How do you follow up a multi-platinum masterpiece? The Beatles followed up Sgt. Pepper’s with the sprawling, flawed White Album. Fleetwood Mac followed up Rumours with the sprawling, flawed Tusk. And Oasis, that most classicist of Britpop rock bands, followed up (What’s The Story) Morning Glory with the sprawling, flawed Be Here Now.
Those first two follow-up records were double albums; this one is 71 minutes, close to double album length. It’s as if the band feels they have free reign to say whatever they want and that every note of it should be captured on vinyl. For a band with rampant egos such as Oasis, one can only imagine the spectacle and grandeur with which they would present their next slice of music…and Be Here Now does not disappoint on that level.
Four of the 12 songs here are around seven minutes long, one is nine minutes long and the rest are close to four or five minutes each, save for the closing instrumental coda. The music is blown up larger than life, with piles of instruments (guitars mostly), extended jams and long intros/outros that bloat this way beyond what it needs to be. Yet the hubris on display is exactly why people like Oasis in the first place, in essence making Be Here Now more of the same, albeit inflated to cartoon proportions.
“D’You Know What I Mean” starts things off with an airplane drone that crashes into the song, a swirling epic that is more about the production than the actual songwriting. Still, it sounds so good – and Liam Gallagher’s voice is as fine as ever – that it doesn’t really matter. As a leadoff single from the album, it was about as ballsy as one could get (7:41? Really?), but it’s pure Oasis.
Much of the swagger of this album comes from the band actually being the best instead of aspiring to be, the way they did on Definitely Maybe, so there’s a sense of invulnerability that pervades the music. Something like “My Big Mouth” would have fit in on that debut; here, it is given wall-to-wall guitar overdubs and played with absolute mid-tempo confidence. Actually, a lot of the songs are like that around the middle of the album, but none are truly memorable in the way the best early Oasis could be.
“Don’t Go Away” is one of the better songs, a relatively scaled back slower piece with some of Liam’s best singing to date and one that points the way the band’s music would eventually take from Heathen Chemistry onward.
The album closes with two epics this time around. The first is “All Around The World,” which starts slowly and continues to add on layers of sound (guitars, strings, brass Liam’s increasingly higher voice) for nine minutes, creating a soaring effect that sounds wonderful, even if it doesn’t have much to say or fails to create a mood the way “Champagne Supernova” did.
It would have been a fine album closer, but the seven minute “It’s Getting Better (Man!!)” gets that honor. Instead of a slow build, this one starts off loud and refuses to relent, even though it stays pretty safely hidden behind a wall of guitars the entire time. A change of dynamics would have helped, or some more chords, or maybe cutting out a couple of minutes and moving it up in the track listing.
The main problem with Be Here Now is not that it’s too much of a good thing, but that it’s similar to an Easter egg in that the delicious chocolate shell opens up to reveal a hollow inner core. Oasis didn’t have a lot of songwriting to do, so they instead piled on the sound to make what little they had sound good. It succeeds, but it leaves you feeling empty, and that ultimately keeps this from being the classic it so badly wants to be.
Looking back at the mid 1990s, the British musical scene was rather different to what it is today. This was the era of Britrock, when Blur, Pulp, and many other bands ruled the charts. However, one band stood out above all these others, and is still thought of as the leaders of the genre in spite of the fact that it is generally thought that they peaked almost a decade ago with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?. Hard as it may be to imagine now, for a period back then Oasis were not only the biggest British band, but also quite arguably the best.
When this album was released, it was one of the most ludicrously hyped albums in history already, to the extent that no matter what the band released, it was unlikely to be well received. This soon turned out to be the case, although it sold 250,000 copies in Britain alone on the first day of its release, and a total of 700,000 in less than a week. Critics, however, quickly seized on the album as overly long, and a bloated imitation of the previous Oasis. Crucially, the perception in the music world quickly became that Oasis had run out of ideas, something that they had never been accused of on their first 2 albums. Although these criticisms may have as much to do with public perception as to what the band should be doing, as to whether this album was any good, it’s undeniable that this doesn’t even come close to their previous work.
1. D’You Know What I Mean immediately sets the tone for the album. Opening with the sound of a helicopter and a series of electronic noises, the song quickly becomes the type of arrogant rock song that Oasis had perfected on their first two albums. There’s a problem though. With the exception of the ballad Champagne Supernova, Oasis hadn’t recorded a song over 7 minutes before, as happens here, and they’re not the sort of band where epic songs work, largely due to their style, where most of their songs sound fairly similar, something which is at least partially on account of Liam’s trademark singing voice. As with quite a lot of songs on here, it would actually be a very good Oasis song if it were shorter. 3/5
2. My Big Mouth. This is one of the better songs on the album, with the kind of music and lyrics that could easily be imagined on Definitely Maybe. It’s got some more good lyrics, with Liam snarling, “Into my big mouth, you could fly a plane”, in a parody of himself and his arrogance, while at the same time refusing to apologise for this. The band also recaptures their guitar riffing ability here, making this a good Oasis song, without being a great one. 4.5/5
3. Magic Pie. This is where the problems really start. The first two tracks, although not brilliant, were quite good Oasis songs. Even this starts off well, with a softer Noel Gallagher vocal, but it quickly degenerates into a dirge of a song, which doesn’t seem to be heading in any real direction. The guitars are uninspired, as are the lyrics, with Noel seeming to be actually trying to force himself to show some emotion, and failing pretty badly at this. And of course, the fact that this is the third longest song at the album somehow makes the experience even worse, as at least D’You Know What I Mean and All Around The World have their redeeming features. This is Oasis at their worst, and is one to skip, adding a completely unnecessary jazz coda at the end. 1.5/5
4. Stand By Me. Well, it’s an improvement on the previous song, but this suffers from another of the album’s faults, namely that of overproduction. Oasis always worked best when their music sounded faintly in danger of veering off the road it was going down. Here it seems as if they were told by the record company what the song was going to be, and how it was going to sound. It’s not that bad a song though, with a good Liam vocal, and showing that the band possessed the ability to structure a song, although in this case it’s hidden under the layered guitars that lower this song. And sorry to beat a dead horse again, but this is just too long. 2.5/5.
5. I Hope, I Think, I Know. This is more like the old Oasis again, although it’s hard to escape the feeling that this would have been a filler track on one of their previous albums rather than one of the stronger points so far here. There’s nothing especially interesting or special about it, other than the fact that it features some pretty good drum work in the background, which really drives this song forward. This still gets 3.5/5 though for being both a definite improvement on what’s come before, and something that it sounds like Oasis put in more effort on.
6. The Girl In The Dirty Shirt. Although this is meant to be another Oasis ballad in the vein of Cast No Shadow, it, again, doesn’t come close. There are good moments in here, such as the vocals which show that while Liam Gallagher does not have a conventionally good singing voice, he can nevertheless really sing ballads well, but the instrumental section just seems to plod along, with the possible exception of Noel Gallagher, whose guitar seems fresh and more innovative than during other points in the album on here. This suffers from many of the same faults of the rest of the album, and gets 2.5/5.
7. Fade In Out. This song is one of the better points on the album for me, with a slow intro, which leads into a strong vocal over the band providing a surprisingly understated performance. It also has some of the better backing vocals here, and the band shows that they can be more than a one-trick pony when they want, with Liam’s scream leading into an instrumental break featuring some screaming guitars, again from Noel Gallagher. However, although the first section of the song is impressive and different, the hail of feedback and the repeated chorus it ends it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. 3.5/5.
8. Don’t Go Away. If track 6 was a disappointing Oasis ballad, this is far far worse. This song is absolutely cliche-ridden, with a string section grating in the background, the band staying resolutely in the background, and some dire lyrics, such as “Don’t go away, say what you say, say that you’ll stay, forever and a day”. It’s the kind of sentimentally unoriginal slush that fills the pop charts in the UK every week, and it’s disappointing to see that Noel Gallagher, a man that has written some truly great rock ballads (such as Live Forever, and the ubiquitous Wonderwall) has fallen to this level on this album. 1.5/5.
9. Be Here Now. As with other songs on here, nothing special, but there’s nothing specifically wrong with it either. The lyrics are total nonsense, but the overall feel of the song is OK, with an interesting keyboard riff played on a child’s piano. Although it sounds slightly stale, this is a solid Oasis song, and one that the band would have cruised through on previous albums. 2.5/5.
10. All Around The World. Something that is often said about Oasis is their love and admiration for The Beatles. This has never been more evident than on this track, which is their attempt at a Hey Jude style of song. While this is one of the most polarising songs on the album, I think it is the best thing on here by a long way. For a start, although it is very long, and again could usefully be cut, this is Oasis at near their best. A relatively simple song structure, and a message being confidently delivered by Liam, immediately makes this a bonus on previous tracks, although the orchestral arrangements in the background still annoy a bit. This would get 5/5, if it were shorter, as there is quite simply no need for this to be as long as it is. As it’s still the best song on here, and the one song I could recommend as a download, I’m giving this 4.7/5.
11. It’s Getting Better (Man!). As I’ve said before, with several other songs on here, its a decent song in it’s own right, without being anything special, but is too long, and doesn’t have the freshness that previous songs like this did. I’ve already written just about everything that could be used to describe this song in talking about Be Here Now, and I Hope, I Think, I Know, which should tell you everything you need to know about this song. 2.5/5
12. All Around The World (Reprise). In a word, why? This brings nothing to the album, featuring a full orchestra marching their way through the song, which, while good the first time, works rather less well for a further 2 minutes with no singing. This is a very weak end to the album, and provides further evidence of Oasis not being clear where they were going with this record, and, to a certain extent, not really caring that much. 1/5
There are several fundamental flaws with this album. As I’ve already said, not only could some songs easily be scrapped, but most of the songs on here could simply have a few minutes chopped at some point, to make this a tighter, more cohesive album. The band, more importantly, could have made a greater effort to recapture the energy and aggression that made them such a formidable force earlier in the decade, rather than resting on their laurels somewhat with this album. Although disappointment was perhaps inevitable for all the people who had been waiting for this album, such was the anticipation, this is an overly long album that has since been described by Noel Gallagher as “grossly offensive”, and the work of “two gobshites with a bag of charlie (cocaine)”. The album is fundamentally a tiresome listen, and one that you will not wish to return to on a regular basis, whether or not you like the band. Make sure you get Definitely Maybe, and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, but there’s no real need to bother with this.
If the art of rock — and of making great rock records — is essentially a matter of putting the right notes in the right order over a good beat at top volume, then “D’You Know What I Mean?,” Oasis opening broadside on Be Here Now, is seven minutes of simple, focused genius. The important stuff is all here: the squealing feedback, chain-saw distortion and coughing wah-wah of a huge, brutish guitar orchestra; a slow, tough rhythm, stoked for extra measure by a drum sample from N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton; a singer who ratchets up the cocksure posturing of the lyrics (“All my people right here, right now/They know what I mean”) with a sour howl and arrogant relish; a big finish in which everything in the mix — the guitars, the braying vocals, the fat whack of the rhythm section — is sucked into the jet-engine roar of the distended chorus.
There are references to God in the lyrics, and the song appears to be about a crisis of faith. But you wouldn’t know it from the attitude pouring through the amps. “D’You Know What I Mean?” — and for that matter the rest of Be Here Now — is music built for impact, not explanation. You want epic narrative, grand metaphor and explicit spiritual testimony? Get a book of poetry — or a Van Morrison record.
Oasis are not, and have never been, a complex listening experience; in fact, they’ve basically made the same album thrice. Like 1994’s Definitely Maybe and 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Be Here Now is ’60s and ’70s rock classicism writ large and loud, all broad strokes and bullish enthusiasm. As the band’s songwriter, co-producer and (for all intents and purposes) iron ruler, guitarist Noel Gallagher doesn’t spend any sweat on highbrow drama or intellectual pretense.
He fires up sing-along hooks with industrial-strength glam-rock licks; he drapes his words and music in the reflected splendor of the Beatles at every available turn, mostly through song — and album-title references, and spit-shines the results with a kind of roughneck sentimentality, heard to most obvious effect in the Sunday-night-pub-chorale endings of “Magic Pie” and “All Around the World.”
It’s a formula that can go either way: brilliant, steel-plated consistency or vacuous, shopworn predictability. Gallagher and Oasis pull it off, in great part, because they do not concede any possibility of fucking up. A lot of Gallagher’s lyrics are catch-phrase cocktails of youthful optimism and hard-boy temperament: “Comin’ in out of nowhere/Singing rhapsody” (“Fade In-Out”); “Into my big mouth/You could fly a plane” (“My Big Mouth”). But the most contagious thing about buzz bombs like “My Big Mouth,” “I Hope, I Think, I Know” and “It’s Gettin’ Better (Man!!)” is the sheer physical confidence of the music, particularly in the tandem rock ribbed guitars of Gallagher and Bone-head (a k a Paul Arthurs), and the way singer Liam Gallagher literally assaults the songs written for him by his older brother.
Much has been made of the John Lennon factor in Liam’s nasally, brattish intonation. In fact, his voice is a flat, thin thing. What’s remarkable about it is its emphatic, almost fighting quality; Liam enunciates Noel’s lyrics with snappish irritation and grinds the vowels in words like fade and away into high-tension whines. By the time Liam gets done with the chorus in Noel’s Big Melodrama ballad, “Stand by Me” — “Stand by me-e-e/Nobody kno-woa-ahs/The way it’s gon-nah-h be-e-e” — it sounds full of portent, if not bona fide linear meaning.
The payoff in Noel’s writing is always in the choruses; all riffs, hooks and bridges lead there. So Noel feeds Liam words and phrases that, above all, sound good. While it’s hard to excuse jury-rigged verse like “A cold and frosty morning/There’s not a lot to say/About the things caught in my mind” (“Don’t Go Away”), sometimes in pop music, melody, muscle and mouthing off can be their own substantial reward.
But only for so long. Oasis can’t rely on this Abbey Road-meets-Never Mind the Bollocks routine forever. There are already signs of strain on Be Here Now. “Stand by Me” is a little too close to Morning Glory’s “Don’t Look Back in Anger” for coincidence, and there is an overreliance on swollen “Hey Jude”-style finales in the ballads.
Which brings up the Beatles issue. Noel Gallagher’s love of the group is genuine. “Sing a song for me/One from Let It Be,” he writes in “Be Here Now” — a title cribbed from Lennon’s infamous quip to an interviewer who asked him about the deep, underlying philosophy of rock & roll. But Noel is starting to overplay his hand; dropping a line like “The fool on the hill and I feel fine” in the middle of “D’You Know What I Mean?” smacks of laziness more than fannish ardor.
Maybe if Oasis weren’t so ultra-mega-huge in England and smiled more onstage when they came here, it would be easier to accept them for what they are: a great pop band with a long memory. What will they, or their records, mean in 20 years’ time? Who cares? Be here now. History will take care of itself.