Classic Rock Review

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Oasis Definitely Maybe (1994)


Thank God I’m listening to this now, eight years after its original release, and am in no way corroborated by either hype or anti-hype. “The new Beatles”, one half of the world called ’em; the other half heard them being called that and called them brainless miserable hogdicks instead.

Poor guys. Definitely Maybe is, of course, their less Beatlesque album of all. In fact, what it does sound like is overproduced Cheap Trick: heavy, grinding, never changing power-pop driven by crunchy three-or-four-chord guitar melodies, one song after another. The “classic” influence is there, of course; where a band like Weezer tried to sound like a Fifties’ ensemble reborn in the Nineties, Oasis set their sights on the Sixties, and Noel Gallagher does take his songwriting lessons from Paul McCartney rather than Buddy Holly, but then again, what pop songwriter doesn’t? In a way, everybody but the most vicious industrial bands can be compared to the Beatles, you know.

My take on Oasis’ debut is simple: Noel has talent, want it or not. He is a more-than-just-competent guitarist – he can play, which immediately separates the band from gazillions of MTV imitators (actually, he’s not even afraid of playing a lengthy guitar solo onstage, which is very atypical of Nineties’ bands). And he is more than just a competent songwriter; he really knows how to pen a somewhat solid, emotionally active melody, or at least, how to steal one (the usual reference to ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ as merely a re-write of T. Rex’s ‘Get It On’). And that younger alcoholic brother of his, Liam, sure has a decent pair of pipes, which served as a prototype for many a pseudo-alternative wheezy whiner afterwards.

The big problem: the guys have no arranging talent whatsoever. The first ten songs are more monotonous in their sequence than any given AC/DC album: two or three distorted guitars piled on top of each other, bass, drums, and vocals. ‘Sall. This is a formula that might work for classic punk or grunge, but this is neither; this is essentially a pop album. Pop melodies aren’t supposed to sound like hard rock melodies. You can’t just rely on having an acoustic guitar play the rhythm in one speaker and an electric guitar play a similar riff in the other one. You gotta have, you know, maybe pianos, maybe different guitar tones, maybe special effects, maybe something to diversify the procedure. Otherwise, not only does the album start really bleeding on the ears after a while, the melodies themselves just simply drown in the overall monotonousness. No wonder so many people just refuse to see anything in Definitely Maybe – I can easily understand them.

That said, the songs here all have something to offer, and I won’t be denying that. Some of them certainly don’t deserve the hard rock treatment; others probably do; but almost every one either has a big massive hook or at least a small minor one tucked away in a corner. And besides, let’s not forget that when Oasis were doing their debut album, they weren’t huge spoiled multi-millionnaire rock stars as of yet; thus, DM is more sincere, less pretentious, and simply more “primal” than any further record of theirs. That’s an asset.

‘Rock’n’Roll Star’ opens the album with a big bangin’ kick, and its ‘toniiiiiiight – I’m a rock’n’roll star!’ chorus is certainly captivating. You could say it’s glam rock a la David Bowie revived for the Nineties, couldn’t you? The lyrics, alternating between the gloss and the beauty of it all and the ironic depictions of the life it involves (kinda prophetic for Oasis themselves), would certainly suggest these allusions. ‘Shakermaker’ is nothing to be particularly proud upon (the dull lumpy arrangement kills off the song’s potential), but I sure won’t deny the ecstatic capacities of the “ballad” ‘Live Forever’ (I put “ballad” in quotes because it’s usually called that, but actually there are no ballads on this album except for the final track – it’s just that the emotional response to the song should be “gentler” than to the rest), with a vocal melody to die for (and even a classy falsetto twist in the right spot). Even Oasis enemies usually have to acknowledge the song’s power, you know.

From then on, it’s take it or leave it. What do you take, kind sir? I would take ‘Up In The Sky’ if only for its oh-so-tasty-Britpop middle eight; ‘Supersonic’, if only for its menacing, oh-so-dark-it’s-almost-grungy chorus; ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’, if only because it’s one of the funniest headbanging takes on barroom rock I’ve heard from the Nineties (heck, it was even covered by Rod Stewart, and the guy sure knows a thing or two about barroom rock!); and either ‘Columbia’ or ‘Slide Away’, depending on whether I’m more in the mood for the excellent guitar solo on the first one or for the anthemic coda on the second one. Oh, and ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ is unmemorable, but fun – dig the guys doing Kinksy music-hall with the same jarring guitars.

Only the last track, ‘Married With Children’, offers a final relief from the sludgy production, with a basic melody that’s purely acoustic; the song itself is nothing to worry about, though. The rest of the album, I’m sadly reiterating it, is structured in the way that if you just tune in to five or ten seconds in the middle of any song, it will all sound exactly the same to you, more so than on an ambient Brian Eno album. Which is, of course, why the Sixties rule and the Nineties suck, you know. But ‘Live Forever’ still redeems the record. Definitely. Maybe.

March 25, 2013 - Posted by | Oasis Definitely Maybe |

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