Classic Rock Review

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Oasis Definitely Maybe (1994)


On thousands of occasions since the release of Oasis’ first album, commentators have suggested that the beauty, the danger and the absolute brilliance of it has never been repeated. It has become almost passé to suggest that Definitely Maybe is the best that Oasis ever produced, indeed it has become a cliché in music itself for erstwhile fans to claim preferring an artist’s “earlier stuff” but now, over a year after the demise of the band, and just weeks from the first release by Oasis spin-off Beady Eye, it seems like the perfect place to start the series of Retro Review.

The album, Definitely Maybe is ingrained in British consciousness, like The Stone Roses , as a career defining tour de force; the album, intensely awaited (it became the fastest selling debut album of all time in the UK on its 1994 release) and retrospectively revered is simply 11 – 13 if you have the Japenese version, 12 if you have the vinyl version – supreme examples of British music rooted, so clearly, in The Beatles, The Jam and The Who.

The album opens with Rock ‘n’ Roll Star , a five minute riot of a slow burner where lead singer, a 22 year old Liam Gallagher, gets to live his dreams of superstardom. There are no hints at that point to suggest this is a debut album and that Oasis are just warming up, this feels like Oasis are already the biggest band in the world; as an opener to an LP career the track is a mission statement that demands the undivided attention of the listener. The title, Rock ‘n’ Roll Star , sets you up for a cheesy glam rock number but by the time you have gotten to the end of the it you have forgotten whatever else you may be doing and Oasis have got you just where they want you.

Over a recording career of 14 years, Oasis suffered mainly unflattering comparisons with The Beatles. Mostly it was of their own doing as a lot of the material subsequent to their debut release was part tribute, part homage (and no small part pastiche) to their heroes. Some of the criticism and comparisons, however, was lazy journalism, the type that also saw Oasis compared with The Smiths and The Happy Mondays just because they were famous bands from Manchester. On Definitely Maybe , Oasis show a range of styles almost entirely absent from the rest of their career with the playful melodies of Up In The Sky and Digsy’s Dinner , the lyrical postcard home of Shakermaker (see also the early b-side Fade Away) and the beautiful anti-love letter Married With Children . The easy transition from one style to another is reminiscent of The Beatles and, if the songs themselves don’t always hold up in comparison, bear in mind that one man wrote Definitely Maybe single handed while The Beatles output was written by four.

Oasis were a band hyped out of all proportion before their first record, leading of course to massive sales, which was partly due to the buzz surrounding their live performances. On the face, Oasis were five men who stood on the stage, hardly moving, while racing through their set-list before disappearing, not a word spoken in between. This is a fallacy borne of those that had not experienced Oasis first hand and had therefore never experienced the unmoving, unnerving power, like a Mike Tyson stare, of those early ‘performances’. The closest you can get to a live Oasis performance on this LP is Bring It On Down . Over the years this track, more than any other on the album, has been criminally underplayed by fair-weather fans but at the same time has been held up by others as an example of the best of early Oasis. At just over four minutes long, Bring It On Down has the form and length of a pop song but the snarling delivery of not only the vocal but the guitar, bass and drums, gives you Oasis, live in your stereo.

There are four songs on Definitely Maybe that Oasis played right until the very end; Live Forever, first single Supersonic, Slide Away and Cigarettes & Alcohol. It is these songs that define the Oasis sound, one that lead guitarist and songwriter Noel Gallagher would always dream of escaping (see his work with The Chemical Brothers and the soundtrack of The X-Files); a sound that can only really be described as ‘Stadium Anthems’ (the trick was repeated time and again but most successfully on their second album with Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger, and Champagne Supernova). They are great songs bursting with an energy that belies their relatively slow pace and in the context of the album serve to raise Oasis high above their contemporaries and competitors.

At the time, Definitely Maybe, was seen as an aperitif to whet your appetite for things to come; the band spoke often of The Beatles and, when put side to side with Please Please Me, their first release was rammed with promise. But it was that promise that was to become a burden. Two further releases followed in the next three years; the mega selling, stadium filling (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, itself a pale imitation of its predecessor and the bloated, unwieldy disappointment of Be Here Now.

It has been pointed out, rightly, many times before that debut albums are the result of years of song writing and development and so are honed to supersonic perfection, and that trying to write subsequent albums while touring and promoting can see any artist filling out a catalogue of ennui. This proved to be the case for Oasis as over the years they tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate the verve and wonder of this first release, eventually becoming themselves an Oasis tribute band.

If you have never heard this album, or have never heard anything by Oasis and you are looking for a couple of pointers, listen out for Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, Supersonic, Digsy’s Dinner and Married With Children. This is a very, very good LP, make no mistake but I believe that these four songs showcase both the charm and the power of early Oasis.

What of the extra tracks on the Japanese version? Sad Song is beautiful and gives Noel the opportunity to break the hearts of listeners, an opportunity that he grabs with laconic enthusiasm. The second extra track, Cloudburst was a b-side in the UK and, good as it is, is another example of Noel’s magpie like approach to music. Whether it is stealing a melody from a Coca Cola advert (Shakermaker), a T-Rex song (Cigarettes & Alcohol) or, as in this case, a Stone Roses number, Gallagher Snr. has often found himself unable to resist lifting sounds he likes almost verbatim and reproducing them under his own name.

Definitely Maybe is wonderful; it is exciting, loud, beautiful and optimistic. Oasis could never live up to the promise on show in this record, but few ever can when the promise is this great.

April 4, 2013 - Posted by | Oasis Definitely Maybe |

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