the first album in particular. Even a song like the title track, clearly intended as the jokey 'Digsy's Dinner' of the record, sounds brutal and grim here, as if the band are working at gun point (perhaps they were? Everything else was going on during this album's sessions...)
No wonder the band started and abandoned this album - twice - before finally getting it together the third time (this wasn't automatically a sign of disaster by the way - the band had re-recorded almost the whole of 'Definitely Maybe' a second time, so if anything the band took it as a good sign when they found they had nothing on tape after a week at Abbey Road). Talking of Abbey Road, it's here now that those irritating whines of 'but-Oasis-only-ever-copied-The-Beatles!' came into play. Having helped the fab four become 'hip' again (and arguably leading to the 'Beatles at the BBC' and 'Anthology' projects between 1994 and 1998 more than Apple would like to let on) Noel goes to town on this album. There are references to Let It Be, The Long And WInding Road, Helter Skelter, The Fool On The Hill and I Feel Fine, plus Lennon's witty retort about where the Beatles name first came from ('a man came down on a flaming pie and said you are Beatles with an 'A' and so we were', neatly forgetting Stuart Sutcliffe's contribution to the name) - and they're just the ones referenced by title! I guess an uninspired Noel is simply reaching out for what he knows and reckons that he might as well 'steal' from the best...(However that doesn't excuse the logo in the album's White Album-style collage inner sleeve which proclaims 'The Beatles ...quite good! Oasis is...much better!' in the top right hand corner, which is taking confidence just a little bit too far!) It's as if Oasis have 'sped' through the fab four's career, with the first album the band's early years and the second their middle years and this album the closest thing to the commercially successful but artistically bankrupt 'Abbey Road' (while the circumstances more closely mirror 'Let It Be'). We did mention that 'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' and the first two Beady Eye albums have more than a small resemblance to 'McCartney' and 'Ram', two early post-Beatles albums, but we did have to wait another 15 years for them to appear...
It's Pink Floyd rather than The Beatles that Oasis seem to be aping in the sleeve department however. This shot - actually shot as early as April, when the band were still largely speaking terms - is a typical Oasisy mix of the memorable and clumsy, shot at Stocks House in Hertfordshire (and former home to a 'Playboy Club'). Fans have poured for years over what the many ornaments on the cover symbolise - and whether there's any pattern as to why Liam stands at the back of the sleeve, eyeing a globe through a telescope, while his big brother stares at the camera in his most moddish pose yet (he's leaning on a scooter 'Quadrophenia' style to boot!), the two departing members stare off stage left and stage right and new drummer Alan White climbs out of a swimming pool, his back to the camera (surely the epitome of being thrown into the 'deep end'?!) Actually there was no plan to any of the cover; Noel simply rummaged through a warehouse full of props owned by photographer Michael Spencer Jones and pulled out what he fancied (although apparently it was Bonehead's suggestion to have a rolls royce driven into a swimming pool in homage to the rock and roll excesses of the album's sessions and Noel himself took along the globe that had first appeared on the sleeve to 'Definitely Maybe'). The only real significance to any of this is the date, which froze for a moment in time the day the album came out and read differently depending on which country you bought the album in (unusually the UK got the album before anyone else). The date is clearly a pun on the album title about 'being here now', but somehow in the sixteen years since this album came out it's come to symbolise much more than this, freezing Britain, if not the world, into a freeze frame where the decade's excesses had got as far as they had to go and something had to give. We might not have known who was being sacrificed that year but in retrospect something had to give, just as it had in 1976 when punk stopped music's 'excesses'. Time is ticking on Oasis - as it stood they only has another ten days at the top.
The chasm between this album and the more mournful, self-kicking Oasis albums that follow is huge, just as the gap between that bright happy summer in 1997 and the world-shaking of 9/11 a mere four years later seems staggering in retrospect. The world is changing rapidly and the band only just got their say so done in time before the world moved on. And yet there are signs in this album too of nastier, sadder things to come, for both them and us. Whilst D'Yer Know What I Mean?' is musically the most Oasisy song of the whole bang lot (loud, proud, lyrically high on a cloud) it's lyrics about finding connection and 'making my maker cry' sound like a good fit for Pete Townshend circa the mid 70s, the guitarist using Roger Daltrey's voice to make the scared little kid inside him sound huge and fierce (just as Noel does with his brother's voice here). It's full of questions, not statements like most other Oasis records. 'My Big Mouth' is the first of two Oasis songs about the nastier side of fame (the other is the excellent 'All Around The World' B-side simply titled 'The Fame'). 'Magic Pie' updates the 'story' of the past few years, Noel finding he has nothing in common with the starstruck teen who used to write all day, sounding both proud and amazed to announce that 'that was me, I was that passerby'. 'Fade-In Out' is better yet, a song that starts with Liam snarling as only he can about how he's 'bad enough to wanna be', musically strutting with the same monkey walk fans know so well. But what's this? A dismissive Noel crack (that's what they all say') ushers in a monumental scream and a backing track that suddenly squeals underfoot, helplessly writhing as the narrator tries to fight his way out of the box that's just trapped him forever. It remains one of the most startling Oasis moments of them all, the point where the band themselves realise that the dream of the mid 90s is already over. Before and after this sit all the even-by-now 'traditional' Oasis pop songs, anthems about how glorious the future is going to be and how it's so great to be alive. But somehow the band don't sound as if they're celebrating as they did on albums one and two - not even the extra exclamation marks on 'It's Getting Better (Man!!!)' is fooling us. This is a band in trouble, signposting an era in trouble and even in cocaine-fuelled distraction and hype-believing swagger the band can't hide from it completely.
Overall, then, 'Be Here Now' is a lacklustre album. It has much to say, but it often takes so long to say it that it tries our patience long before the songs end and in a few more decades this album will show it's age in the way that 'Sgt Peppers' is now so firmly stuck in 1967 it can never break free (although the first two records are still as 'timeless' as any). The album certainly doesn't deserve the 'album of the century' plaudits it got when it came out - but neither does it deserve quite the kicking it still gets from critics and fans and even the band (though typically Noel now still says he hates it and Liam has gone back to loving it again!) This is a failed experiment from a troubled band in disarray taking way too many drugs, but as per usual with even the worst AAA albums so much talent is involved that the band can't lose it all completely however much they might have tried. Several fans have soft spots for singles 'All Around The World' and 'Stand By Me', which do have lovely melodies even if they both take half an hour to say what should be said in a single verse, while I prefer first and sadly rather overlooked single 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' and two or three of the album-only tracks which are at least towards the better end of the songs that Noel Gallagher ever wrote. Had the band junked the rest of the album, stopped messing around re-creating the artificial happiness of their earlier work and turned down the guitars and album running lengths a little bit then we might still yet be talking about Oasis as the greatest rock and roll band on the planet, instead of a band that wasted so much promise after two of the greatest albums of the 1990s. Had this album come out in, say, 2007 the world would have liked it so much better than it does today (if not as much as the excessive summer of 1997 did before the whole Dead Diana thing got out of hand), as another 'stepping stone' towards longevity that all bands need in their oeuvre (in retrospect has there ever been a worst placed song than 'It's Getting Better (Man!!!)' right at the end of this album when it's clear things are getting anything but?) Instead, the world and it's shoulders seem to be resting on 'Be Here Now' and the album simply doesn't live up to the extra gazes that Oasis were getting in the wake of 'Morning Glory'. I do think, though, that with just a few tweaks to this album and in a parallel world somewhere right now Oasis are still selling zillions of copies of their 'Princess Camilla' tribute song 'Candle On A Swing', are gearing up for some sold-out 20th anniversary tours and have yet another album at number one ('Pigs might fly! Never say die!)
'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' is the album in a microcosm. The band's second biggest single of all time (outstripped only by 'Wonderwall'), the release of this single was huge news at the time and even the premiere of the music video got millions of people tunring in. At the time this song was greeted as the best thing the band had ever done - and yet nowadays the band seem to dislike it, even omitting it from their two CD best-of 'Time Flies' (which in sales terms would be the equivalent of The Rolling Stones giving 'Brown Sugar' the push from their best-ofs or The Beach Boys neglecting 'California Girls'). Like much of the album it sounds extremely extended despite being rather a simple song linked by three distinct [parts and topped and tailed by long instrumentals including almost two full minutes of helicopter noises (is this the band in 'full flight' after the noises of 'take-off' on the title track of 'Mroning Glory' in 1996? And wouldn't we fans have loved it if 'Dig Out Your Soul' had ended with the sound of a helicopter crash in 2008?!) which only make sense if you've seen the video (where the band stare down a fleet of Army helicopters, Top Gun style, shot in the very Un-Oasis surroundings of Beckton Gas Works in London although the band pretend it's Czechesolvakia with the phrases 'D'yer Know What I Mean?' and 'Be Here Now' daubed on the walls in that language). Everything about this song is meant to be big and some of it works well - the squealing feedback drenched guitars, the backwards guitar riffs and the sense of anticipation as the song builds up into the first chorus make it one of Oasis' most exciting recordings even if not much happens after that.
At heart, though, this is a simple song that's the template for quite a few Oasis songs to come. Feeling that as he's uninspired he ought to return to his roots, Noel gets this song's narrator to do just that, 'returning to the hole where I was born' and sticking in several 'blocking' phrases pinched from both Beatles (see above) and his own songs ('Don't Look Back In Anger' 'Wonderwall') that suggest this is a 'life's journey' from early musical inspiration to making millions. The verse starts with the usual swagger and that's fine enough, but it's the sudden unexpected, unsettling shift to a linking passage ('I met my maker and made him cry') that gives the song it's magic before the song shifts to a chorus somewhere between the two that sounds both proud and worried. The very idea of a person who doesn't believe in a God imagining them crying about it is a very clever couplet, one of Noel's best and carries on a sort of ongoing debate over religion that's heard elsewhere on 'The Masterplan' and much of Noel's first solo album. 'All the people right here right now, d'yer know what I mean?' is by contrast a cop-out of a chorus, Noel trying to connect to his own audience without actually having anything to say, but that eerie shift into the minor key seemingly gives even this passage of the song an extra layer of weight, the statement 'd'yer know what I mean?' more a plea to an audience from a suddenly rich and drug-fuddled writer that he's still one of the down-trodden working class even though he fears he's not. This is deeply unusual for Oasis, where till now the most anguished and melancholy lyrics have come in the shape of the not-that-sad-really 'Sad Song', the massive weight of guitars and vocals (forward and back) making this song sound as if the weight of the world are on this narrator's shoulders (only the drumming maintains the same swagger as the opening verse and even this sounds crushed underfoot by the end). This is unusual for most songs in fact - a good 90% of the time the major and minor keys are used the other way around, a positive major key chorus settling a worried sounding minor key verse (as per classic Oasis B-side 'Acquiesce') and the effect works very well here, the band finally getting back to the verse structure by means of a wandering instrumental passage seemingly built on chaos, the very sound of a man desperately trying to get his life back on course but knowing he probably can't. The use of vocals and guitars spun backwards (I think that's Liam singing the title phrase they've simply looped backwards at the beginning an end) even give this song the feeling that it's standing still, moving one step forward and one step back the whole time as if the whole song is trapped in quicksand.
'My Big Mouth' isn't classic Oasis - it tries hard to be another 'Morning Glory', but isn't as inspired and like many of this album's songs runs out of things to say far too quickly - but even this rocker is better than fans often admit. Perhaps taking his cue from the trouble Liam was getting into with the press, Noel writes a song for his brother that starts off as an apology for 'my big mouth' before turning into a taunting song about how Liam's critics would love to 'put on my shoes while I walk slowly down the [presumably Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame'. The verses are more interesting than the chorus, which sounds like an anthem written to order, picking up on 'D'Yer Know's themes of religion and speaking to people, neatly merging the two themes on lines like 'I ain't never spoke to God, and I ain't never been to Heaven, but you assumed I knew the way...' which is as close as Oasis ever came to admitting that that much attention wasn't always good for them. The last verse is in fact a prime example of what we at the AAA call 'I'm Just A Singer In A Rock 'n' Roll Band' syndrome after the Moody Blues song of the same name, with a band resenting the fact that people believe they have all the answers. Musically this is a deliberate return to the sound of 'Definitely Maybe', with a simple riff made to sound huge and exciting, but somehow for all the energy Noel, Liam and drummer Alan White clearly put into the song the mood is obviously not as naturally happy and joyful as it was for much of that album. A so-so song, with a muddy recording that sounds like a bit of a mess near the end once Noel starts soloing with himself three times over, but still with a punch and a passion the rest of the album's songs could have done with.
'Magic Pie' is another of the album's better songs, sung by Noel in psychedelic-Beatles-era overtones. Another rumination about the problems of believing in a dream for so long you don't quite know what to do with yourself when you've achieved it, the lyrics to this song are some of Noel's best. 'An extraordinary guy can never have an ordinary day' the song starts, before the song gradually undermines that sentiment by having the despondent narrator bored and unhappy despite his wealth and fame. As explained above, 'magic pies' were in the news a lot in 1997 in the wake of the Beatles 'Anthology' project (Lennon's jokey quote about how he formed the band's name was one of the strap-lines for the Anthology project and Paul McCartney had released his own 'Flaming Pie' album a few months previously with a title track a clear homage to his former partner's quip). Vague as it is (like most 'Be Here Now' songs), surely given the previous two song's feelings of guilt over being placed in a position where people look up to him this song must be about Noel looking back to his childhood love of heroes who seemed to know all the heroes and feeling guilty he might not be able to match them ('I dig their friends! I dig their shoes!') Note the way the first verse is in the third person and the other two are in the first person, as if Noel starts by dreaming of living the life of the rockstar at the beginning and then doesn't enjoy it when he gets there in verse two. Noel sounds in shock that Oasis became bigger than even he thought, reflecting as he did on 'D'Yer Know...' that he wishes he could tell his younger self that he'll get there one day ('That was me, I was that passer-by!') Noel's favourite metaphor, of a 'star' 'shining' makes another appearance on this song too, although it's interesting to note that he still believes that better things will happen - that even the few doubters left will change their minds 'one day' ('Morning Glory' had terrible reviews, remember, even if it was a fan favourite from the day it came out). Overall, though, this is another unusually unhappy Oasis song compared to what came before it, Noel sadly singing that 'I got my magic pie' (ie fame) and sounding as if he's about to burst into tears. Note the jokey fade-out too, when approaching the seven minute mark the song falls apart and gets over-ruled by a clumsy mellotron part while Noel desperately cries 'shut up!' in the background and the track gets all jazzy, repeating the trick first used on the B-side 'Listen Up' (where Bonehead even plays the accordion!), left on the track like many an Oasis ad-lib and possibly a homage to the self-effacing giggling on The Beatles' Within You Without You', recognising the fact that the song's gone on way too long again (the basics for this song was recorded at Abbey Road after all). Overall, one of the better album tracks which is an early template for the moody Noel-sung songs on the next two Oasis LPs 'Where Did It All Go Wrong?' 'Sunday Morning Call' and 'Little BY Little', classics all.
'Stand By Me' has been heralded as one of the two 'success stories' from this album (along with 'All Around The World'), but in retrospect that's more a reflection on the fact that this song is the closest thing on offer to the everyday-bloke style of lyrics heard on 'Morning Glory' than any reflection of its brilliance. Noel does his best to liven things up with an out-of-control guitar part that's the highlight of the song, but the rest of the track simply has no passion and nothing really to say. 'Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday' must be one of the worst openings to any AAA song - suggesting hangovers are the only thing Oasis have in common with their working class backgrounds any more - and only the line 'times are hard when things have got no meaning' is up to Noel's usual high standards; the rest is simple blocked out filler. Even the chorus is a direct steal of the Ben E King song 'Stand By Me' (no doubt Noel knows it better from the famous John Lennon cover) and what's worse is even that doesn't fit the rest of the song until the last verse. The narrator gives no clue as to why his girl (or maybe even his fans?) should stand by him, there's no attempt to explain the harder times that he sees coming and the 'other' chorus line ('Nobody Knows The Way It's Gonna Be!') is puzzling in the extreme. It could be that, in the context of the past three songs, Noel is asking his fans to 'stand by us' through a bad patch in the band's career, but if so the message is really muddled by the half-attempt to write in a love story in the third verse which really doesn't belong here and the first two verses are vague enough to be about anything. Like the rest of the album, this song is also seriously pushing it's luck ending just seconds away from the six minute mark when it doesn't really have enough ideas for two. All that said, though, this song does have quite an elegant melody - among the best on the album in fact - so the fans who got this song on the radio and more or less forced it into becoming the second single taken from the album got something right. Really, though, even Liam struggles with this song which is way out of his comfort zone (he can't show anger or pride or stubborn-ness here, on a lyric that demands he be the stable calm centre of things - this is Liam we're talking about here Noel, perhaps you should have sung this one yourself?!) and only Noel's louder-than-average guitar part adds any real excitement to this song. Much over-rated and one of the weaker songs on the album.
'I Hope, I Think, I Know' isn't much better, but at least this song has a certain dignity in its simplicity and delight in returning to the simple riff-based songs of 'Definitely Maybe'. Liam actually sings 'I feel a little down today' - which is the closest he's come to date to sounding sad - but this is a happy-sounding song with the same charge as all the Oasis songs between 1994 and 1995. Unfortunately the song sounds slightly removed, the sound of a writer trying desperately to remember what good times felt like and writing them from the memory not the heart. By the end Noel even gives up, admitting that his work is 'begged, stealed and borrowed' and that the band have 'got to keep running' before they're tied into the same sound forever. Note the title too: 'I think?' 'I Hope?' They're not very Oasisy phrases are they? Only 'I Know' sounds like a title that might have appeared on a previous album. Noel is clearly in crises, no matter how many times Liam has a ball taunting us with the chorus line 'You'll never forget my name' or how thrilling his own guitar work is on this song once again. Interestingly, it's this song - perhaps the most generic Oasis song of them all - that includes the lines about feeling 'trapped' in the same place; was Noel writing this song to order on another uninspired day but still had the grace to admit that he was uninspired to his audience? Hack work, but hack work by a clever band who do their best to disguise their lack of ideas and interest in the song.
'The Girl In The Dirty Shirt' is one of the better album songs, the closest Noel ever came to writing a love song for first wife Meg Matthews. Most wives and girlfriends probably wouldn't be that flattered by the title description, but what Noel seems to mean in the song - like Lennon's songs for Yoko before him - is that his girl is 'real' and grounded, not some unattainable muse but a real live flesh and blood reflection of himself. Like a mirror of 'D'Yer Know?' this song mixes a major key verse and a minor key chorus and, as ever, its the minor key aspect that works best. The pair in the song are clearly in love, but there's something that stops them being completely honest with each other ('You've got a feeling lost inside you...') and even if its sub-consciously the narrator knows the relationship is running out of time ('Life is sneaking up behind you...') Given the amount of Oasis songs about belief and hope, however, there's no better credit he can give to his missus that she gives both of these things to him, even if he is impatient enough with her to angrily mutter 'Get your shit together girl!' The fact that Noel gives one of his most personal songs yet to his brother to sing could suggest that the relationship was cooling even in the few months between writing and recording this, but more likely suggests that someone in the Oasis chain of command thought this catchy simple love song would make a fine single and thought Meg's brother-in-law ought to sing it instead (as it happens, the song never was a single, was hardly played live and is one of the more obscure songs of their career). Not quite revealing enough to be first-class and not quite catchy enough to be the classy pop song it tries so hard to be, 'The Girl In The Dirty Shirt' is still a clever and under-rated song with much to recommend it. For once on this album the 5:50 running time sounds about right too, as there's so much going on in this song, although sadly Noel's lyrics are again a mixture of the inspired and the hurried.
'Fade In-Out' is the album's masterpiece for me, the moment when the record's forced sunniness hits the aura of impending doom head on, the two currents hitting each other head on and resulting in thunder. The opening is typical Oasis, Liam's swagger never sounding better as he taunts the world 'get on the rollercoaster, the fair's in town today' like some demented carnival barker. Only the vocalist sounds in charge though: the rest of the song is edgy, with special guest Johnny Depp on an eerie slide guitar part (yes the film actor - a good friend of the Gallaghers and - briefly - a musician before his acting career took off) that's so unlike the usual Oasis controlled power it gives you the shivers. Noel's own chunky guitar part sounds unusual too - sly and elusive - while White's drums have been replaced for most of the song by a sea of percussion, the rattle of tambourines and maracas filling in the gap where the Oasis guitar-driven 'wall of sound' would normally be. While the first verse is typically vague the second makes it clear that Noel is giving brother Liam lines about the band to sing, a sort of potted history of the band to date ('Coming in out of nowhere singing rhapsody, you got to be bad enough to want to be...you're gonna be blinded by the light that follows me' is as good a motto for the band's career as any the Gallaghers have written to date; Beady Eye in particular have seized upon the idea of this 'light' as some sort of divine inspiration on their first two albums, with songs like 'Shine A Light' more or less a séance pleading for the old days to return). It's the chorus that alarms, however: 'You fade in-out' (which naturally sounds like the line 'you're fading out' with the elongated sneer Liam so gloriously gives it here), which depending the way you look at it either means it's all over and the band is dead or that the band have fallen to their highest and will rise again (Noel was, surely, already planning 'On The Shoulders Of Giants' even back here...) Even so, Liam sounds as if he's got it covered, singing the phrase with all the arrogance he can, but all it takes is a characteristic whisper from Noel ('That's what they all say!' - the most effective of all the dozens of coughs, wheezes and stray remarks left in on Oasis albums; you can also hear Noel's triumphant 'hey!' about 30 seconds into this song), a scream at 3:10 that comes straight from a hammer horror film and a turbulent mocking hollow 'Oasis-style' subversion of the song's opening riff to turn the song on its head. When Liam cuts in again he's no longer the cocky kid but a frightened child, mourning the loss of his confidence and the better times with so much emotion it's almost painful. The sound of Oasis growing up before our ears, 'Fade In-Out' is one of their most extraordinary songs, completely different to anything else in their back catalogue and chillingly haunting for anyone whose ever invested any emotional attachment to this band. 'Tomorrow we'll be cast away' the song ends, the band fearing already that their reign in the spotlight is over and that their time in the spotlight is over - although in my opinion by admitting their fears and writing from the heart Oasis were never better. One of their all-time under-rated songs, everyone judges the mood perfectly for the recording and Liam especially has never sounded better. If only the band had recorded more songs like this then 'Be Here Now' could have been cracker!
As it is 'Don't Go Away' is another song too obviously written because the band need something 'traditional' to get them in the charts rather than because they have anything deep to say (note how Noel has written another ballad to fulfil this function - Oasis rockers still feel somewhat sacrosanct just now). The chorus is especially poor: 'Don't go away, say what you say say that you'll stay, forever and a day' is the kind of work you expect from Barry White or Justin Bieber, not one of the greatest writers of his day. Even so, this song is worlds better than either 'Stand By Me' or 'All Around The World', having much in common with the band's early effortless B-sides than anything else on the album (things make more sense when you learn that the first draft for this song was written as long ago as 1993) and it does at least sound heartfelt. The song was reportedly written when the Gallagher's mum Peggy was rushed into hospital with suspected cancer - as it happens it was a false scare, but it did at least shake the 30-year-old Noel and 25-year-old Liam enough to think about mortality and what they would be missing if she went (Peggy is still alive at the time of writing; conversely Bonehead has since claimed that Noel wrote the song after the rhythm guitarist lost his mum in the mid 90s and that a lot of the lyrics came from real conversations he had with Noel about his loss). Surprisingly the song was never a single in the UK - where it would probably have sold better than any of the three that were - but it was a big hit in Japan and a small one in America (where it was the band's last hit for almost ten years). Liam often speaks of this song as one of his favourites, finding it too emotional to sing at first before he finally nailed it late on in the album sessions and it is one of his best, hinting at a fragility behind his macho posturing. The rest of the song sounds deeply un-Oasis like though; Noel's noisy guitar part sounds lost here as if its stumbled into a song it doesn't belong to and the rest of the band have had their parts simplified so much they barely have anything to do. The orchestration - inspired, so Noel says, by his 'other' hero Burt Bacharach - is also rather intrusive, too low in the mix to really lead the song but still loud enough to clash when it starts 'playing' over Liam or the guitar solos. On any other Oasis album except perhaps the last one the band would surely have kept going till they mastered this song (probably by going back to basics and making it simpler still); for this album, though, the pressure to make this sweet little song sound 'huge' was just too tempting and no one quite knew what to do with it. A shame - had this song come out as one of the earlier Oasis B-sides it would have been a gem for sure.
'Be Here Now' the title track isn't quite sure whether it's a heavy rock song or a gleeful novelty song a la 'Digsy's Dinner'. Indeed the lines 'Wrap up warm when it's cold outside, your shit jokes remind me of Digsy's' (aka Peter Deary, frontman for the band 'Smaller' and an early supporter of Noel's) make it sound more or less like a sequel (although there' no mention of lasagne this time, sadly), while the parping riff - played on a tin whistle of all things - is only just the right side of 'Agadoo'. There is a great rock song hiding in here though: Oasis' wall of sound is born for walking pace swagger songs like this and the chorus ('Been kicking up a storm since the day when I was born!') is perfect for Liam to snarl. The problem is, the two sides of this song don't really belong together and neither do they really belong with the title which isn't mentioned anywhere in the lyrics - it was lifted by Noel from the title of an obscure George Harrison song that ends the guitarist's 1971 album 'Living In The Material World' (well, Noel's other Harrison 'steal' was 'Wonderwall' and that didn't mean anything either, although somehow it seemed to fit). Talking of plagiarism, this song ends the same way as 'Columbia' from 'Definitely Maybe' (ie 'Come on come on come on come on, yeah yeah yeah!') which is only a problem in the sense that it displays all too clearly how badly the band have fallen in three years and two albums (good as this backing track is, it isn't 'kicking up a storm' like its predecessor so naturally did). Another rather ordinary track from an album already a few songs short of a masterpiece, 'Be Here Now' still has a certain charm about it and is another song better than its current reputation with fans and critics suggests - it's just all about muddled, veering from parody to power-chord rocker so often it makes your head dizzy.
'All Around The World' was intended to be the album's big finale as long ago as 1993 when Noel wrote the song and even for this album the song sounds pretty epic. This is another of Noel's 'call to arms' songs, with people 'all around the world' spreading 'the word' - although in common with most of the elder Gallagher's lyrics he's more interested in spreading the 'message' than in explaining just what that message is. This is yet another example on this album of a perfectly fine and pleasantly simple song being stretched much further than by rights it ought to go, the song getting bigger and more bloated with every passing repeat of the chorus. Noel regrets it now (his acidic commentary on the music video for this song on the 'Time Flies' collection is a joy...'this bit goes on for fooking hours so do yourself a favour, go and get a cup of tea or summat!....'pigs might fly, never say die', dear oh dear oh dear....') Amazingly this - the longest Oasis song of them all - only has two verses, a chorus and something labelled in the lyric booklet as a 'bridge', with the song sticking to the same three chords throughout - that's about the same as 'Love Me Do' and slightly less than 'Please Please Me' for reference! Indeed, at 9:38 'All Around The World' finally broke the UK single chart's record for the longest ever Number one single (deliberately beating previous title holders, yep, The Beatles again, with 'Hey Jude' by nearly two minutes - Noel even writes in some 'na na na's as a homage to that song) - making this song sound the musical equivalent of experiencing 'Around The World In 80 Days'. In real time. To say it gets boring is an understatement and even throwing an orchestra, harmonica and some improvised lyrics into the second half of the song can't overshadow the fact that this song is going nowhere very very slowly. For all that, though, the chorus is catchy (the first half dozen or so times you hear it anyway - you're sick of it by the second batch) and the accusational verses ('If you're lost at sea well I hope that you drown!') are fascinating in an elliptical kind of way (the narrator may be saying that these 'crazy days make me sheee-inne!' in the chorus, but the rest of the lyrics actually point to him being angry at himself for being so lost and helpless - was the chorus written in pre-fame 1993 then but the verses added in the spotlight glare of 1997?)There's simply not enough of them here to go round. Noel really took his 'masterplan' of keeping this as the third album's grand finale to heart and made it as epic as he could - sadly his masterplan was wrong for once - this is a song that would have been better off shortened, tightened and given a long holiday before the band came back for a shorter, simpler take (I hear somewhere all around the world is nice this time of year...)
Thankfully - well sort of - the torturous sixth straight repeat of the chorus is interrupted by 'It's Getting Better (Man!!!)' , the sort of song the old Oasis would have either dusted off in their sleep or used up for a B-side. One last gasp of the 'old' Oasis sound before it fades for good, it's another song curiously poised between dreading the future and loving the fact that anything could be round the corner. After all, what else can you make from a song that tells us within the exact same sentence 'Maybe the songs we sing are wrong, maybe the dreams we dream are gone - so bring it home and it won't be long, it's getting better man!' For once on this album the song doesn't outstay it's welcome, the guitars are all well placed in the mix and there's no orchestra to get in the way, making this arguably the second best of the 'traditional' Oasis songs on the album (after 'Don't Go Away'). That said, it sounds deeply peculiar heard here, not just because it's near the end of the album (when after the past hour this song already sounds like quite an anachronism) but because it effectively breaks up the 14 minute (!) album version of 'All Around The World' into two for no good reason (except possibly a mercy killing). had this song been kept as a B-side it would surely have been better remembered because, while far from the most erudite or powerful of Noel Gallagher's songs, it does have a fine riff, a simple stomping rock beat and lyrics that are among the more intelligent side as this album goes. Indeed, I'd go so far as to claim this was the best sounding song from the album when played live on the band's brief 1997 tour and the one 'Be Here Now' track that seemed the most obvious successor to the longevity of the songs from 'Definitely Maybe' and 'Morning Glory'.
There really is no excuse for 'All Around The World (Reprise)' though, which is basically the already pretty lame strings-and-horns overdub from the earlier song heard in full, with the drums mixed up front and the guitars mixed down low as accompaniment. Oasis really are determined you'll be singing this song's riff in your sleep aren't they? Sadly/thankfully (delete as appropriate) only the less interesting 'na na na' portion of the track is heard like this so we don't get a full blown return of the whole song. The track ends curiously too, fizzling out on a grungy guitar riff while someone walks away from us in squeaky shoes in comparison to the full stop of the 'proper' version of the song - is this the band's witty comment on the fact that to all intents and purposes they've broken up? That the band - and Britpop - have walked about as far as they can? Or are these Princess Di's footsteps as she walks to her car the day she died sent backwards ten days through an electro-fluxus forcefield?! (It's all a conspiracy you know!) Whatever the reason, it's a funny way to end an album, especially one that's taken up over 70 minutes of your life.
'Be Here Now' is a funny alum all round in fact. Sometimes the band swagger like they mean it and it was 1994 all over again, sometimes they swagger and they don't mean it, with the band clearly looking ahead to their more troubled recordings of the following decade, sometimes the band don't swagger at all. The use of dozens of helicopters, hundreds of overdubs and a zillion guitars along with the extended running times can't cover up the hole at the heart of this record, however, of the feeling that - for now at least - Noel has run out of things to say. The sound of a person who keeps thinking that if they keep at it long enough the answers will come to them eventually, much of this album sounds deeply unsure and nervous, adamant that it won't go down old paths without quite knowing what new paths are available to them (no wonder this album makes so much out of 'being here now'). I've always had a sort of middling love-hate relationship with this album; I for one was deeply disappointed with it when it came out after anticipating another 'Morning Glory' - but at the same time this isn't the overblown hopeless thrill-less album so many fans and critics would have you believe today. There are some songs here - notably 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' 'Fade In-Out' 'Magic Pie' and 'Don't Go Away' - that are every bit as good as anything on the band's early two albums - it's just that instead of being at worst competent and at best still pretty darn good, the non album highlights are a pretty sorry bunch this time around.What's more there's nothing wrong with the actual performances on this record - Noel might be having doubts but Liam sounds as edgy as he ever did and semi-new boy Alan White is an excellent find, giving a breadth and depth to the drumming that even the unfairly maligned Tony McCarroll couldn't match. Noel's guitar work too has rarely been better and when he solos alone with just one guitar shows just how good he is (unfortunately for most of the album he's solo-ing five times over, thanks to the wonder of overdubbing and that really doesn't work). The real trouble with 'Be Here Now' is that it should have been quiet, humble, stepping-stone of an album sandwiching the much greater albums either side of it; instead the album got lumbered with the hopes and dreams of a generation at a time when Oasis were at the point of disintegration and were deeply uninspired. Instead of hiding it's faults behind a sea of good ideas, it tries to hide them behind a wall of guitars, seven minute backing tracks and orchestral overdubs which simply points the fingers to the fact that a good three quarters of the songs on this album are so empty (and the other quarter are great songs about feeling this empty). 'Be Here Now' is the last album you'd recommend to a friend curious to know what the Oasis experience is all about, but it's far from the 'worst album ever' tag it so often receives and really doesn't deserve the 'it killed off a whole genre' tag. I say pull down the Princess Diana fountain (she'd have hated it anyway) and erect a monument to Britpop instead and we can mourn it's passing properly and give this poor album a rest! Overall rating - 4/10
Oasis/Beady Eye/High Flying Birds:
'Definitely Maybe' (1994) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-105-oasis.html
'The Masterplan' (B sides compilation) (1998) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-99-oasis-masterplan-1998.html
'Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants' (1999) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/news-views-and-music-issue-44-oasis.html
'Definitely Maybe' (DVD soundtrack) (2000) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/09/news-views-and-music-issue-2-oasis.html
‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/oasis-heathen-chemistry-2002.html
‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html
'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/oasis-dig-out-your-soul-2008_31.html
'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html
'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html
‘Be’ (Beady Eye) (2013) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/beady-eye-be-2013-album-review.html