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Oasis "Dig Out Your Soul" (2008)
Bag It Up/The Turning/Waiting For The Rapture/The Shock Of The Lightning/I'm Outta Time/(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady/Falling Down/To Be Where There's Life/Ain't Got Nothin'/The Nature Of Reality/Soldier On
'Whose to say that you were right and I was wrong? Come the day, come the night I'll be gone...soldier on' or 'I'm tired - come get me off the merry-go-round'
For once, dear readers, we actually reviewed an album when it was brand new, a review that we're going to leave here more or less complete because it's quite interesting to come back to it after a gap of seven years or so, without any sense of the big drama that was about to unfold. As one of our very earliest reviews, back when we weren't quite sure whether Alan's Album Archives was a lengthy guide to some of our bands or a short guide to all of it (before it became a lengthy guide to everything) the reviews came without reviews of specific tracks and weighed in a little short (this one wasn't originally long enough to even have its own number - it's '8A' because I'd already written a Hollies review that week). In other words, it sounded a little like every other review site out there and sounds a little too pithy for my tastes: in the land of one-paragraph reviews it's the detail man that's king, because the more you write the more you get right (even if you get more wrong. Or he's a boring dullard - which is up to you, but as you're still here reading I'll take that as a compliment that probably wasn't intended. Ta very much! This is after all what comes of not quite wanting to admit that you've just locked yourself into the daunting task of reviewing 500-odd albums across ten years: though this was always the ambition from the first review this was written more or less alongside the 101 'core' reviews which was taking long enough as it was and I needed a rest (funnily enough so did Oasis). Usually these early reviews can be easily reworked, because there's not much difference between reviewing an album that's thirty years old to one that's forty. But the new releases are a little different: so much we didn't know back then - or more likely so much I feared but didn't want to write. After 101 reviews of my favourite records (this project was meant to stop at that part, as a list of the 'best under-rated records you ought to own' but, err, the AAA got out of hand as you've probably already noticed), it also seemed strange writing about an album I didn't particularly like, I remember, although I rather relish the challenge now (and feel I can get away with it after writing so many glowing reviews so early on, so I could point my critics there to show 'I must be a true passionate monkeynuts fan, I'd even praised The Masterplan/Neil Young's Trans/Paul McCartney's Ram/John Lennon's Walls and Bridges/Insert rarity here' and was thus entitled to be rude occasionally. In retrospect I'm far too nice to this album, which ain't bad but, compared to the previous six, ain't that good either. So anyway here is my younger self in 2008, desperately hoping the rumours of Oasis' pending demise aren't true and that this album is a lull in a long career, rather than a closing whimper after a lifetime of big bangs, living in a world where the credit crunch is only just beginning to bite, where there's a chimpanzee named George in the White House and where Oasis are still - just about - holding on to their career, with the new of the split not arriving until a year later. I'll pick you up again at the end.
''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 little 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.'
Hello again: it's now 2015, the Spice Girls have been gone fifteen years not five (yippee!), Obama is at the end of his career not the fresh faced youngster he was the last time I wrote about this album and David Cameron has gone from cuddly posh twit to pig-mating monster: only one of these developments is unpredictable. What I think I sensed if I remember rightly, but which doesn't seem to have appeared in my review, is how 'final' a lot of this album sounded. I would love to say that I had a great sixth sense that the band had come to the natural road and picked up on the obvious clues that now in retrospect seem strewn like confetti across the record. However I think I got most of the gist of what was happening from reading Oasis fansites, who were already exploding with rumours of backstage bust-ups and thrown satsumas even back then. I've been waiting the past seven years to see if we would ever get to the bottom of just why Oasis split up when they did and nobody seems to quite agree on what happened and why, although several long-term and short-term factors seem to have come to a head, with no 'Talk Tonight' style 'fan' to talk Noel out of quitting this time around. By 2009 the band were tired: their renaissance had tided over but had never quite matched the heights of their first career, while not quite every fan was as enamoured with Gem and Andy as Noel and Liam clearly were.
Though fans largely long for any line-up of Oasis nowadays, at the time there was still a lingering feeling that this line-up wasn't as good as the 'real' thing and seven years in that was becoming a bit of a grind. The single worst mistake Oasis made of the period was how they handled the circa -2003 row between Liam and drummer Alan White. The band needed every link to their old sound they could get and great as Zak Starkey is across 'Don't Believe The Truth' and moist of this album, he doesn't have quite the same range and power (though he's still blooming good: in fact all four Oasis drummers, with Chris Sharrock arriving for the tour to promote this album though he's not actually on the record, are excellent choices). Even more than his abilities as a drummer, though, Whitey was a valuable buffer between the two brothers - a great musical ally to Noel and before some fight or other a great pal and drinking buddy with Liam. Junior members Gem and Andy, though they more than earned their stripes on the altar of broken eggshells and family counselling, hadn't been through as much shared experience and so could never get what it was 'really' like to be a rock and roll star of the first league. The brotherly feud between Liam and Noel, kept at bay through success hard work and achievement, was beginning to heat up as the band took longer between albums and found themselves a peg or two lower in the music scene whenever they put their heads over the parapet. Noel was irked at the way Liam turned up late for sessions, delayed his vocals and wouldn't sing with the band - the fact that Liam recorded both of his post-Oasis records in exactly this way in the blink of a (Beady) Eye suggests that the younger brother found it hard to work with the older one. Being in a band is hard work - being a band with a family member who knows you well doubly so, as the Davies brothers in the Kinks or the Knopflers in Dire Straits will tell you: it's very hard to showboat and act like you know everything when you're in the same room as someone who can dish the dirt on you. Until near the end the rivalry between the one who wrote the songs and got all the applause and adulation that way and the one who sang them and got the plaudits that way has been good for the band: Noel gets a whole new layer of meaning to his songs he'd never have got singing himself (what he lacks most with his High Flying Birds records - it's all too 'nice' and one-layered), while Liam gets to sing direct, without having to filter what his brother records and sees, representing a particular 'generation' that Noel can feel slightly detached from (the problem with the Beady Eye records, though less so: they don't have the same 'link' to their audience anymore, with Liam coping with shifting characters and backgrounds, something that rarely happened with Oasis). But nowadays Noel's songs are drying up and it's hard work balancing a connection with your old audience who have partly turned their back on you while staying true and 'real' to your credentials, the way that Oasis always vowed. Liam, too has started writing and though less prolific is, creatively, going toe to toe in this period, while Noel is writing more and more personal songs about family and the new love in his life - wife Sara - and more reluctant to hand them over to Liam.
A stewpot of tensions that had been simmering loudly for fifteen years came to a head backstage when Liam announced that he wanted a freebie advert for his clothing range 'Pretty Green' in the back of the band's latest tour brochure. It seems a fair request to me - it wasn't like it was on the front page and came with Liam's name attached, not the bands and if the assumption of getting one for free was a little cheeky, then isn't being cheeky what the Oasis ethos was all about? Liam was also suffering from laryngitis, a complaint he suffered from a lot during the Oasis years (probably as a result of giving his all in every take, every performance, every time - seriously there's never been even an outtake from 1994 onwards where Liam isn't at full throttle) which meant that his brother would have to do more singing: this was something the band could get round in 1996 (when Noel sang the MTV concert solo), but the songs were harder and the band less drilled than they had been. Noel, after several tense dark gigs where the band weren't playing well, seems to have been looking for an excuse to lash out and chose this one. Somewhere along the way a piece of fruit got thrown (a tangerine? A satsuma?) and in the time it took for it to connect with one or other Gallagher brother (though odds seem to be on Noel throwing it at Liam) and in retaliation a broken guitar (probably Noels') a seventeen year old musical journey came unpeeled. Oasis didn't have many gigs to play, with their last performance (unknown to the crowd at the time) suitably coming back home at Manchester on June 8th 2008; the fight occurred backstage at the V Festival on August 26th 2008, still a couple of months before this album's release (though no mention was ever made in the official publicity, the hope being that the pair could still patch things up).
In retrospect the split seems obvious - so obvious I can't believe I didn't pick it up (although part of me was, perhaps, in denial: most bands I follow split up long before I was born, with all albums from beginning to end already made: this journey was one I'd lived through in 'real' time and far more personal).It's mean and loud for a start, neatly bookending a career that was a lot more varied than critics ever gave the band credit for with a return to 'Definitely Maybe' style stomping. Only instead of pretty songs about how great life will be when the band 'make' it, the band sound weary and wondering when it will all stop. Usually the more Oasis want us to hear something, the more acoustic they'll make an album, with the more 'real' the inspiration the more likely that it will be played on acoustic guitar (the Wonderwalls, Cast No Shadows, Songbirds, and Sunday Morning Calls). This album is the only Oasis album not to have a single acoustic song and most of the lyrics are hard to hear, replaced not so much by a wall of noise as a sea of destruction, with everything thrown at these arrangements a la 'Be Here Now' (a similar record made in similar trying circumstances).
It's there too in the lyrics: 'The freaks are rising up through the floor!' warns stinging opener 'Bag It Up', itself a kind of 'final' act, as if Oasis are being put away in a drawer somewhere. 'The Turning' longs for something different, after 'mining our dreams for the same old song'. 'I'm tired - come get me off the merry-go-round' pleads Noel on 'Waiting For The Rapture', a song about waiting for someone - anyone - to offer a way out of a prison and surely the nastiest sounding love song ever made. 'The Shock Of The Lightning' is about inspiration and as such is an obvious candidate for most oasis moment, with a sudden surge of the old tightness, adrenalin and optimism. It remains, however, a song about trying to bottle something that's fleeting, as if admitting that most Oasis albums are hard work, perspiration more than inspiration (the fact that the song goes badly round in circles and starts blatantly nicking even more from The Beatles than usual only emphasises the point). 'I'm Outta Time' is surely the biggest clue on the record - a Liam-written ballad that sounds like a coda to 'Rock and Roll Star', about how much the band were going to say and do and how they only got time for some of it. The track even ends with an eerie extract from one of the last interviews John Lennon ever gave in December 1980, another great gone too soon. Liam tries to be brave and look to the future and accept the need to 'grow', but this doesn't sound like a positive song to me, more a lament for a great thing ending. 'Falling Down' is Noel's turn to lament the changing world, a scary psychedelic journey which sounds like the worst acid trip ever as something 'blows my mind' and he realises that 'it's time to kiss the world goodbye - falling around all that I've ever known'. Gem's 'To Be Where There's Life' tries to back away from the conflict, a reminder that life is what you make of it, but though it sounds as if it was written in the old happy-go-lucky style that's not how it's performed here with the biggest Liam sneer of the record and a bass riff that comes with boxing gloves: 'Days turn into nights, pray from the light, let me come through, let me take you way over the line...' Liam's spiky punk song 'Ain't Got Nothin' spits at naysayers and critics and maybe even his own brother as he admits that he's got nothing left and being 'set off like a fuse'. Trust Andy to play philosophiser and peacemaker but even 'The Nature Of Reality' (which sounds like every oasis riff ever stuck in a blender) is a career overview that's only half-pleased with itself, with Andy's narrator having seen 'heaven and hell' together. The album and the band's career (at least for the for-seeable future) then end with Liam's 'Soldier On', a track effectively condensed to just the two brothers (with Noel on drums) and lifted from a demo made early in the sessions and overdubbed with sound effects which captures the downhome beat of the mood in the room rather well. It seems inevitable somehow that the last song on an Oasis album (a career that started with the hope and glory of 'Supersonic' and 'Rock and Roll Star') should end with an argument: whose to say that I was right and you were wrong?' while Liam sadly urges the band to 'Soldier On', an argument that's drowned out little bit by little bit first by a Scottish clan bagpipes (a sign perhaps of family ties?) and a squeal of noise that obliterates everything in sight. It sounds, oddly enough, like a piece of fruit hovering in the air about to go splatt, although the final row wasn't until long after these sessions. (In case you're wondering why it isn't here, worst-song-in-ten-years 'High Horse Lady' is, to borrow a Noel phrase, 'absolute nonsense').
But is this career finale any good? Well, it's heart is in the right place - in a neat reflection of The Beatles' 'Let It Be' everyone is doing everything for the right reasons, with more of a 'live' feel and a punch long missing from the last few albums, along with a pretty nifty collection of songs (oh yes it is: I'd take 'Let It Be' 'Two Of Us' 'The Long and Winding Road' 'Dig A Pony' and 'Don't Let Me Down' over everything on 'Abbey Road' not written by George Harrison). However the mood in the room is too sad for it to work: Liam hasn't got the chance to soar and he's too tired of the fight to sneer. Noel seems to have already moved on, saving his best songs of the period for himself (of his half a dozen songs only 'Lightning' and 'Falling' come close to old classics and he had at least three future classics available at these sessions: 'Record Machine', which really was recorded at these sessions whatever it says on the band's Wikipedia page, 'If I Had A Gun' and 'Everybody Is On The Run' (Noel has also claimed to have heard a 'good half' of the first Beady Eye record at the sessions, though that seems doubtful given that 9/10ths of it is about fighting back after the split). Returning to the production trickery of 'Be Here Now' while keeping the songs short and the mood focussed should have been the way to go after three straight of albums of paring things largely back to basics and I'd never say no to hearing Oasis go psychedelic, as they frequently do across this record. I even love the band's last and best 'weird' publicity attempt: handing out sheet music for four key album songs (the three future singles plus, bizarrely, 'Get Off Your High Horse Lady') to buskers up and down the country along with a donation to get the whole nation 'singing' like yesteryear when we were all going to live forever and the world was mad fer Oasis.
But this isn't an album you can see anyone singing along to. Despite or sometimes because of the wall of noise, Oasis records usually have big hearts and just enough of a big mind behind them to stand up to repeated playings (though the first two Oasis albums are immediate, the others all get better the more you hear them). But this album feels cold and detached: either the band aren't telling us what they really mean and hiding behind confusing words or production values (what is 'High Horse' on about?!) or they're going full throttle and punching bells out of each other and us for listening to it. 'Dig Out Your Soul' is an album that's always on the verge of feedback and collapse, holding together by fake politeness where everyone's a little too afraid of giving it their all (again very 'Let It Be'). Oasis were always a band of brothers - and not just the band members who were brothers - but here they're 'just' a band, playing their parts and longing to go home. The only crackle and fire on this record comes when Liam yells 'To Be Where There's Life' like the Dalai Lama in a punk band, when the band are in unison on 'Shock Of The Lightning' or 'Falling Down' when the sea of noise starts levitating of its own accord a la 'Champagne Supernova' or when Zak Starkey is taking out the pressure that's been dumped on him in a kick-the-drummer syndrome out on his kit (his solo on 'Lightning' full of pent up aggression after minutes of being too 'nice' is everything that's great about Oasis, played at the right time rather than just making noise at random - it's a shame there aren't more moments like that here). The lyrics are poor by Oasis standards, vague and wishy-washy without the sheer poetry of their best nonsense lyrics like 'Supernova' or the direct bluntness of 'Cigarettes and Alcohol'. They're no longer speaking for anyone on this record except themselves and they don't seem quite sure yet whether they really want to come right out and day what they think to each other. Like the record cover the band have tried to go for surreal and colourful and 'Sgt Peppers' style collage-style, but come off exaggerating everything, throwing random things together on the assumption it will work and looking a bit silly Irony of ironies, 'Dig Out Your Soul' has no soul, instead being a collection of half-assembled songs that nobody was interested or enthusiastic enough to fit together with a fine performance. It is, sadly, the weakest Oasis album, as over-blown as the worst of 'Be Here Now' together with the inconsistency of albums four to six.
For all that, though, it's a pretty strong album to have as your weakest moment. 'Lightning' goes downhill rapidly after it runs out of parlour tricks to show off but for the opening minute, with new reveal after new reveal, it really is like the Oasis magic of old. 'Waiting For The Rapture' has the stomp of 'Lord Don't Slow Me Down' with something to say and Noel beating Liam for once at the best sneer on the record. 'Falling Down' turns the intensity, sadness and paranoia of Noel's more recent compositions into the scariest psychedelic song Syd Barrett never wrote, a world where every opening door of perception is something to be scared of and back away through, not walk through. 'To Be Where There's Life' might not be that much of a song but it's one hell of a riff and may well be Gem's best composition for the band. Finally 'Soldier On' is, unknowingly and unwittingly, the perfect ending, a bunch of soldiers going home after a war that's left them scared and bloodied and suffering from shell-shock but still going, marching into the brave unknown. Of the rest of the songs, nothing here is that bad (except, of course, 'High Horse'), just uninspired and a little tired. Now I don't agree with critics who said Oasis left at the right time - or even a decade too late. There's much to love from the under-rated second half of the band's career and I stand by my first review that claimed this record would be a fine stepping-stone for the next thing. The Beatles, after all, still did 'Abbey Road' and even if I don't think it's much cop other fans seem to: ending on a handshake rather than a satsuma would have been a much more 'grown-up' way of handling things. But Oasis have only recently been about growing up - perhaps the biggest frustration of this album is that the band have found a way to grow up at last that stayed compatible with what they'd always stood for without recycling it. A similarly psychedelic concept album about the tensions in the band, but played by one who means it in an atmosphere of harmony? Now that could have filled a garden full of soul...
[ ] 'Bag It Up' sounds like the band have got ants in their pants, with a restless urge to do..something sudden and violent that keeps being held in check, perhaps Noel sensing that a storm is brewing and wondering whether to be the first one to lash out. Most of this track is a song with the brakes on, centred around the same pinging guitar chord whine that gradually turns to feedback, with the only instrument to find release being Zak's drums, with sudden rat-a-tat bursts hinting at menace and power. It's an odd place for the record to start: not since 'F!ckin' In The Bushes' have we started with such an experiment that takes such licenses with the usual Oasis sound and only on the middle eight ('Somebody tell me I'm dreaming...') does Liam even sound like himself. Lyrically, knowing what we know now, this sounds like Noel going back and forth between whether to end the band right here, right now - nor not. He's sending a 'telegram' back to his missus with requests for an 'old piano' he needs to write and promises to meet at the end of a 'runway', which after so long on the road is as much his 'home' as anywhere now. But he's too tired and worn out to write a song that 'tells the world I loe them' in true Oasis style and Noel's not in a loving mood: he's been stuck on tour with 'the monkey man' (almost certainly his less than flattering description of his brother, sung with such mocking by Liam that he's almost certainly guessed this), caught between his terror that the 'freaks' he doesn't recognise anymore and who keep badgering him for songs ('Giants' was a record full of references like this) and a competitive spirit that wants 'more more more'. The only relief is a bag of 'heebeejebies' (probably Noel using the 'slang' term for the 'date-rape' drug GHB, despite having apparently stopped taking narcotics in the last century, although I'd rather like to think he's talking about a collection of Bee Gees records) that he wants to share to get 'higher' and forget his current predicament. However this is a song not about escapism but the nastier side of reality, with the song sounding like a fight to the death rather than a debate. I'm still not sure what I think of this track: I admire its power (this is one of the best band performances on the record), but the sneer seems too often to be aimed at 'us', the fans, something that the 'old' Noel would never do, while the attack on the rest of the band who put in so much effort making a slightly clumsy song work, seems a little cheap. Ah well, let's bag it up for later and move on to the next one.
[ ] 'The Turning' is the song that's grown on me most across seven years, although it is by Oasis standards so subtle and understated it's all too easy to overlook. This track too seems written for the fans, with Noel longing to give them a 'Messiah' to believe him while he goes off searching for a 'dream' and the song's narrator even spends most of the song looking out at the city trying to make some kind of psychic 'contact' with everybody. However the chorus is alien and angry again, as Liam screams on his brother's behalf for a 'rag doll' he can easily manipulate and take songs from (a 'Talk Tonight' if you will). Half vampire, half tribute, this song is confusing and turns from warm to ice-cold in an instant, with the usual Oasis wall of noise building blocks given jagged edges so that each of the many guitar parts is duelling with each other rather than working together. There's a cold aloofness at the core of this song which is alarming and very different to the usual Oasis sound and while it's an impressive sound (with Jay Darlington's mellotron the only thing keeping the performers together at times) it's not an altogether place to be. Six repeats of the chorus - four of them in a row at the end - is also pushing patience past breaking point, although the thirty second instrumental that ends the song (calming Noel down from his 'rapture' back to being a 'normal' human being via the rootsy chords of The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence') is rather beautiful surrounded by car alarms, broken dreams and a slight sense of panic.
Noel sings [ ] 'Waiting For The Rapture', a sign that he's either very close to a song or is singing a genre that Liam wouldn't normally do. Actually this long sneer is very much in Liam's song and Noel revealed later this was an early love song for wife Sara and how she 'saved' him from a life of repetitive cruelty. However this is no 'Wonderwall' or 'The Girl In The Dirty Shirt', Noel's last paeans to love back in his Meg Matthews days. This love isn't cute, or romantic, or pretty, or innocent: it's heavy, the way that John Lennon once claimed his love with Yoko Ono to be (on 'Abbey Road', the album that keeps cropping up on this review). Noel starts the first verse still waiting for his picture-book idea of love and almost misses what's happening when she 'reaches out her hand' before it hits him like a smackeroo blerdy (thanks Small Faces): love isn't cute, it's intense. The closest thing Noel has ever felt is the gnawing clanging klaxon going off in his brain whenever he writes a song - and he doesn't need to write her because she's right there in front of him, talking about 'the revolution in her head' (another cute Beatles reference via Ian MacDonald's superb book on the band, one that features a Noel Gallagher quote on the back page on my old copy)while putting him in a 'trance'. Alas this promising idea, based around Noel's favourite 4/4 stomp pattern, never really goes anywhere: we end with the pair's meeting and simply go round the song again, while Noel gets a chance to try out his falsetto again (to rather more irritating effect than 'Idle'). What's very nearly a solo-performance-with-drums is so full of bass distortion it's quite hard even for hardened Oasis fans like me to listen to, like the backing track to 'I Am The Walrus' as played during a party celebrating the end of the world. Heard isolated, it always sounds better than I remember it - though heard after two very similar tracks in a row it rather loses something on the album.
Thankfully the screaming feedback of [ ] 'The Shock Of The Lightning' pulls all these elements together, with a driving rocker that features much more of a band sound without losing the stomp or surreal quality. The obvious single from the album, it's the sound of a trapped man working out whether he wants to escape or not. 'I feel cold - but I'm back in the fire' and 'I'm back on the streets - but my head is flying' suggests that Noel really really didn't want to knuckle down to writing this album, too wrapped up is he in dreams of his new family and too tired is he of being tied to his old one. The song makes good use of these conflicting feelings, using that special ability Oasis have to make a song sound as if its levitating, by having so many different parts playing 'against' each other at different speeds, while the lyrics too try and urge patience ('All in good time'), enjoy the moment ('the shock of the lightning' is surely the moment of inspiration, not unlike the moment of 'the rapture' or 'The Turning'), celebrate past successes ('Love is a time machine, up on the silver screen') and sigh at recent failures and broken dreams ('I'm all over my heart's desire'). A classic Oasis riff, churning but in a better and more musical way than the past three songs, does a good job at holding this song together like an elastic band, turning the song round so we get to glimpse all of Noel's mixed feelings one by one. But sadly even this promising song seems to run out of ideas midway through. Like many songs across this album, it peaks too soon and the second half is all repetition bar that majestic drum break from Zak, the only thing here that breaks the monotony and finds release (Noel was rather proud at getting a drum solo onto a single - he'd been trying for years but they'd never fitted before, so at least that's one dream he hadn't given up on!) The shock of the lightning is enough to revive the beginning of the song, but not enough to fully restore the patient.
It takes Liam to slow the album down, but arguably [ ] 'I'm Outta Time' slows the album just that little bit too much. The record's second single, it became the biggest flop of Oasis' career at the time (though a chart high of #12 in the UK still ain't bad for a song everyone had already bought on the album already) and seemed to split reviewers and fans the most. My take is that there's a great song in here somewhere: the chord progression is pretty (Liam had and has a real flair for these sort of things, impressive given that he's not really much of a 'musician'), the words are a powerful reflection on saying goodbye to something important (almost certainly the band) and his lead vocal a clever mix of innocence and sneer. But the song is sadly just that bit slow and that bit over-polished (clever as having Lennon say 'goodbye' from the grave might be, it sounds terribly out of place stuck at the end of a long fadeout and mixed so low we can't really hear it) to work as well as it should. The lyrics, though, are worth persevering with and sound much prouder of what Oasis achieved and what the fans must feel than anything Noel wrote (this will continue across Beady Eye's work more than Noel's, with Andy especially picking up on this idea too).Liam's been listening to a song 'that reminds me of when we were young' - is it an early Oasis hit heard when flicking channels? Or a Beatles/Stone Roses/Sex Pistols/Slade favourite on some TOTP/Sounds Of The Sixties-Seventies compilation? Liam tells us that he's at 'sea' but what he seems to really mean is that he's withdrawn from the band as far away as possible to have some alone thinking time, aware that his brother is no longer happy and wondering whether to 'let him go because in my heart you'd grow'. For all his image as the troublemaker in the band, it's the first of many Liam songs offering an olive branch to his brother, offering apologies and words of comfort he would never dare make in person. He even debates what his brother would do if they were no longer financially tied at the hip: 'If I'm to fall would you be there to applaud?' he wonders (it's worth mentioning that the pair got on as well as any siblings five years apart do in their childhood - the rows only started when they shared a band and Liam seems to be wondering if things will go back to where they were if they don't live in each other's pockets all the time). The use of Lennon at the end seems to be hinting that life is too short for fussing and fighting, my brother - but Liam also knows that his brother means it this time and is willing to let him go. A very powerful and moving song, sadly it's rather thrown away by a performance that tries too hard to be an epic ballad and which has such a slow tempo it all falls rather flat. Though I've never heard it, I'm willing to bet the demo of this song was a killer, though, full of all the passion that evaporated in the studio.
I'm willing to bet, too, than even the demo of [ ] 'Get Off Your High Horse, Lady' was a dog. Noel can't really do sarcasm the way his brother can and singing through an electronically enhanced megaphone while ripping off the tune to 'Hi-Heeled Sneakers' is not the way to go. Noel has clearly been stung by somebody snooty - though it would make sense in the context of this album of coded messages and warfare if it was Liam, that doesn't quite ring true: he's not the 'snooty' type. Noel doesn't really explain either, mis-directing us to his favourite meteorological metaphors with tales of a 'fire in the sky' and a 'rain coming down'. Such apocalyptic imagery may have seemed shocking on past Oasis albums, but here sound rather trite, while the boom-chikka drum pattern clearly here to resemble a horse in motion is a nice idea that gets trying way before the end. This song isn't all bad - the 'wayyyy dowwwwwn' mournful chorus line is rather effective, while the layers of guitar effects are rather good too. But like many songs on this record its unfinished and unclear, Noel never adding anything except repetition and this song's surreal wide brushstrokes sound very out of place and hollow on an album made in graphic detail and hard monochrome. If ever an Oasis song was going to put me on my high horse it's this plagiarised, unfinished, badly performed monstrosity. To think that we could have had the glorious 'Record Machine' on this album instead...
The album's true classic and lasting achievement is Noel's last song on an Oasis album and the band's final single [ ] 'Falling Down'. After years of hinting at melancholia and depression, Noel unleashes hell on a track that could easily be read as a suicide note ('Time to kiss the world goodbye...') If that seems like a rather un-Oasis thing to be writing, then so is the song: Noel is trapped, caught between a rock (well a gritty guitar) and a hard place (signified by the saddest mellotron ever), 'lost and found' all at the same time as his heart takes him to a new place while being hit by memories of the old. Uncharacteristically he even reaches out to God, so much more humbly than on their last conversation on 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' and asks for help 'but to no avail', turning on him too with a curtly dismissive 'If you can't help me then please don't waste my time!' The hint is that it's not just Oasis Noel is saying goodbye too: he name-checks the 'wheel that breaks a butterfly?' speech that everyone assumed was an Edgar Burroughs reference but is more likely the newspaper headline of the Telegraph article written when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were given ridiculous sentences for trumped up drugs charges. In this context Noel is trying to 'catch' the wheel - the cogs of industry that destroy artistic freedom without even noticing - and Noel finds himself blinded by the sun that once brought him everything - his usual metaphor for his muse or inspiration. Suddenly everything is turning on him: his new songs are so intense they're hurting him, while the world is changing so fast he's being left behind. Across the rest of the album Noel sounds defiant or angry, but here he sounds terrified: 'You can't leave me' he seems to be4 saying 'this is all that I've ever known'. No wonder the track is titled 'Falling Down' - though the line actually refers to the hard times falling round him like rain, he sounds as if he's falling too, toppling from his perch as generation spokesperson in a similar to song to close buddy Paul Weller's 'Porcelain Gods'. The band performance on this track is majestic, with Jay Darlington again the standout on a guest mellotron part that perfectly captures the feeling of feisty helplessness, while Noel's slightly detached vocal is a thing of beauty and the last great Oasis wall of noise features him, Gem and Andy alternating solos, hammered into place by more superb drumming from Zak. For all that, the demo of this song is still stronger than the recording, clearly made in the 'heat' of inspiration and capturing Noel's surprise at what he's written that much more strongly. Sensibly the band included it on the CD single as a bonus track. The album's one great triumph without a 'but...' added at the end.
I'm also rather fond of [ ] 'To Be Where There's Life', a noisy psychedelic song by Gem that no one else seems to like. Based around the mother of all bass riffs, superbly played by Andy, it's a thick and heavy song that's claustrophobic and menacing, perfect for Liam to strut his stuff as if nothing has changed. The tensions on the 'Fears don't try me, tears don't cry me' middle eight (which sounds daft when written down, but electrifying on the album) as vocalist and band head in separate directions in a massive tug-of-war game, are the single most memorable moment on the album. The most intense and passion-filled song on the album, this more or less sets the tone for the more emotional postmodernist rockers that Beady Eye will go on to write ('We gotta move - it's what we do!'), most likely without Noel playing guitar on the track. He does get a credit for 'toy sitar' played simultaneously with Andy's tamboura, which gives the song a nice trippy feel that half-works (it doesn't distract from the song, but it would have worked equally well without the extra decoration). Liam clearly loves having a song he can get his teeth into and has rarely sounded better, pulling the band along through sheer force of personality at times just like the old days. So is the final lyric: this music, this band, this power can do anything: it can show their audience the way, break down 'locked doors', explore 'secret floors', ignore 'signs': everything 'ordinary' people in the 1990s generation can't normally do, except in tandem with the ordinary's people's greatest band. A tribute to the sheer power and oomph Oasis brought to their early recordings, this would have made an even better finale to the record than 'Soldier On', a final moment of glory in the spotlight and the last time the band get to sound like rock and roll stars, ending in an explosion of colour and noise the way all good Oasis songs should. How the hell did the critics not 'get' this song (my 2008 self included, if I'm honest).
I'm less keen on Liam's one-note [ ] 'Ain't Got Nothin', which is a re-make of his 'Don't Believe The Truth' song 'Meaning Of Soul' without a similar amount of ideas. A rocker that contains more venom than a snakebite, it sounds as if it was modelled on The Who's 'Dr Jimmy', taken from the point in 'Quadrophenia' when the main character has got fed up of philosophising and turns nasty as the drugs wear off. Sounding as if it was written and recorded in the heat of the battle, it's right in someone's face - probably Noel's - as it demands 'the truth' and 'to let me out of this groove!' The groove is an apt metaphor as this song is stuck, the simplest rock and roll moment on the album boxed in by some slightly lesser drums from Zak as Liam complains of 'not feeling real' and wondering if it's a 'crime'. Comparing himself to an innocent 'out on bail' giving the system something to lock him up for, the song gets manic quickly as the band push way past the logical limit (with somebody - Noel? - screaming to themselves in-audibly in the background of the instrumental break) and Liam effectively hands his notice in right here and now. It's clearly a key song for Oasis, being even more graphic and dramatic than 'Bag It Up', laced through with more than a little of the contempt of Lennon's 'primal scream' debut album, taking things down to basics in a search for 'the truth'. However it's a tough song to listen to and there are far better and more disciplined Oasis rockers out there.
Andy's [ ] 'The Nature Of Reality' is also a bit of a disappointment: it starts with some scene-setting feedback that suggests something along the lines of the Jefferson Airplane, but ends up a slow-burning strutting rocker more like AC/DC. The guitar riff and booming bass drum, make for an uneasy listening experience and really don't suit the philosophical lyrics. Andy revealed after the album came out that he had just got divorced (a fact he largely kept quiet at the time) and wrote this song after deciding that he felt no emotion at all after breaking his marriage vows despite being brought up a strict Catholic. Figuring that there had to be more to life than there seemed on the surface, he plays with Buddhist concepts instead, figuring that there is no such thing as 'reality' - we all live in different worlds 'in our mi-eee-ii-eee-iiii-eeee-iiiiiinds' (the closest Liam comes to repeating his famous 'sunnsheeeeiiinnneee' phrase across this album). In this world, which sounds like another hazy drug trip, God and the devil exist, but only as people, with no real effect on the world - its us mortals who have the power to change our lives. Coming across as more like something the band's old rivals Kular Shaker or Cornershop would do than the usually more straightforward Oasis ('Brimful Of Asha' is a 9-0s take on psychedelia if ever there was one), it's nice to hear the band still trying to stretch their sound this late on in the game and Beady Eye will benefit from the rush of sequels offered by Andy across the next few years. However, it's not an experiment that's altogether successful: like many of this album's songs it sounds unfinished, plodding on the verse, soaring on the chorus and....going back to plodding again, just as you think you've found the 'answer'. Nice guitar solos though and the massed choir of Liams all mocking each other over the epic ending is quite a sound to behold. In this reality I'm suddenly developing a headache.
And so it ends. Fifteen years of breaking down barriers, uniting the nations' working class youth with anthemic choruses and promising better days have ended up in [ ] 'Soldier On', a Liam song that features him lying even to himself. Sounding as if the weight of the world is on his back and pressing him down, Liam wearily struggles on through one last simple rocker that sounds as if its going round in circles - a complete 180 degree turn from the anything-goes exuberance of 'Rock and Roll Star' or 'Supersonic; where this journey first began (depending whether you count the first single or the first album as the 'true' start of the journey). Once again, Liam is delivering mixed messages: 'Don't be long' he warns the others before vowing to 'soldier on', while telling his brother that it doesn't matter whose 'right' or whose 'wrong', the journey is over all the same. A surprise snatch of Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes makes you wonder whether the family unit is uniting after all in a Gallagher tartan, but the bagpipes were designed for use in battle and that's how they sound here, counting the cost and trying to unite a disparate band of people lost inside a haze of their own making (brilliantly conjured up out of all the electronic trickery). Liam's last message for the world: 'Come the morning I'll be gone' followed by one last great 'na na na' chorus - this time sounding a million miles away from the joy of 'Around The World' or the slightly sadder ones of 'Keep The Dream Alive' or 'I'm Outta Time'. This isn't a time for hope or hugs, what that burst of nonsense joy usually signified (probably 'nicked' from The Beatles' 'Hey Jude' where it's one of the most uplifting sounds in music): this is a world of casualties where nobody can be saved and everything the narrator once knew was gone. Rather than admit it, he blindly keeps struggling forward, sure that a sniper's bullet will get him too as he 'soldiers on' into a massacre. The bullet catches him, too, given the sudden ear-catching wave of noise that greets the song's final moments, the band fading away into the distance as they're replaced by a host of hideous electronic noises (the band's comments on the 'hole'; they're leaving behind in music perhaps? In truth there'd mainly been electronic noises like this since the end of the band's heyday in 1997 - isn't it about time to give another sound a go for a bit?) Though again like almost all the album I'd trade in three minutes of repetition for an extra verse anyday, this is another powerful song treated with just the right amount of detachment thanks to a band performance that's eerie and chilling, Noel's sloppy drumming the sound of a band of former comrades who were once so close now struggling to keep pace with each other. It's a powerful goodbye, even back in the days when it wasn't yet an 'official' goodbye and remains one of the most moving moments of any Oasis album.
Overall, then, 'Dig Out Your Soul' isn't one of those 'farewell' triumphs the way that The Moody Blues' 'Seventh Sojourn' or The Searchers' 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' or 10cc's 'Windows In The Jungle' are. But nor is it an unmitigated disaster the way that The Who's farewells are (take your pick from 'It's Hard' and reunion album 'Endless Wire') or Lindisfarne's 'Dingly Dell' is often said to be. It is, instead, a mixed farewell album akin to Pink Floyd's 'The Division Bell' or Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' or, yes, it's close cousin 'Let It Be' are: a step down from the band's peak but without falling down too spectacularly. Half the songs sound rushed and completed and half of the performances sound spiky and repetitive, lost in a world of trance and psychedelic punk that really doesn't suit Oasis in any era, never mind a last goodbye to their sound. However when the other half of the album gets moving much of it is truly great: 'Falling Down' 'To Be Where There's Life' and 'Soldier On' really do sit amongst the band's best work and if that's lower odds per an eleven track album than we've ever had from Oasis before then that doesn't necessarily make it bad. All of this album is straining at the leash to do something different and given the alienation and acidness in the room (on both meanings of the word) it's a wonder that any of the album manages to be as good as it is, with so little that bad. This is a courageous and at times fitting ending to a fifteen year journey of ups and downs - it's just a shame it isn't that little bit better, consistent and more inspired too, an album made up of too many thunder clouds and not that much shock of the lightning at all really.
Other Oasis articles from this site you may be interested in reading:
'Definitely Maybe' (1994) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/news-views-and-music-issue-105-oasis.html
'Be Here Now' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/oasis-be-here-now-1997-album-review.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
‘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
'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/noel-gallaghers-high-flying-birds.html