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

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

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

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

(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

Definitely Maybe (1994)

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Cover: From left to right are lead guitarist Noel Gallagher, rhythm guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, singer Liam Gallagher and drummer Tony McCarroll. Noel was the last to join the band, which was originally called The Rain, but soon took over as songwriter and de facto leader. He wrote all 11 tracks on Definitely Maybe, their debut album. For its cover shoot the group are in Bonehead’s living room, surrounded by not-so-subtle clues to their interests: football is represented by a photo of Manchester City legend Rodney Marsh; movies by 1966’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly playing on the TV; music by a poster of Burt Bacharach and a couple of guitars; and cigarettes and alcohol by an ashtray and glasses of wine. The group’s logo has their name in lower-case Helvetica Black Oblique, while the album title is in a handwrite-y scrawl.

Best track: Live Forever is a soaring rock ballad full of heart and emotion and optimistic yearning. It begins with just drums, then builds up layers and layers of instruments and vocals. The chords are so basic they feel inevitable; the melody is catchy; and the guitar solos are ace. The fact that Oasis songs were often optimistic – even if naively so – was a big reason why the band became so popular. They came along when a lot of guitar music (grunge, shoegazing, art-house Britpop) was pessimistic or aloof. Oasis were like fans of a mid-table football team: life might be shit, they said, but it could get better at any moment. Although a fan of Nirvana, Noel has admitted that Live Forever was a deliberate response to their nihilist attitude.

Honourable mentions:
* Listening to Rock’n’Roll Star makes you walk taller: it’s a straight-up, pumped-up, heads-up track full of attitude. It also introduces Liam’s bizarre delivery of certain words: “I need some time in the sunshiiiine…”
* Shakermaker is a psychedelic rock song and was the second single released from the LP. It has an infectious, singalong melody… because it’s stolen from I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony), a song originally written for a 1971 Coca-Cola advert. The lyrics are – let’s be charitable here – a child-like game of free association. Noel mentions plasticine, a character from a 1970s TV advert, a song by The Jam, the cartoon series Mr Benn… The track doesn’t especially *mean* anything, but then again neither did the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus. The verse about Mr Sifters, a record shop in Manchester, was written on the way to the studio when the band’s car stopped outside it.
* Columbia is a pile-driver of a song and a good indicator of the kind of thing Oasis were doing before they got a record deal. Bootlegs of early recordings tend to be in this vein: simplistic, heavy and repetitive.
* The fun Supersonic was the opening single from the album. It was written and recorded in one day when an ad-hoc jam sounded promising. Like Live Forever, it begins with just the drum beat. Then the riff comes in and we’re away. The nonsense lyrics contain a Beatles reference – “You can sail with me in my yellow submarine” – and were written in 30 minutes.
* Cigarettes & Alcohol has a riff taken from T. Rex’s 1971 song Get It On. This wasn’t the first time Noel had pinched something and it was far from the last. But it’s an apt steal – Marc Bolan got the Get It On lick from a Chucky Berry song. Unlike the gibberish of Shakermaker and Supersonic, or the hopefulness of Live Forever, this fourth single from the album is a more cynical song. It’s all about how life is terrible so why not just get drunk and high? But its sound is immense: tough, big, loud, sneering.
* Slide Away was written during the recording sessions for the album, on a guitar Noel borrowed from Smiths legend Johnny Marr. Liam’s vocal is great (his best performance, reckons Noel) and the melody is terrific. The song also sounds fucking enormous: it’s prime stadium-singalong material. Never a single because Noel balked at having five singles from the same album, Slide Away is said to be Paul McCartney’s favourite Oasis track.
* The gentle Married With Children is a deliberately atypical album closer. It has a comedy lyric and even a key change. It was recorded on a guitar that once to belong to John Squire of the Stone Roses.

Worst track: We could probably live without the throwaway Digsy’s Dinner. It’s an in-joke about an eccentric friend of Noel’s… who then hated the song. At least it’s only two minutes.

Weirdest lyric: Supersonic is a good example of Noel Gallagher’s laisse-fairre attitude to lyrical meaning. Check out this section, which is little more than a succession of empty rhymes. “I know a girl called Elsa; she’s into Alka Seltzer. She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train. She made me laugh; I got her autograph. She done it with a doctor on a helicopter. She’s sniffin’ in her tissue, sellin’ the Big Issue.” (Elsa, by the way, was actually a Rottweiler belonging to the studio engineer who recorded the song. She had bad flatulence. The dog, that is, not the engineer.)

Best video: The promo for Supersonic was shot on a rooftop near Euston train station in London. In retrospect it’s a weird choice, given how Oasis often emphasised their Manchester-ness. It’s mostly in black and white (with some shots in colour meant to create a cinema-vérité feel but which actually make it look like a student video). Performing on a rooftop, of course, is a reference to the day in January 1969 when the Beatles went up to the top of their Mayfair studio and played until the police told them to stop.

Review: It’s all about attitude. Definitely Maybe is a full-on, aggressive, unapologetic sound – thanks in large part to Owen Morris, a producer brought in after the recording sessions. No one was fully happy with the state of the album, so Morris was given carte blache to remix the tapes. He added effects to the drums, stripped out some unneeded guitars, pushed every dial up to 11, and created an amazing wall of noise. It perfectly suits the songs, which are full of ambition and attack.

10 days moving just too fast for me out of 10

Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2016)

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Title: When released in May 1977, this LP was called The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. It was the group’s first official live album and consisted of tracks taped at two gigs in 1964/65. When remixed, remastered and rereleased in 2016 – to tie in with a documentary film called The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – it was given a slightly different title. It’s that later version I’ve used for this review.

Cover: A photo of the boys in casual suits and sunglasses. George looks a bit bored.

Best song: She’s a Woman cuts and swings just as much as the version released in November 1964 as the B-side to I Feel Fine. Ringo Starr’s enjoying himself with a few extra drums tricks, Paul McCartney belts out the vocal with energy, and the rocky coda (which is understated on the studio cut) is hammered home. Paul once described the Beatles as being just a good little rock’n’roll band – it’s effortlessly cool performances like this where you most see what he meant.

Honourable mentions:
* Dizzy, Miss Lizzy is introduced by John Lennon: “We’d like to do a song now that’s from an album of ours… An LP… Album…” (Listen to just a few recordings of the Beatles playing live in America and you’ll get used to John and Paul never knowing which term to use.) This 12-bar track pounds away and betters the studio version for intensity.
* Ticket to Ride – or as Paul introduces it, A Ticket to Ride – has a couple of fumbles. John sounds off-mic to begin with, for example, but it still jingles and jangles.
* Can’t Buy Me Love was knocking on a bit, having been released 17 months before this 1965 performance. The last third of the take features a pleasing shuffle rhythm for a short while, though Paul’s voice sounds strained.
* Things We Said Today is preceded by George Harrison saying, “We’d like to carry on now…” – another phrase heard often at Beatles gigs. He also tells the audience that he thinks the song is on the “newest album over here” – ie, Something New, which had been released the previous month. (He was right.) The performance features some mucked-up backing vocals around the 0.58 point, which Paul audibly smirks about, then the track kicks into an entertaining higher gear.
* A Hard Day’s Night, John tells the crowd, is from the group’s first film: “…the one we made in black and white. We’ve only made two…” He then puts on a Scottish accent to introduce the track. Once the music starts, John and Paul often sound knackered on vocals!
* Help! is also introduced by John: “We’d like to do another film song now but from a different film because we’ve done two. It’s also our latest record over here. That means it’s a new single.” Sadly, George’s guitar doesn’t punch through as much as on the studio version. John also runs out of puff after two minutes and almost gives up singing.
* All My Loving rocks brilliantly. Paul introduces it by saying, “We’d like to carry on with a song which was on our first Capitol album…” – ie, the US-only release Meet the Beatles! (1964).
* She Loves You is great. With his tongue in his cheek, John calls this song an oldie. “Some of you older people might remember it,” he quips. “It’s from last year.”
* Long Tall Sally ends the album, as it often concluded Beatles gigs. Before launching into his Little Richard impression, Paul asks if people have enjoyed themselves. The crowd answers with an even louder sustained scream than usual. Sadly George’s guitar solo is virtually inaudible in the mix. Paul also does some silly improvising on the high notes of his bass. But the climax is good fun.

Worst song: Boys is sung by Ringo. He gave it a go, at least.

Alternate versions: Four tracks have been added to the album for its 2016 reissue: You Can’t Do That, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby, and Baby’s in Black.

Review: The first Beatles concert taped for a potential live album was their 23 August 1964 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl, an open-air venue built in 1922. However, the sound of 17,000 screaming fans almost masked the music, so two more attempts were made the following year. Sadly the tapes of the band’s gigs at the same venue on 29 and 30 August 1965 were equally poor and the project was shelved. Bootlegs slipped out over the years but it wasn’t until 1977, when a rival company planned to release some live Beatles material from their Hamburg days, that the Hollywood Bowl recordings were finally released on vinyl. Then, nearly 40 years later, Giles Martin remixed and digitally restored the album for this rerelease, which reduces the crowd noise and allows us to hear the Beatles in their pomp. The bass levels are good and the performances exciting. As a record of gods among men, it does the job.

Eight lips I am missing out of 10

Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

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Title: A reference to what is now called HM Prison Manchester. By the time the album was released in September 1987, the group had actually broken up – prompted by Johnny Marr’s decision to quit.

Cover: A poor-quality image of actor Richard Davalos taken from 1955 movie East of Eden – he’s looking at an out-of-shot James Dean. Morrissey originally wanted Harvey Keitel as the cover star but the actor refused to give his permission.

Best song: Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is a fucking epic. It has a lengthy prologue of moody piano and sound effects of a baying crowd. Then when the track explodes into life at the 1.53 mark, it’s a glorious switch to blockbusting widescreen. Majestic, theatrical, histrionic, bold, *beautiful*.

Honourable mentions:

* A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours has a pleasant rolling rhythm with some off-beat keyboard accents. No guitars at all appear on the track – a deliberate move on Marr’s part, given that the group were famed as a guitar band. Its title is a reference to 19th-century Irish nationalism.

* I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish is joyous. It has a stop-start guitar intro, then bursts forth with a catchy and likeable melody. And it’s a full sound of heavy guitar slashes, saxophone blasts created on a synth, and a relentless big snare-drum sound. Morrissey didn’t like the song but nevertheless has great fun with the vocals, even growling the words at times. The lyrics are about making an ill-judged pass on a platonic friend – whether the resulting “18 months hard labour” is meant to be literal or psychological is open to debate.

* Death of a Disco Dancer has a mesmeric cyclical chord sequence driven by a solemn bassline. Marr based it on the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. About halfway through, the song kicks into an even more intense gear – Andy Rourke’s bass jumps up an octave, Marr goes mental on the guitar, Mike Joyce cracks off some drum fills, and Morrissey rather haphazardly bashes at a piano (his only musical contribution to a Smiths song). It’s a genuine disappointment when it ends.

* Girlfriend in a Coma is another hit-and-run track (it’s only just over two minutes). After a seesawing bass intro, it’s superficially similar to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle but is a more upbeat piece of music. Reportedly Marr was so against this being a single that its release contributed to his decision to quit the band. (It got to number 13: not bad for a ditty with such bleak lyrics.) Douglas Coupland, who coined the term ‘Generation X’, later named a novel after this song.

* Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before – Morrissey was enjoying wordy song titles in 1987! – was meant to be the album’s lead single. A music video was even made. However, the line “the pain was enough to make a shy, bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder” meant the BBC refused to play it in the aftermath of the Hungerford shootings. So the 7” was scrapped. The song is terrific.

* Unhappy Birthday pairs a nasty, spiteful lyric with an upbeat tune. It works. Who wouldn’t be charmed by the way Morrissey’s vocal comes in a beat before the music at 1.59?

* Paint a Vulgar Picture is a witty satire of the record industry. It bangs on a bit, though.

* I Won’t Share You was the last track recorded for the album and coincidentally its moody finale. The chords are actually the same as 1986 single Ask, but the tranquil, plaintive mood of the song disguises the similarity. Marr plays an autoharp (a stringed instrument with dampers that mute all the strings not being used); Andy Rourke adds a simple bassline, while Mike Joyce doesn’t feature on the recording at all. Despite the use of the word ‘she’, the lyrics have been interpreted by most as being an open letter from Morrissey to Marr as their creative partnership teetered on the brink.

Worst song: Death At One’s Elbow is going for a 1950s, skiffle vibe. But it’s quite annoying.

Review: Sheen. That’s the word for it. The whole album sounds *superb* – clean, professional, summery and breezy at times, dark and mysterious when necessary. But Paint a Vulgar Picture’s prolixity and Death At One Elbow’s dullness mean it doesn’t quite get a maximum score.

Nine sycophantic slags out of 10.

The World Won’t Listen (1987)

…including a section on Louder Than Bombs (1987)

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Title: The World Won’t Listen’s title is another complaint from Morrissey that the band weren’t getting enough – or the right kind of – attention. This album is a kind of sequel to Hatful of Hollow, mopping up recent non-album singles and B-sides. I’ll restrict myself to discussion of songs not available on albums I’ve already reviewed.

Cover: A photograph by Jürgen Vollmer, a German art student who met the Beatles in the early 60s and took some now-famous pictures of them. Cassette and CD versions crop the original image significantly.

Best song:

* Rubber Ring was a B-side to The Boy With The Thorn in His Side. It begins with a jazzy bass lick, then settles into a vaguely reggae rhythm. The track is soulful and mysterious and enigmatic. An ode to the power of music, the lyrics are really well sung by Morrissey. The song also uses some samples: a snatch of John Gielgud from a 1969 audio recording of The Importance of Being Earnest (“Everybody’s clever nowadays…”), and a 1971 clip of a woman claiming to be reciting messages from the dead (”You are sleeping! You do not want to believe!”). On the 12”, the track cutely segued into fellow B-side Asleep – sadly, although both tracks appear on this album, they’ve been sequenced separately.

Honourable mentions:

* Panic (a single in July 1986) was the first Smiths recording with new fifth member Craig Gannon. He’d been hired to replace bassist Andy Rourke due to the latter’s drug habit; when Rourke was reinstated, Gannon moved to second guitarist but only lasted a few months. A short and punchy guitar song, Panic has lyrics attacking modern music. The refrain “Hang the DJ!” was – maybe apocryphally – inspired by Radio 1’s Steve Wright following a news report about the Chernobyl disaster with Wham!’s upbeat I’m Your Man. Anyone criticising Steve Wright is going to be in my good books.

* Ask was released as an A-side in October 1986, though this version is a slight remix. It’s based on a chord sequence allegedly cooked up by Gannon, who to his chagrin wasn’t credited. Lightweight but likeable.

* London, a B-side on the 12” of Shoplifters of the World Unite, has a terrific urgency about it. The incessant drums dramatise the lyric’s story about a journey to Euston, echoing a train’s buffeting rhythm. An almost punk guitar drives the track along, while the bassline chugs away brilliantly. With 40 seconds to go, the song switches mood and we get arpeggio guitar and madcap drumming.

* Shakespeare’s Sister was single flop in March 1985 (if number 26 can be considered a flop, which a lot of people did at the time). Another Smiths song about suicide, its title alludes to Virginia Woolf’s feminist argument that if Shakespeare had had a talented sister she would never have been given equal credit. It’s maybe an interesting song rather than a purely entertaining one. It’s only 128 seconds, but fits a lot in: a fun intro, changes of rhythm, and more action-packed drumming.

* Shoplifters of the World Unite had been a single in January 1987. It was recorded at Trident Studios in Soho, which the Beatles used in 1968 and which is only a two-minute walk from my office. Obviously punning on Karl Marx, its lyrics are said to be about Morrissey’s habit of cribbing material from other sources. The track has a surprising switch to rock at the 1.41 mark, when Johnny Marr cranks open a very 1980s-sounding guitar solo, his first true solo on a Smiths record.

* Money Changes Everything was only on cassette versions of this album at the time (and then subsequent CD reissues). It had been the B-side to Bigmouth Strikes Again and is a rare Smiths instrumental. Inconsequential fun, the track was later given lyrics and renamed The Right Stuff by Bryan Ferry. Marr himself played on the resulting travesty.

* Half a Person was Shoplifters’ B-side and is thoroughly gorgeous. Full of linguistic oddities, the words swim their way through some delightfully arranged music. A joy.

* Stretch Out and Wait had been a B-side on the Shakespeare’s Sister 12”, but this a slightly different version with some added sound effects. It has a great acoustic feel – check out the soft rattles of snare drum! – while a lyric celebrating sex is not something you hear often in the Smiths’ discography.

* Oscillate Wildly, the band’s first instrumental, had been a B-side to How Soon Is Now? in January 1985. Morrissey seems to have been happy not to feature (though he still insisted a co-writer’s credit). Built around a piano phrase, the track also uses a cello part played by Andy Rourke and some fake woodwind instruments. It’s rather magnificent.

* You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby was recorded in October 1986 as a potential single. But it was shelved in favour of Shoplifters, so is the only exclusive track on this compilation. It’s a jingle-jangle-tastic pop song with a catchy chorus.

Worst song: Golden Lights was originally a B-side to Ask, then added as a bonus track to CD reissues of this album. It’s absolutely *ghastly*.

Review: There’s loads of great stuff here, though obviously most of it would have been familiar to fans at the time.

Eight provincial towns you jog round out of 10.

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Louder Than Bombs: A few weeks after the release of The World Won’t Listen, US label Sire brought out Louder Than Bombs. This American compilation more or less merged The World Won’t Listen with the earlier Hatful of Hollow, but because it also contained three tracks not on any other LP it was soon available in the UK too. Its title is a quotation from Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, a favourite prose poem of Morrissey’s. The cover is an image of Shelagh Delaney, the writer of A Taste of Honey and one of Mozzer’s heroines. The songs not available on previous albums are…

* Is It Really So Strange? (a B-side on Sheila Take a Bow) is from a December 1986 BBC radio session. An earlier attempt to record it had disappointed the group. It’s a decent track, though perhaps a strange choice for the opener to Louder Than Bombs. Morrissey’s lyrics are funny: “I got confused, I killed a horse/I can’t help the way I feel.”

* Sheila Take A Bow, released as a single in April 1987, is sadly one of the band’s poorest A-sides.

* Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a B-side on Sheila’s 12”, is a blistering burst of guitar rock. A return to the brutal attacking style of Handsome Devil, the song starts with a cunning bit of stereo mixing as the guitar riff flits around the channels. Like Is It Really So Strange?, this version was recorded for the BBC.

* The edit of You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby is a different mix.

* Stretch Out and Wait is the original B-side cut, which has slightly different lyrics.

The Queen is Dead (1986)

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Title: It’s been 10,675 days since this album was released. And she’s still going.

Cover: An image of actor Alain Delon, taken from 1964 film L’Insoumis. It’s been tinted green to give it a vaguely Victorian-death-chic look.

Best song: It’s impossible to pick just one.

* The title track, which starts the album, is very possibly the band’s greatest achievement. It begins with a cold open: a short clip cribbed from a 1962 film called The L-Shaped Room in which a character sings an old music-hall standard. We’re in the past – the world is black-and-white, there’s Blitz spirit and kitchen-sink drama. Then the switch to Mike Joyce’s tribal-drum patterns is a time-travelling jolt, thrusting us into the *here and fucking now*. Based on an idea Johnny Marr had been working on for years, the music has a ‘garage band’ intensity. There’s feedback, there’s a grungy bass riff, there are wah-wah guitar washes. In the family tree of Manchester indie bands, here’s the link between the dark, hypnotic mood of Joy Division and the sparkling, dance-influenced groove of the Stone Roses. It’s incredibly powerful music that demands to be played loud. And then Morrissey provides probably his strongest ever lyric: an arch mish-mash of monarchy-bashing, secrets in your heritage and disillusionment with society.

* I Know It’s Over is the heartbeat of this album. The Smiths have often been the target of ridicule because of a perceived obsessed with depression, suicide, self-pity and other ‘angsty’ topics. But to paraphrase a character in The West Wing when talking about the use of the word ‘liberal’ as a negative, if you throw these terms at the band’s feet, they’ll pick them up and proudly wear them as a badge. After the song’s backing track had been finished without his input, Morrissey walked into the studios and recorded his vocal. His band mates had no idea what he was going to do, and that day in autumn 1985 they were shocked by his stunning vocal performance. The rest of us still are. This is a *heartbreakingly* tender confession of loneliness and helplessness, which would only fail to move a misanthropic dullard. But it’s far from one-dimensional. There’s a clever switch to a second character’s voice (“And you even spoke to me and said…”), while the lyric also contains some touching altruistic advice to those who *are* happy (“Handsome groom, give her room…”). If anything the song is even more impressive musically. The pulse of the bass guitar, the chiming guitar flourishes, the subtle string effects… It’s a gorgeous, grown-up, complex arrangement that builds in intensity across six minutes. It’s literally perfect.

Honourable mentions:

* Frankly, Mr Shankly starts with comically lumbering bass notes, then we get a lyric about being fame-hungry. It’s said to be a coded dig at the band’s record-label boss, Geoff Travis, specifically in its reference to “bloody awful poetry”.

* Cemetry Gates (the spelling error was made at the time) is a lyrical gymnastics routine. Morrissey uses a day spent gravestone-spotting as a witty metaphor for his own habit of stealing lyrics from other people. He and a friend trade quotations – Keats, Yeats and Wilde are name-checked, Shakespeare alluded to – each claiming poets to be on their team. Morrissey then places his tongue firmly in his cheek and sings, “Don’t plagiarise or take on loan/There’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows and who trips you up and laughs when you fall.” And the punchline comes when he claims Oscar Wilde is on his side. Wilde, after all, once said, “Talent borrows, genius steals.” Wanting to challenge himself, Johnny Marr set out to write something special for the music. He soon stumbled on a chord change (B minor to G) that, the other way round, had famously excited John Lennon while co-writing I Want To Hold Your Hand. Marr’s resulting melody is upbeat, busy and effortlessly charming, while Andy Rouke’s bass plays a big role in the urgency of the track.

* Bigmouth Strikes Again was Marr consciously trying to ape the Rolling Stones classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash (he wanted “something that was a rush all the way through”). It’s a big song, mixed for a 3D effect. The only flaw is some ill-advised high-pitched backing vocals. Obviously, the title refers to Morrissey himself – specifically, one assumes, the way people often take him too literally. A 7” single in May 1986, this song was the band’s first material released in eight months due to legal problems. The last single before the hiatus had been…

* The Boy With The Thorn in His Side was the first track recorded for the album, based on a musical idea Marr had been busking during recent sound checks. Morrissey’s lyrics are about the music press not appreciating him and the band. He once said it was his favourite Smiths song. It’s absolutely delightful.

* There is a Light That Never Goes Out has an attention-grabbing opening that tells you something important is about to happen. One of the Smiths’ most famous and popular tracks (rightly so), the idea that this should be a single was astonishingly rejected in favour of Bigmouth Strikes Again. This song is actually built on the same chord sequence as Bigmouth, but they’re a world apart tonally. This has an emotive string part and a flute melody, which add extra beauty and sentimentality to Morrissey’s wonderful lyrics. Seemingly about suicide, the words actually have an underlying optimism: the character only wants death because he knows life will never be this good again – he wants to preserve a moment of happiness. Stirring, crafted and catchy, this is a stadium-rock anthem in disguise. The one time I’ve seen Morrissey live, in Manchester on 11 July 2004, he performed this song. There were tens of thousands of us singing along with him:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXwIOvICyVs

Worst song: Vicar in a Tutu is slightly irritating filler. It also goes out of time.

Review: A glorious kaleidoscope of styles, tones, emotions, musical invention and dazzling wordplay. The Smiths’ masterpiece, and a strong contender for the best album of the 1980s.

Ten dreaded sunny days out of 10.