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Oasis Heathen Chemistry (2002)

Heathen+Chemistry++PNGFrom The Guardian

They borrowed the Beatles’ haircuts and clothes, paraphrased their comments and copied their songs. So it seems fitting that Oasis have also appropriated the Beatles’ greatest dilemma. It was neatly summarised by the poet Philip Larkin: “When you get to the top, there is nowhere to go but down,” he wrote in 1983. “But the Beatles could not get down.”

For six years, Oasis have wrestled with the same problem. Nothing can remove them from the public’s affections, even though their career effectively stalled when they left Knebworth’s stage on August 11 1996, having played to the biggest crowd ever at a British rock concert. They failed to conquer America; they struggled through walkouts, divorces, fights; Noel Gallagher dismissed their albums Be Here Now and Standing on the Shoulder of Giants as “grossly offensive” and “a false start”. And yet Oasis releases still top the charts, regardless of quality, as if by rote. This leads to the nagging suspicion that people now buy their records out of the same sense of civic duty and misplaced nostalgia that packed the Mall during the Jubilee weekend. We’re British, this is what we’re meant to do.

Like Irvine Welsh novels, lads’ mags and New Labour, Oasis seem considerably less fantastic an idea now than in the mid-1990s. People in Britain, however, still want Oasis to be fantastic. And understandably, Oasis still want to be fantastic, too. Bolstered by Heathen Chemistry’s rollicking first single and opening track The Hindu Times, Noel Gallagher has confidently claimed that the album is a return to mid-1990s form. Your optimism lasts exactly three minutes and 46 seconds, after which The Hindu Times fades out and Force of Nature staggers grimly into view. Uniquely for an Oasis track, it evokes the future, but a grim one. It sounds like something recorded by middle-aged men, glittering moment long past, umpteenth reunion gig at Northampton Roadmenders looming. Everything about it is hoary: the dirgy melody, the lumbering glam-rock beat, Noel’s horrible bellowing. If it were any more workmanlike, it would turn up wearing overalls, ask if there’s any chance of a cuppa, then overcharge you for parts and labour.

Their last two albums have seen Oasis operating on reserve power, numbed by cocaine-addled hubris on Be Here Now, distracted by intra-band upheavals on Standing on the Shoulders. Heathen Chemistry is worse, precisely because it sounds like Oasis trying really hard. It is impossible to hear Force of Nature or guitarist Gem Archer’s fearful sub-Stooges thrash Hung in a Bad Place without picturing a band puffing and straining, struggling to locate whatever it was that made them great in the first place.

The more desperately they search, the colder they get. In the past, Noel Gallagher brazenly pinched from “classic” sources: the Beatles, the Kinks, T Rex. The results were audacious songs that assaulted the collective memory, cockily posing the question: remember when rock music used to be this good? Here, he is reduced to stealing from himself. Stop Crying Your Heart Out lifts its melody from Definitely Maybe’s Slide Away and hook from Don’t Look Back in Anger. The question it poses is not cocky, just depressing: remember when we used to be this good?

As a lyricist, Gallagher has always been more David Coleman than David Bowie, frequently giving the impression that English is his second language. Gallagherballs litter Oasis’s back catalogue (“Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball”, “Life is precocious in a most peculiar way”), and Heathen Chemistry has plenty: “Let me hear you smile,” demands (Probably) All in the Mind. But it also has Little by Little, knuckle-gnawing for different reasons. Part hideous state-of-the-nation address, part GCSE poetry project, it opens with the scarcely believable line, “We, the people, fight for our existence”, and ends with Gallagher pondering: “Why am I really here?” It sounds less like an existential crisis than a set-up in search of a punchline.

Improbably, nascent songwriter Liam Gallagher provides Heathen Chemistry’s few charming moments. Songbird is slender but pretty. Born on a Different Cloud is Lennon-by-numbers, plagued by a shudder-inducing inkling that the “clever, classless and free” individual in the lyrics is Liam Gallagher. Better Man, however, is great. Avoiding the standard Oasis cliches, its swaggering guitars, sneering vocal and rumbling breakbeat recall nothing so much as the Stone Roses’ Drivin’ South.

The more cynical among you may suggest that things have gone desperately awry when the best song Oasis can come up with bears comparison not to I Am the Resurrection but a track from the Stone Roses’ rubbish second album. The more cynical among you would be right. There is a finality about Heathen Chemistry, the band’s third hopeless attempt in a row. The last time Oasis released a decent album, John Major was PM, Nick Leeson was bringing down Barings Bank and Robson and Jerome were number one. Oasis got to the top and, with Heathen Chemistry, they have finally got down. As it plays, however, you can’t help thinking: there has to be a more dignified route than this.

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March 31, 2013 - Posted by | Oasis Heathen Chemistry |

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