Heathen Chemistry (2002)

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Cover: A really boring, black-and-white, distorted shot of the band. This was the first Oasis album with new members Gem Archer (guitar) and Andy Bell (bass), who’d joined in 2000. They brought with them a more democratic approach to songwriting: here, every member of the band bar the drummer contributes.

Best track: The Hindu Times is energetic and infectious. It was the lead single from the album and became Oasis’s sixth number one. The title comes from a T-shirt Noel saw in a charity shop.

Honourable mentions:
* Stop Crying Your Heart Out was the album’s second single. It’s a lush, bombastic and unsubtle rehash of old Oasis tunes. You can hear elements (or at least echoes) of Slide Away, The Masterplan, Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger. But it’s inoffensive.
* The overly simple but pleasant-sounding Songbird was written by Liam Gallagher and is an ode to his then girlfriend, Nicole Appleton (who cameos in the promotional video). When released as a single in February 2003 it became the first Oasis A-side not written by Noel.
* Little By Little is a pocket-rocket of a track, packing a lot of punch into four minutes. It was released as a double A-side single with the disposable She is Love, which also appears on Heathen Chemistry. Noel sings the lead vocal on both.
* The entertaining (Probably) All in the Mind has a guitar solo played by Smiths legend Johnny Marr.
* Born on a Different Cloud – written by Liam – has the feel of a John Lennon record. The lead vocals are drenched in reverb, for example, which was Lennon’s preference too. The lyric also uses a phrase – “Busy working overtime” – from Happiness is a Warm Gun, a Beatles song John wrote in 1968. There’s a good bottom end, while the lead guitar pierces through well.
* The funky Better Man, meanwhile, sounds like the Stone Roses circa 1994. It’s another track written by Liam.

Worst track: Sadly, the contributions from the band’s two new members do not impress. Hung in a Bad Place, written by Gem Archer, is a tired pub-band rocker, while Andy Bell’s A Quick Peep is a throwaway instrumental.

Weirdest lyric: Hung in a Bad Place contains this gem from Gem: “I can sing to the trees/Tarzan on harmonies for free, yeah.”

Best video: Little By Little’s promo stars actor Robert Carlyle as a tiny little man in central London who mouths along to the song as people ignore him. Noel is busking in a doorway, while the other members of Oasis have cameos. Everyone in the video is dressed in muted, dark colours – then Liam appears in a startlingly white jacket. He helps Robert Carlyle get up from the floor and magically turns him back to 5′ 7″. Bobby then shoulder-bumps him – which may be a reference to the Verve’s video for Bittersweet Symphony – but Liam doesn’t react. (Well, you wouldn’t want to get into a fight with Begbie from Trainspotting, would you?) London then morphs into a country lane and now Robert is a giant. Obvs.

Personal connection: The second and final time I saw Oasis live was when they toured to promote this album. At their gig in Finsbury Park, London, on 5 July 2002, the support bands were The Coral, Proud Mary, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Charlatans. Oasis did a cover of My Generation and dedicated it to The Who’s bassist, John Entwistle, who’d died the week before. 

Review: This one sees Oasis go back to basics after the studio flamboyance of recent albums. There’s a simplicity to some tracks, which means the album doesn’t stand up too well to repeat listens. But the good stuff is worth checking out.

Seven wheels of your life have slowly fallen off out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 4 episode 1

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by David Evans. Originally broadcast: 22 September 2013, ITV.

With Matthew dead, Mary is in mourning. Meanwhile, Miss O’Brien abandons the family, someone asks Carson for help, and Michael Gregson considers moving to Germany.

When is it set? A caption tells us it’s 1922. It’s been six months since the previous episode. The story takes place over a few days, one of which is 14 February.

Where is it set? The house and estate. The village, including the church, the post office and Mr Moseley’s father’s house. Isobel’s house. Violet’s house. Rippon. Also a few places in London: a train station (which looks to be St Pancras), Michael Gregson’s home and swanky restaurant The Criterion.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Miss O’Brien does a runner in the night – it’s the first scene of the season and the character has gone before there’s any dialogue – as she’s been headhunted by Robert’s cousin Lady Flintshire. The character is played here by an uncredited extra because actress Siobhan Finneran had left the show between seasons.
* Lady Rose is now living at Downton Abbey, seeing how her parents are off to India.
* Baby George has a nanny called West (Di Botcher). She’s a bit minty towards Thomas Barrow so he makes sure she gets the sack.
* Edna, the maid who caused a fuss in the previous episode, is back and applies for O’Brien’s old job. In a nice bit of plotting, she’s hired before any of the characters who met her last time realise.
* Mr Carson gets a letter from his old friend/music-hall colleague Mr Grigg but throws it away. Mrs Hughes retrieves it from the bin and learns that Grigg is in the workhouse. Carson doesn’t want to help, so Mrs Hughes goes to Isobel. This gives the grieving Isobel someone to focus her attentions on.
* We see Violet’s butler for the first time: the dour, grouchy Mr Spratt (Jeremy Swift).
* Lady Shackelton (Harriet Walter) is a friend of Violet’s. She’s a stuck-up aristo. Violet arranges for Moseley to wait on her, hoping that Lady S will hire him.

Best bits:
* On Valentine’s Day, Anna and Bates share a loving look across the breakfast table as they open their cards. “Who sent you a card?” he teases later. “I don’t know,” she replies. “It’s not signed…”
* Mr Moseley calls on Isobel to ask for his old job back. Violet is there when he arrives and he does a double take.
* Edith’s romance with Michael Gregson is very nicely done: two good, likeable actors with chemistry, and a Downton-style twist of melodrama courtesy of Michael’s dilemma. He can’t divorce his insane wife in the UK, so is considering moving to Germany. If he becomes a German citizen he would be legally able to divorce her. (Also worth mentioning is his flat. It looks like something out of a Poirot episode: there are Art Deco furnishings, then we see a soiree with bright young things.)
* Tom Branson urges Mary to take an interest in something. “I’m interested in George,” she says. “Are you?” he asks. “I will be,” she replies sadly.
* While attempting to embarrass Moseley, Spratt passes him a boiling-hot platter.

Worst bits:
* It’s been a while since the show had to have creaking dialogue where characters tell each other the legal implications of who inherits what. But with Matthew dead, we have to have it explained that his son, George, is the new heir. “Together my grandson and I own five-sixths of Downton,” says Robert as he gets into bed with his wife. “And Mary’s share is only for her life. She couldn’t do much with it even if she wanted to.”
* Now that Bates has stopped caring, and Miss O’Brien has gone, Thomas Barrow has no other servant to bicker with – so he picks on Nanny West. And then the story has a ludicrous climax: Cora overhears West being specifically cruel about baby Sybie.

Real history:
* While acknowledging that workhouses were more or less anachronistic by 1922, Mrs Hughes says the one she visited was like something out of a novel by Charles Dickens (1812-1870).
* Lady Shackleton mentions that “awful Lloyd-George” has just removed land subsidies. David Lloyd-George (1863-1945) was then the Prime Minister. Violet says she wonders whether he’s really German and just pretends to be Welsh.

Upstairs, Downton: A rivalry between the nanny and the other servants also features in the Upstairs Downstairs episode Out of the Everywhere (1972).

Maggie Smithism of the week: After a distraught Mary storms out of dinner, Violet is the one person aware of the servants smirking at the drama. So she moves the conversation on: “This mousse is delicious, Carson…”

Mary’s men: Mary is still in deep mourning after the loss of Matthew. She’s wearing black and moping about; she even refers to her son as an orphan. When Carson attempts to talk to her, she gets defensive and accuses him of overstepping a boundary, then later shouts at her family when they try to help. It’s her grandmother who finally gets through. In a tender chat, Violet says Mary has to choose life or death… By the episode’s end, Mary is again playing a role in the management of the estate.

Review: The episode begins with spooky shots of the house at nighttime as Miss O’Brien flits away unseen. Matthew has been dead for about six months, yet it’s strangely played like he’s only just died. (For example, Moseley is only now worrying about not having a job any more.) There are a handful of lighter subplots, but grief overshadows everything. Actress Michelle Dockery is especially haunted, and the moment when Mary’s frosty façade drops and she sobs into Carson’s arms is very moving. The whole episode then noticeably lightens for its final few minutes – there’s even a shot of the sun breaking through the clouds.

My 10 favourite Tony Scott films

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Film director Tony Scott died in 2012, but today would have been his 73rd birthday. So to celebrate here’s a rundown of his 10 best movies.

10. Top Gun (1986) – ridiculous, overblown and macho. But so much fun too.

9. Spy Game (2001) – a CIA thriller with Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, four different time zones and lots of flashy camerawork.

8. The Fan (1996) – Robert De Niro goes entertainingly nuts as a baseball fan who stalks his favourite player.

7. Deja Vu (2006) – the sci-fi gimmick is ingenious and inventive, but the film never loses sight of the plot and the central character (played by Denzel Washington in one of his five Tony Scott films).

6. Crimson Tide (1995) – a tense submarine thriller with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman butting heads in a battle of the heavyweights. (Quentin Tarantino did a pass on the script and added some pop-culture references.)

5. The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) – a hip, flashy remake of the 70s train-based caper. It also has another great Denzel Washington performance, this time squaring off against John Travolta.

4. Unstoppable (2010) – essentially just a single 90-minute action scene, this movie has absolutely no fat on it at all. A simplistic yet thrilling film. It’s pure cinema: storytelling through action and visuals.

3. True Romance (1993) – an early Quentin Tarantino script given a Hollywood sheen by Tony Scott. Vivid characters, cracking dialogue and visual flair.

2. The Last Boy Scout (1991) – a stylish, witty neo-noir written with bags of attitude by Shane ‘Lethal Weapon’ Black.

1. Enemy of the State (1998) – a fantastic techno-thriller about surveillance, with Will Smith as the Cary-Grant-in-North-By-Northwest-type innocent caught in the crossfire.

Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (2000)

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Cover: An artsy shot of New York City, taken from a high angle and showing the Empire State Building. It’s pretty, but it’s difficult to see the relevance. The album’s title was taken from the edge of the 1998 £2 coin, although Noel wrote it down slightly wrong while drunk. (The Isaac Newton quotation is actually, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the *shoulders* of giants.”) By the way, this album sees Oasis as a trio. Original members Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs and Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan quit during the recording sessions and for legal reasons their contributions had to be replaced. So here Oasis is just Liam Gallagher (vocals), Alan White (drums) and Noel Gallagher (everything else).

Best track: From its crackly, vinyl-like opening, Gas Panic! is a special piece of music. The lyrics are sinister and threatening, the music is dramatic and dynamic, and the overall effect is rather magnificent.

Honourable mentions:
* Fuckin’ in the Bushes starts the album and immediately tells you that this is something different from the Oasis norm. It’s based on a heavy drum pattern, features wordless backing vocals, and uses samples of dialogue taken from the film of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. Oasis often used this track as walk-on music at gigs.
* Go Let It Out was the album’s first single and got to number one. Noel has said it’s one of the best songs he’s ever written and is “the closest we came to sounding like a modern-day Beatles.” That might be a stretch, but there’s still an enjoyable polish to the sound. It’s also another sign that this album sees Oasis playing in a slightly different sandpit – this is psychedelic rock with a full, rounded bottom end. (Noel plays the bass guitar throughout the album. “Pick up the bass!” he says just as it enters this song.)
* The very likeable Who Feels Love? was the album’s second single. Like Go Let It Out, it has a ‘heavy-hippie’ vibe. There’s a strong Beatles influence – the intro is reminiscent of Within You Without You, an instrumental passage from the 2.47 mark sounds like Dear Prudence – while the whole track also has echoes of the Stone Roses. The multi-tracked vocals, meanwhile, are like something from a Crosby, Stills & Nash song. Oh, and the mix is fantastic. There are lots of details you’d miss on a scant listen.
* Sunday Morning Call was the album’s third single. It’s a pleasant-enough ballad, but lead singer Noel has never liked it – he thinks it’s pretentious and earnest. So in 2009 he had it relegated to a hidden track on an Oasis singles compilation. In a recent radio interview, he chuckled over the fact that no one’s ever missed it.
* The rousing Roll It Over is a Champagne Supernova-style epic.

Worst track: Barring cover versions, Little James was the first Oasis song not written by Noel Gallagher. His brother Liam’s opening effort is a tepid, insipid and musically boring tune about his seven-year-old stepson.

Weirdest lyric: Speaking of Little James, on this song Liam proves that he can go toe-to-toe with Noel in terms of lazy rhymes: “You live for your toys/Even though they make noise/Have you ever played with plasercine?/Or even tried a trampoline?”

Best video: Go Let It Out’s promo is shot in extreme widescreen, heavily edited, and features Liam singing from the back of a double-decker bus. There are also shots of him playing guitar, which he doesn’t do on the audio.

Personal connection: Although they didn’t play on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, Gem Archer and Andy Bell (not the one from Erasure) had joined the band by the time I first saw Oasis live. It was at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium on 15 July 2000 and was during the tour to promote this album. The support acts were Johnny Marr’s Healers and the Happy Mondays. And someone threw a cup full of piss over me. (He wasn’t aiming specifically at me. Trapped in a throng of thousands, some louts had taken to urinating into plastic cups and chucking them as far as they could.)

Review: Some say the release of the Oasis album Be Here Now in August 1997 marked the end of Britpop. (Personally speaking, I remember realising it was all over when Q magazine covered drum-and-bass DJ Roni Size in about January 1998.) But Standing on the Shoulder of Giants represents a new phase in the band’s career in more ways than one. Two-fifths of the line-up quit during the recording sessions, while the style of music moved towards drum loops, samples, snyths and prominent bass sounds. Liam Gallagher even started writing songs. The result is a very interesting and often enjoyable album: it might not all work, but it has ambition. 

Eight years between fantasies and fears out of 10

Downton Abbey: A Journey to the Highlands

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SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Andy Goddard. Originally broadcast: 25 December 2012, ITV.

The family and some of the servants decamp to Duneagle, a house in Scotland, for an annual shoot. But tragedy soon strikes… Meanwhile, back at Downton, Tom Branson is tempted by a new maid, Thomas comes to Jimmy’s rescue, and Mrs Patmore has an admirer.

When is it set? ‘One year later’, according to a caption. So we’re now in the middle of 1921.

Where is it set? The house and the surrounding countryside. Downton railway station. Isobel’s house. Duneagle Castle. The village and its pub. Thirsk. Downton’s hospital. 

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* There’s a new maid at Downton called Edna Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring). She takes an interest in Tom Branson, the only member of the family who doesn’t go to Scotland. Learning that he’s going to the local pub, she bumps into him on purpose and drops hints that he should be eating with the servants. Later, at a local fair, she flirts heavily and even links arms with him. They agree to meet for lunch – but Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes find out and put a stop to the relationship. Edna’s given the sack.
* Lord and Lady Flintshire, who have been mentioned in earlier episodes, now appear. Shrimpie (Peter Egan) and Susan (Phoebe Nicholls) are Lady Rose’s parents; Susan is also Violet’s niece. Shrimpie has been offered a diplomatic posting in Bombay, which Susan is not pleased about. It’s an unhappy marriage generally.
* Jos Tufton (John Henshaw) is a tradesman from the nearby Thirsk. He brings some goods for Mrs Patmore, then starts chatting her up. He also invites all the servants to a local fair. But then Mrs Hughes sees him flirting with other women and realises he’s a wrong’un.
* Miss Wilkins (Simone Lahbib) is a maid at the Flintshires’ who initially forms a friendship with Miss O’Brien. However, when she feels embarrassed by O’Brien’s superior knowledge, she plays a prank on her. She spikes a drink at the ghillies’ ball, but Mr Moseley drinks it instead of O’Brien.
* Feeling unwell, the pregnant Mary returns from Scotland early. On the train home, her waters break. She soon gives birth to a son, George…
* Matthew races south to be by his wife’s side and arrives just after the labour. However, not long later, his car is forced off the road and Matthew is killed.

Best bits:
* The frosty atmosphere between Lord and Lady Flintshire.
* Again, the Michael Gregson subplot is likeable. He’s gone all the way to Scotland in order to meet Edith’s family. She’s flattered, but knows that he’s married with no chance of divorce.
* Isobel and Dr Clarkson grow close. It makes sense: they’re both from middle-class backgrounds; he’s a doctor, she was a nurse.
* Matthew tells Mary and Edith about his futile day stalking deer. “Really, darling,” says Mary. “It’s boring enough to hear about when you succeed…”
* Mr Carson takes the phone call telling him Mary has given birth and is healthy. In his joy at the happy news, he doesn’t think to ask what sex the baby is.
* The tear-jerking scene of happiness when Matthew meets his new son.
* The sucker-punch of the final scene.

Worst bits:
* Mr Bates has to point out that the family go to Duneagle every year… except last year when Sybil died… or during the war. This explains why this ‘annual’ trip hasn’t featured in the show before. Remember, fictionally, we’re nine years on from the first episode.
* Anna plans a surprise for her husband and even declines to tell Mary what it is. But then we see her leaning to dance. Wouldn’t it be more fun to reveal it at the ball when Mr Bates finds out?
* After Shrimpie and Susan decide to separate, the question arises of what will happen to Rose. Will she move to Downton Abbey and replace the dead Sybil as the household’s young, flighty daughter figure perhaps?

Real history:
* Mrs Patmore is flattered when Mr Tufton asks her to the fair. “No man’s wanted to squire me since the Golden Jubilee,” she says. “And even then he expected me to buy the drinks.” She’s referring to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1897.
* Robert points out that Sunny Marlborough has got divorced and is still part of society. Tory politician Charles ‘Sunny’ Spencer-Churchill (1871-1934) was the 9th Duke of Marlborough and a cousin of Winston Churchill. In 1921 he divorced his first wife, Consuela Vanderbilt (1877-1964). They’d had an unhappy marriage of convenience.
* Mr Tufton mentions Vogue magazine. The British version of the US title began in autumn 1916.
* Matthew mentions novelist Walter Scott (1771-1832).
* Isobel quotes an 1890 Rudyard Kipling poem: “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
* When Susan tells Rose she can’t wear a modern dress, Rose points out that Princess Mary has one just like it. Mary (1897-1965) was the daughter of the then king, George V.

Upstairs, Downton: There are quite a few echoes of Upstairs, Downstairs in this Christmas special. In Updown, the Bellamy family went on holiday to Scotland in an episode called Will Ye No Come Back Again? (1975). In the first series, there was also a story about servants being left at home while the family’s away: Board Wages (1971). Updown’s cook, Mrs Bridges, had her head turned by a dodgy tradesman in The Sudden Storm (1974), while a couple of episodes in series three featured James Bellamy going to a country house for the hunting season: A Change of Scene and The Bolter (both 1973).

Maggie Smithism of the week: Susan says she doesn’t know where Shrimpie’s new job will be: “But it will be filthy and dirty and the food will be awful and there’ll be no one to talk to for 100 square miles.” Violet replies: “That sounds like a week with my mother-in-law.”

Mary’s men: Mary is eight months pregnant and heads home to Downton early, where she goes into labour… But her beloved Matthew is then killed in a car crash. The romance that has been the backbone of this show since the second episode is now at an end.

Doggie! Isis bounds around as the family’s bags are packed into the cars for the journey north. Later, she’s at the station as the family catch the train. Robert asks Tom, who’s staying at Downton, to walk her while he’s away. We later see Tom doing this in the village. Isis wags her tail.

Review: The show’s second Christmas special – which is set in high summer – finally does the poshos-go-on-a-shoot storyline. The stuff in Scotland reeks of cliché: there are bagpipes and haughty servants. More pleasantly, as we’re moving into the 1920s, the fashions and styles – especially those of women like Mary, Edith and Rose – are getting more and more ornate and flapper-like. There’s also fun to be had in how much stuff is being set up for future seasons: Edith’s romance with Michael Gregson, Rose coming to live at Downton, a potential new job for Miss O’Brien, and most notably the huge changes in Mary’s life.

Next episode…

The Masterplan (1998)

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Cover: This excellent compilation of Oasis B-sides gets an image of grown men in a classroom ignoring the teacher.

Best track: The album is named after a song that was originally on the Wonderwall single in October 1995. Often cited as the band’s best B-side, The Masterplan is maybe their best track full stop. Noel Gallagher has said he regrets not making a bigger deal about it: his boss Alan McGee reckoned it was far too good to be a B-side but Noel flippantly replied, “Well, I don’t write shit songs…” It starts with heavy, portentous, descending bass notes and an acoustic guitar, then comes the orchestra, electric guitar and drums. Noel sings the lead vocal, which has a vaguely gospel feel in its optimism and positivity. The song has sweep and grandeur but is also rather elusive and mysterious. It’s beautiful. Listen closely and you can hear Noel sing a snatch of the Beatles song Octopus’s Garden during the climax.

Honourable mentions:
* The blisteringly ebullient Acquiesce was a B-side to Some Might Say in April 1995 (CD and 12” only). Noel has denied that the song is specifically about him and his brother; nevertheless, he takes over the lead vocal from Liam on the line “Because we need each other…” (The story goes that Noel sings the chorus because Liam couldn’t hit the high notes. Or had gone down the pub.) As the track begins you can hear a bit of the song Morning Glory, then there’s a lyric that makes a cheeky pun on the word arsehole. It was never going to be left off this compilation, but Acquiesce’s slot was secured after it won an internet poll of Oasis fans. (Note for younger readers: yes, we had the internet in 1998.)
* The decent Underneath the Sky – which is from the CD and 12” of February 1996’s Don’t Look Back in Anger single – has a good twinkly piano where you’d normally expect a guitar solo.
* Talk Tonight was also a B-side on Some Might Say. An acoustic track sung by Noel, it was written after he considered quitting the band during a 1994 tour of America. Having flounced off, he met up with an Oasis fan in San Francisco who helped him get his head in order. The lyrics have some fun rhymes and the song has a nice, chilled-out vibe.
* The quietly dramatic Going Nowhere (from September 1997’s Stand By Me CD single) is Noel’s attempt at a Burt Bacharch-style pop ballad. Noel and drummer Alan White are actually the only members of Oasis to appear on the recording; they’re joined by a hired orchestra. The horns are so Look of Love.
* The raucous, punky Fade Away was on the Cigarettes & Alcohol CD and 12” in October 1994.
* The cover version of I Am the Walrus (a B-side on Cigarettes & Alcohol) was originally said to have been recorded at a gig at the Glasgow Cathouse in June 1994. However… it was actually performed at a business conference for Sony music executives. Thinking it was a great take, Noel wanted to release it but was embarrassed by its corporate provenance. So he added the sound effect of a crowd and then picked a recent gig they could say it was from. Flattening out the nuances in the Beatles masterpiece, Oasis’s version is straight-ahead rock. The most notable aspect is the long, instrumental coda, which is based on repeated sets of five – rather than the usual four – bars of music.
* Listen Up starts suspiciously like the first Oasis single, Supersonic, and has the beefed-up feel of that era. It was originally a B-side from Cigarettes & Alcohol, but this version has had its guitar solo trimmed. It’s one of those Oasis tracks that almost never gets mentioned but would be most guitar bands’ best song.
* Half the World Away, first released on the CD of standalone single Whatever in December 1994, is a heartfelt, melancholic, acoustic track sung by Noel. Ironically, this very English song is a disguised copy of the Burt Bacharach tune This Guy’s in Love With You and was recorded in a studio in Texas. Of course, it was later used over the opening titles of superior sitcom The Royle Family. When asked to supply a song, Noel suggested Married With Children from the first Oasis album – but writers Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash wanted Half The World Away. It was such a smart choice that now even Noel considers it the show’s theme tune rather than an Oasis song.
* The breathtakingly brilliant (It’s Good) To Be Free was also on Whatever. This is yet another instance of Oasis hiding a *monster* of a song away as a bonus track. Guitarist Bonehead plays the pleasingly bizarre accordion coda.
* Stay Young is an upbeat song that Noel didn’t like so left off Be Here Now. Instead it was put out as a B-side to D’You Know What I Mean? in July 1997.

Worst track: Headshrinker aims for loud, thrashy and uncontrolled, but doesn’t quite pull it off, sounding more like a bootleg of a pub band. It was a bonus track on the Some Might Say single.

Weirdest lyric: “Underneath the sky of red/Is a storyteller sleeping alone/He has no face and he has no name/And his whereabouts are sort of unknown.” It’s the ‘sort of’ that makes it poetry.

Best video: In 2006, the song The Masterplan was included on an Oasis compilation album called Stop the Clocks and a video was released to promote it. It’s an animation influenced by artist LS Lowry. Cartoon versions of the band swagger through a northern town.

Review: This is the Oasis equivalent of The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow: a compilation that mops up non-album tracks and is actually stronger than most studio albums. The quality is breathtaking, showing just how many amazing songs Oasis were happy to give away as B-sides. If there’s one thing missing it’s Whatever, which was a single in December 1994. It was originally going to be on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, but a lawsuit put paid to that. Noel had stolen part of the melody from How Sweet to Be an Idiot, a 1973 song by Neil Innes, who sued for plagiarism and ended up with a co-writing credit and royalties. Presumably that’s a reason why it also wasn’t used here, but it would have been a nice addition. Nevertheless, scoring this one is easy…

10 little things that make me so happy out of 10

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Transylvania, January 1918 (1995, Dick Maas)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The bulk of the story takes place in January 1918 in Venice and Transylvania. There are also bookends featuring an older Indiana Jones (George Hall) back home in America; it’s Halloween in the early 1990s.

Faithful to the novel? The connection to Dracula lies in the fact that this TV episode – which obviously was a spin-off from the 1980s movie series – features a vampire version of Vlad the Impaler who is Bram Stoker’s character in all but name. Indiana Jones (Sean Patrick Flanery) travels to Venice during the First World War. He’s operating under the alias Henri Defense and working for US intelligence. Four months previously, a POW camp in Austria was attacked by a Romanian general called Mattias Targo and the Allied prisoners are now missing. So Indy and his superior officer Colonel Walters (Keith Szarabajka) are sent to find out what’s happened. There are lengthy shots of them travelling into rural Transylvania and then they have an edgy encounter in an unfriendly bar. Hooking up with some local agents – Dr Franz Heinzer (Sam Kelly), Nicholas (Paul Kynman) and Maria (Simone Bendix) – they track down the prisoners, then head to a nearby castle… which is spooky and on a hilltop. Lightning strikes as they see it. After Indy and the others break in, they find bodies impaled on spikes – and deduce that Targo is copying Vlad Tepes, the 15th-century warlord known as Vlad the Impaler who killed over 100,000 people. There’s other weird shit going on too, including balls of lightning that float about. Maria is then possessed, blood flows down the walls, and Walters is electrocuted to death. Eventually, Indy finds General Targo (Bob Peck), who turns out to be a vampire with a Bela Lugosi accent. He’s been capturing soldiers for his army of undead warriors. Indy and Maria try to escape, but Targo gives chase. The pair eventually stake him.

Best performance: Sam Kelly as Dr Heinzer, who is later revealed to be a double agent for the Austrians called Adolf Schmidt.

Best bit: Clearly a lot of money was spent on this series – the sets and locations are very impressive.

Review: This episode was meant to be the final instalment of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicle’s second season in 1993. However, the series was axed by ABC and Transylvania, January 1918 was one of four episodes not shown. There was a screening on German TV in 1995, then it got a wider public release in 1996 when the series was reedited into movie-length specials for a VHS release. Transylvania, January 1918 was combined with an episode called Istanbul, September 1918 (originally broadcast 17 July 1993) and the result was branded as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Masks of Evil. Sadly, Indy’s adventure in Transylvania doesn’t exactly sing. There’s cheesy dialogue, a few dodgy performances, and clichés all over the place. Characters have penis-measuring contests for no reason; Indy is a passive character who’s just along for the ride; and the horror is either implied or tame. A dud.

Five paper aeroplanes out of 10

Be Here Now (1997)

oasis-be-here-now-artwork-large-1469112956Cover: An archly staged shot of the band in the grounds of a Georgian mansion. The Rolls-Royce in the swimming pool is a reference to an urban myth about Keith Moon of The Who. What’s less obvious is that the motor’s number plate (SYD 724F) is the same as a van’s on the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road. Be Here Now’s release date (Thursday 21 August) is visible on a calendar, while the inflatable globe is a call-back to the Definitely Maybe artwork. The album title doesn’t actually appear on the cover.

Best track: D’You Know What I Mean? was the album’s lead single and is its opening track. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster with huge guitar sounds, massive production, electronic noises, a string section, a wild guitar solo and even aircraft flying by. The lyrics mention two Beatles songs – The Fool on the Hill and I Feel Fine – while some Morse-code beeping is a reference to another: Strawberry Fields Forever. The track also uses the ‘Amen break’ drum pattern, one of the most copied pieces of music ever. In 2016, a remix called D’You Know What I Mean? (NG’s 2016 Rethink) was released. It tones down some of the excessive production and is a blander listen. The strings are more prominent, but it misses the original’s oomph.

Honourable mentions:
* Noel Gallagher sings the lead vocal on Magic Pie, which starts out pleasingly gentle then takes off. There’s a vaguely psychedelic feel at times, as well as lyrics that paraphrase a speech Tony Blair gave at the 1996 Labour Party Conference: “There are but a thousand days preparing for a thousand years.” (Coincidentally, Be Here Now was mastered on the first day of Blair’s premiership.) The track does admittedly bang on, which is a recurring problem with this album.
* Stand By Me was the album’s second single. It got to number two, being held off the top spot by Elton John’s Candle in the Wind 1997. Written while Noel had food poisoning – hence the line “Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday” – it’s obviously not a patch on the Ben E King song of the same name. But it’s still a likeable, string-driven ballad.
* Fade In-Out has a Wild West-sounding opening – all stark, skeletal guitars, like something from a Bon Jovi B-side. Then a primal scream at the 190-second mark kicks it into a higher gear – the idea for which came to Noel late one night and he woke his wife up by trying it out. Incidentally, Johnny Depp plays slide guitar on this track. (It was the 90s.)
* The soulful Don’t Go Away was written in 1993 when Oasis were hanging out with a band called The Real People, who later hinted it was a naughty copy of one of their tracks.
* All Around the World is frankly ridiculous – a nine-minute, repetitive, derivative and simplistic singalong with three key changes. But you have to chuckle at the sheer gall. It was actually written before Definitely Maybe, but Noel held off recording it until he had the muscle to produce it as an overblown epic. The song became the longest-ever number one when released as a single in January 1998. Hardly original in itself, it was then uncannily echoed in the melody of Hear’Say’s 2001 hit Pure and Simple. Noel was asked whether he’d like to sue for plagiarism. Showing the kind of self-awareness he rarely gets enough credit for, he just laughed.

Worst track: Whereas the enormous production on D’You Know What I Mean? sounds tight and controlled, My Big Mouth is just a rambling mess. It reportedly has 30 separate guitars on it, which swamp an already boring tune. People who dismiss Oasis as ‘dad rock’ probably think this is what all their songs sound like.

Weirdest lyric: In the drab title track, this nonsensical verse appears twice: “Wash your face in the morning sun/Flash your pen at the song that I’m singing/Touch down bass living on the run/Make no sweat of the hole that you’re digging.” There’s then a mention of Digsy, the band’s mate who had a whole song written about him on Definitely Maybe.

Best video: The promo for All Around the World drops Oasis into a surreal animation that owes a great debt to the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine and not a small amount to the work of Terry Gilliam.

Review: The week of Be Here Now’s release seemed amazingly stage-managed. On the Tuesday there was a hubris-heavy documentary about the band on BBC1. Radio play of the album’s tracks was limited (reportedly because the record company thought they weren’t very good). Then branches of HMV opened at midnight on Thursday morning for eager fans to buy the album as soon as possible. All this created mystery and anticipation and resulted in first-day sales of 424,000 copies – an astronomical figure. But now it’s been 20 years (!) and the dust has not only settled but been blown away and forgotten, how does Be Here Now stand up? Sadly, it lacks the quality-control of the first two Oasis LPs. A number of songs are bland, almost all of them are too long, lyrics plumb new depths of meaninglessness, and the production is overblown in a way that only cocaine-quaffing rock bands can achieve. There is good stuff here, but it’s overshadowed by the bad.

Six questions are the answers you might need out of 10

Downton Abbey: series 3 episode 8

boys-bonding-at-cricket

SPOILER WARNING: Plot points will be revealed in this episode-by-episode discussion of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by David Evans. Originally broadcast: 4 November 2012, ITV.

As everyone prepares for the annual house vs village cricket match, Mr Bates wants to return to work and Edith writes a provocative magazine column. Also, a young relative comes to stay and causes a fuss…

When is it set? The cricket season of 1920. It’s not yet July. (Sadly, during the cricket scenes, it looks like a fair amount of post-production grading has been done to make a cloudy day look bright. Shadows come and go.)

Where is it set? All over the shop… The local cricket green. The house. The village and the surrounding countryside. Isobel’s house. A nearby cottage where Anna and Bates want to live. Also lots of places in London: Lady Rosamund’s house, the editorial office of The Sketch, and the Blue Dragon nightclub.

Debuts, deaths and guest stars:
* Moseley’s father returns for his first appearance since the first series. He’s a big cricket man, we learn.
* Violet’s 18-year-old great-niece, Lady Rose (Lily James), comes to stay in Yorkshire because she hates London. She’s the daughter of the Lord and Lady Flintshire we’ve heard mentioned before. Flighty Rose soon nips back to London and heads to the Blue Dragon, a jazz club on Greek Street in Soho, with a male friend…
* …Terence Margadale (Edward Baker-Duly), who soon gives away that he’s married. Matthew convinces Rose to give him up.
* Mrs Bryant, the grandmother of Ethel’s child, shows up again. She’s been uncomfortable about keeping Charlie away from his mother – so agrees to a plan for Ethel to work as a maid near where they live.

Best bits:
* Downton Abbey is cosy, Sunday-evening drama. But this episode doesn’t shy away from the harsh homophobia Thomas would have faced in reality. While not being totally unkind, Mr Carson still calls him “revolting” and says he’s been “twisted by nature into something foul.” (Later, Mr C objects to being called a liberal. No shit.) In comparison, Mrs Hughes and Mr Bates have more live-and-let-live reactions to Thomas being gay.
* Matthew makes a misjudged joke, saying that Mr Bates must be pleased he doesn’t have to take part in the cricket match. Anna teases him: “I think he’d like to walk normally, sir, even if playing cricket was the price to pay.”
* Walking into the nightclub, Matthew says it’s like the outer circle of Dante’s Inferno. “The *outer* circle?!” replies Lady Rosamund.
* When Jimmy is angry at Thomas making a pass at him, Robert says, “If I shouted blue murder every time someone tried to kiss me at Eton I’d have gone hoarse in a month.”
* A nice bit of dramatic irony: Bates feels sorry for Thomas Barrow so fights his corner. But he accidentally goes too far: rather than just getting Barrow a good reference, Bates saves his job. And Thomas now outranks him.
* Edith wears a very fetching cream-and-green outfit with beret when she confronts Michael Gregson about being married.

Worst bits:
* Miss O’Brien is a very one-note character now. All she does is act cruelly. She’s currently dripping poison in Jimmy’s ear, manipulating him into punishing Barrow for making a pass. Jimmy tries to blackmail Mr Carson into giving Barrow a bad reference. So when Mr Bates finds out he then threatens to expose O’Brien’s part in Cora’s series-one miscarriage.  

Real history:
* For the people in the cheaper seats, Mr Carson points out that in 1920 homosexual acts were illegal in the UK.
* Robert mentions a new type of business practice in America: the Ponzi scheme, which pays investors back with money from other investors rather than generating legitimate profit. It was named for Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), the American who popularised the idea.
* Miss O’Brien makes a sarcastic reference to poet and wit Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

Upstairs, Downton: The scene in a 1920s London nightclub bring to mind the Upstairs, Downstairs episode An Old Flame (1975) in which James Bellamy paints the town red.

Maggie Smithism of the week: Isobel suggests that, when they were children, Robert and Rosamund had to be starched and ironed in order to spend an hour with their mother. Violet bristles: “Yes, but it was an hour every day.”

Mary’s men: She’s been to London since the last episode. Then Matthew overhears Mary and her mum discuss a doctor. (“What are you talking about?” “Women’s stuff.”) Later that night, she declines a bit of rumpy-pumpy. Then Matthew visits a doctor in London about his failure to father a child… and bumps into Mary, who’s also there for an appointment on the same topic (using her mother’s maiden name as an alias). She learnt a few weeks ago that the problem was with her, though can’t bring herself to go into details. It meant a minor operation, but now all is fine.

Review: With Sybil’s dead, we need a replacement: so here comes Lady Rose. So brings with her the roaring 20s and scenes of young people jiving to jazz in a downstairs nightclub. Elsewhere, Edith and Michael’s flirting is fun, then takes a turn when she learns that he’s married. His wife has gone insane, so he is unable to legally divorce her. The episode also has a good running gag about Moseley. He keeps talking about his cricketing expertise, then when he finally goes into bat… he’s clean-bowled. 

Next episode…

(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

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Cover: The image shows two men passing each other on Berwick Street in Soho. One of them is Brian Cannon, who designed this and many other Oasis covers. In the background is a third man: it’s co-producer Owen Morris, who’s holding the album’s master tape aloft. The title is in full caps across the top of the image. The space before the question mark is quite irritating.

Best track: Don’t Look Back in Anger was a number-one hit when released as the album’s fourth single in February 1996. It starts with a piano phrase that’s noticeably similar to John Lennon’s Imagine. Noel Gallagher says one of the reasons he nicked it was to wind people up – well, if you’re going to steal you may as well be shameless about it. A few of the lyrics are also Lennon’s work: the line about starting a revolution from your bed is said to be taken from a cassette of rambling monologues he recorded in the 1970s. And the thievery doesn’t stop there: the song’s emotive chords are the same as Mott The Hoople’s All the Young Dudes (1972). But the result is *fantastic*. Surely everyone has a song that reminds them of what it was like to be 16 and happy and optimistic? This is mine. Noel takes the lead vocal – the first time he’d done that on a single – and belts it out for all it’s worth.

Honourable mentions:
* Opening track Hello obviously, and now unfortunately, nicks its hook from the 1973 Gary Glitter song Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again. (It’s been reported that Glitter has earned over a million quid because of its use here.) The track actually begins with the chords from Wonderwall, then a fun siren-like effect cuts in and powers us into a terrific wall-of-noise rocker.
* Roll With It was the single Oasis released in August 1995 in direct competition with Blur’s Country House. (Coincidentally enough, Country House’s lyrics use the phrase ‘morning glory’.) The bands’ rivalry made the Six O’Clock News and – guess what – gave both singes huge amounts of publicity. I never liked Roll With It at the time, thinking it too Status Quo. But it’s grown on me in recent years, for nostalgic reasons. The intro’s fun and the song has a carefree charm. Country House, though, is still the better track and had a winsome video that starred Keith Allen and Matt Lucas. It sold about 50,000 more copies in the first week and pipped Roll With It to number one.
* Wonderwall was the third single from the album. It has a great sentimentality to it – the sweeping melody, the use of strings, lyrics about an imaginary friend, soft backing vocals, a surprisingly tender lead vocal from Liam Gallagher. No wonder it quickly became ubiquitous, even being covered by a comedy band within a few months. The song is named after George Harrison’s debut solo album, Wonderwall Music (1968), which was the soundtrack to a now-forgotten movie. While writing this review, I heard Noel say on Absolute Radio that he’s never especially liked Wonderwall. What would he know?! It’s brilliant.
* Some Might Say – the band’s first number-one single when released six months before the album – took a lot of work. Co-producer Owen Morris says he used post-production tricks to disguise mistakes and timing issues in the backing track. But it was worth it. This is a powerhouse of guitar rock: vibrant, gleaming, and full of attack. (Quite what the lyrics mean is another thing…) It was the first song recorded for the album so features original drummer Tony McCarroll. He was then sacked, partly due to his lack of ability and partly due to a clash with Noel Gallagher. In his place came Londoner Alan White, who had been recommended by Noel’s showbiz pal Paul Weller.
* Cast No Shadow was the last song written for the album, and according to the sleeve notes is ‘dedicated to the genius of Richard Ashcroft’, then lead singer of The Verve. It’s a delightfully laid-back ballad with acoustic guitar and a string section.
* She’s Electric is a very likeable, upbeat song with lots of comedy rhymes (“She’s got a sister/And God only knows how I’ve missed her/And on the palm of her hand is a blister…”). The song also features melodic quotations from the theme tune to 1970s kids show You and Me and the Beatles song While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
* Morning Glory is a heavy-rock track with the kind of aggression that dominated Definitely Maybe. People more expert than me have pointed out that it owes a huge debt to the REM song The One I Love. It begins and ends with the sound of a helicopter, while a brief clip of Soul II Soul’s Love Enuff (1995) is audible in the fade-out. For some reason. There’s also another Beatles reference: the track Tomorrow Never Knows is namechecked in the lyrics.
* The album ends – well, climaxes is the best word for it – with the seven-and-a-half-minute Champagne Supernova. We reach it via a snatch of an untitled instrumental and the calm sound effect of lapping waves. The song begins slow and a bit stoned-out: there’s the drone of a synth, some arpeggio guitar and gentle drumming. Then something magical happens – the intensity builds and builds and builds. About halfway through, it’s become a monumentally enormous anthem. It’s one of the *the* great album closers. (Incidentally, Paul Weller plays guitar and provides some backing vocals.)

Worst track: There isn’t a bad one. Hey Now! is the most disposable.

Weirdest lyric: Some Might Say’s “The sink is full of fishes/Cos she’s got dirty dishes on the brain. And my dog’s been itchin’/Itchin’ in the kitchen once again.” It’s possible Noel had taken drugs the day he wrote this.

Best video: The promo for Don’t Look Back in Anger features Patrick Macnee as a limo driver (perhaps it’s a reference to his role in the Bond movie A View to a Kill). He takes the band to an American mansion, where loads of women dressed in white are larking about. Noel wears red Lennon glasses and sings into a fish-eye lens; Alan White drums on a platform in the middle of a swimming pool; and because he doesn’t actually feature on the track Liam sits around looking bored.

Review: Noel once said that while Definitely Maybe is about dreaming to be a pop star, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is about *being* a pop star. It’s bigger, more ambitious and more vibrant than the first Oasis album – and what it loses in raw energy it makes up for in dynamism. There are rockers, ballads, comedy songs, orchestras, sound effects, presumably somewhere a kitchen sink. (Oh, maybe that’s what that lyric from Some Might Say is about….) For good or bad (I’d argue the former), Britpop dominated mid-90s youth culture. Oasis ruled Britpop, and this album was their mandate.

Ten roads we have to walk are winding out of 10