Do you remember the first time? The leathered sneer of Liam Gallagher that only a smack in the gob from his brother could silence, and his songwriting genius, and the swagger of their band (the ‘Sex Beatles’ is how a magazine called The Face heralded them) and the early records like ‘Supersonic’ or ‘Live Forever’ – quite possibly ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ – that announced the aspirations of an era with such a rip-roaring snort that a young Prime Minister wooed them. Shortly into the Blair presidency, Noel found himself at Number 10, asking Tony how he had managed to stay up through election night. ‘Probably not by the same means as you,’ the PM quipped, and that was 1997 all over.
Little is the same as it was back then, for all parties concerned, but this is where Oasis start to mend some broken promises. It feels like a lifetime since a new album from the Gallaghers justified the hype and rhetoric spun on its behalf, but this is so good, it makes you want to pour not one but two glasses of Jack-Daniels over your head.
Not so with the album that appeared three weeks after the Downing St party, Be Here Now, which was all bombast, or the successive disappointments of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and Heathen Chemistry (bonus points if you can remember more than three song titles from that 2002 set); or the desultory showing at Glastonbury last summer; or the performance on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here of Liam’s sister-in-law, Natalie Appleton. These could be seen as more than failures of will or of imagination – rather as acts of cultural betrayal.
So a touch of cynicism seems quite in order when it comes to Don’t Believe the Truth – a title that might disguise a message but is probably just more of Noel’s gobbledegook in the band’s own grand tradition.
(And the sleeve – surely Oasis hold the record for the worst album sleeves of all time, and in this respect, their latest is no disappointment.)
Perhaps the band have come to a realisation of why some people feel like throwing crockery – Noel strikes a contrite note when he says: ‘Someone said to me my songs sound like B-sides from 1994. I take that as a compliment.’ What’s more, where once he ran the band as an autocracy – booting out anyone who didn’t toe the party line – these days he’s started to listen, to share responsibility. So it is that he’s only written five of the 11 songs, with bassist Andy Bell contributing two tracks, second guitarist Gem one, leaving Liam chipping in with three.
Let’s not get carried away, but only two of those last are in the ‘Little James’ category (where he essayed the rhyme ‘live for your toys/ even though they make noise’). One good Liam song immediately elevates this sixth album above the status of its two immediate predecessors, and everything else reaches a new target in quality control.
Noel is right to seize on that comparison with the band’s early output, because the most helpful way of thinking about Don’t Believe the Truth is to ponder what’s not there: there aren’t any of those coked-up guitar workouts, for instance, when the songs long outstayed their welcome. In fact, this is a record that doesn’t sound at all druggy, but alive to possibilities. The bluster, the straining for effect, the attempt to live up to a grandiose reputation of their own making – all these are absent. Indeed, for the past few years, Oasis have been trying to emulate the sound of the old Oasis, rather than ripping off their peers, which is what they once did, as if they were politicians nicking rival policies. After taking their time with this record – its release was rumoured last year – that’s all changed now.
So first single ‘Lyla’ appropriates a riff from the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ before stumbling into the bar-room territory of the Faces; ‘Mucky Fingers’ is a one-chord homage to the Velvet Underground; ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ is very Kinks, which at least makes a change from the Beatles; while the way in which ‘Part of the Queue’ borrows shamelessly from the Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ completes a process akin to ‘triangulation’, which makes you believe you have the best of all possible worlds on offer.
These songs of Noel’s apart, Gem’s ‘A Bell Will Ring’ is otherwise this week’s pick, but from Andy Bell’s slow-burning opener ‘Turn up the Sun’ onwards, you’re reminded of what genuine charisma means and your heart skips a beat, as it flares into life with the line ‘I carry madness, everywhere I geeeeeeaaooo’ – no prizes for guessing it isn’t stand-in drummer Zak Starkey fronting up the microphone.
We have all made mistakes. So just as Noel would seem to have taken a long hard look at the band, we might ask ourselves some questions. Is swapping Pete Doherty and Kate Moss and crack for Liam and Patsy and the naive optimism of 1997 all that we have done?
Don’t Believe the Truth isn’t a novel – or novelty – record but it makes you care about Oasis again, and makes you believe they can matter again. So our bond with them is renewed.
Burn it: ‘Turn up the Sun’; ‘Mucky Fingers’; ‘A Bell Will Ring’; ‘Let There Be Love’
The harder Oasis try, the more disappointing the result. It all started with Be Here Now eight years ago, a bloated album of bombastic rock anthems that quickly became yesterday’s news as Blur’s Blur, The Verve’s Urban Hymns, and Radiohead’s OK Computer took British rock into thrilling new directions that same year, leaving the Brothers Gallagher choking on their peers’ dust. Subsequent attempts to recapture the magic of 1994-95 have sputtered. 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants showed promise on songs like “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”, “Gas Panic!”, and “Where Did It All Go Wrong?”, but the rest of the record failed to deliver.
2002’s Heathen Chemistry, on the other hand, was a complete lost cause, an empty re-hash of Oasis cliches that even the addle-brained fun of “The Hindu Times” couldn’t rescue. All this time, Noel Gallagher has claimed each new Oasis album would be a huge, radical departure, but each time out, the resulting albums have always retreated inward to the comfy confines of tired Beatles rip-offs, boring rock riffing, and just plain lazy songwriting.
Still, people always hope the band can pull themselves together just one more time. Oasis is far too talented not to, but their extended downward slide makes the prospect of a return to form less and less possible with each passing year. Seriously, how much more crap do we have to put up with before we finally give up on these guys?
So now we have Attempt To Restore Credibility, Version 4.0. After the great disappointment that was Heathen Chemistry, you’d think there would be nowhere to go but up, and indeed, Don’t Believe the Truth is a considerable improvement. At long last, that big overhaul of the Oasis sound has happened: the production has been stripped-down, to the point of sounding tinny at times, the turgid guitar wanking is virtually nonexistent, and the record overall is the band’s most streamlined and focused in many years. Most noticeable is the drum sound; Alan White, while a very talented percussionist, was a big reason behind the band’s more overblown moments, and while his replacement, Zak Starkey (yeah, Ringo’s kid), lacks White’s flair, he brings a simplicity and directness to the music, and the rest of the band seems to follow suit.
Don’t Believe the Truth might be the best Oasis album in eight years, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be shaking your head in incredulity from time to time. Although his role as principal songwriter has been greatly toned down, Oasis is still Noel’s baby, and typically, his five compositions are inconsistent. First single “Lyla” is especially strong, a refreshingly catchy, hard-edged acoustic rocker that has Liam shamelessly copping the vocal phrasing from The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”.
“Mucky Fingers” plays like a ridiculously blatant rip-off of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For the Man”, but is quickly redeemed by Noel’s impassioned lead vocals and Starkey’s thunderous drum fills during the outro. “The Importance of Being Idle” is yet another forgettable foray into the Oasis of recent years, and “Part of the Queue” bears a striking resemblance to the shuffling folk of Badly Drawn Boy, but “Let There Be Love” turns out to be one of Noel’s strongest ballads, as the band actually shows some growth, opting for a more understated tone, instead of the musical excess we’ve come to expect.
While Oasis has always been One Band, Under Noel, the man has been gradually loosening the reins, and the more democratic, collaborative feel of Don’t Believe the Truth turns out to be its greatest asset. Liam is still struggling for consistency in his songwriting, as “The Meaning of Soul” and “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel” are, to be frank, atrocious, but much to everyone’s surprise, he pulls a rabbit of the hat with the superb acoustic number, “Love Like a Bomb”.
Many fans have wondered why bassist Andy Bell has never contributed more to the band, but the former member of Ride is responsible for two of the new album’s highlights, first, on the fiery opening track “Turn Up the Sun” (including the plum line sung by Liam, “I carry madness/ Everywhere I go”), and then on the wistful “Keep the Dream Alive”, during which listeners can detect a little bit of Ride’s shoegazer tones creeping subtly into the band’s sound. Gem Archer’s “A Bell Will Ring” is another standout, and while it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s a taut, uptempo song that has the band doing what they do best, simply ripping out a fierce rock tune.
Don’t Believe the Truth is far from a perfect album, but despite the four or five throwaway tracks, the fact that some actual positive energy can be heard in Oasis’s music for the first time in nearly a decade is enough to give fans hope that there may be some life in this band yet. They’re not all the way there yet, as Oasis still have to claw their way back to respectability, but if this album is any indication, they’re definitely up for the challenge.