It just knew it was gonna be crap, I knew it, I knew it, and yet I'm still massively disappointed. The new Oasis album never had to be much cop. There was even less pressure on them this time than before they released "Morning Glory", another massively disappointing Oasis album from the might-not-be's of Britpop.
This is not (entirely) a review of "Be Mad Cow". You can read those in any current magazine or newspaper of your choice; even the Angling Times has a page headlined "Noel hooks a winner". This is more a review of a bizarre phenomenon: people liking Oasis as much as they do. Even inhuman beasts such as the critics like Oasis right here, right now. How jammy can two lads from Burnage get?
"Been Heard Before" is an average album. Had it come from certain other bands - Kula Shaker spring to mind - it might even have been viewed as a fairly good album. There are three or four standout tracks on it - the single, "My Big Mouth", "Fade In-Out" and err...pick another. You know, the ones you've already heard previewed on the radio. Funny coincidence, that. It's more consistently pleasing than its predecessor. Liam's sneer sounds better than ever. Their trademark production is in place, the one that makes them sound like they're playing in a shoebox, albeit a very expensive one. But when you get right down to it, it contains twelve versions of the same song. At least part of the blame for this must rest with drummer Alan "One Rhythm Stuck In A Groove" White. His trademark shuffle rides across everything regardless of want or need. On at least one track (can't remember which so pick any), it is so starkly out of place that it consititutes grounds for dismissal. The sooner Noel borrows a drum machine from the Chemicals, the better.
...Swapping his Beatles songbook for it would be my preference. I've written better lyrics than you, Noel. (And I'm excused arrogance against a man who is loudly proclaiming this second rate holding pattern to be the album of the year.) Lose the endless Lennon-McCartney refrains too.
It's not that I loathe Oasis, that I'm bellicose enough to hate something purely on the strength of it's popularity...actually, I am, but not this time. They are the single most significant band of the decade already. Without them, there would have been no resurgence in decent guitar bands, no point watching TOTP ever again, a total retreat from melody and a continued disheartening plunge into corporate rock-wank and useless Indie groups. Their charitable work in the interim has been laudable: Liam sang with the Bunnymen and kept Patsy Kensit happy; Noel made a corking no.1 with the Chemicals. Now they give us this record: in the words of producer Owen Morris, "you don't need to do this, you dicks."
Of the reviews I've read so far, the Observer was the only one telling the truth. It rightly pointed out that "Morning Glory" was slated on release and only re-evaluated as a "grower" after practically everyone with a pulse bought it, much to the embarrassment of the pundits. Q in particular gave it a decidedly lukewarm reception and then spent the succeeding six months sucking up to Noel for an interview. But they were right first time: "Morning Glory" holds only three great tracks ("Wonderwall", "Some Might Say" and "Cast No Shadow" - sorry, "Don't Look Back In Anger" is a dirge) and all else is filler. On "Definitely Maybe", the band sounded like they weren't trying because it was so easy. On the followup, they sounded like they weren't trying because they didn't have to: crucial difference. Oasis have had it handed to them on a plate since '95, but they haven't yet realised that a diet consisting solely of unquestioning adulation is extremely poor in essential nutrition.
This time around, no one is gonna get fooled again. Paul Du Noyer's Q review of "Been Had Good" is apologetic, endlessly excusing Noel's blatent thievery, dull melodies and piss-poor lyrics ("Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with being obvious" - you disgusting suck-up, Paul). NME and MM attempts were similar. The broadsheets have made a more sober appraisal of it but even they know they're shouting against the tide.
The more I think about it, the more unsettling the similarities between Oasis and New Labour become. Britain is one big Blair love-in at present, which isn't at all a bad thing after our 18 year long bad trip. The new government can make mistakes and gaffes for at least another year and no one is going to mind, partly because we so badly want them to succeed and partly because they still make the competition look like rotten conjurors in clown outfits. Similarly, Oasis have been allowed to make one more naff album and we'll happily buy it and even, within limits, enjoy it, because they show up the 80s music scene for the utter dross it was. There's no clear political intent at work, no explicit principles beyond "let's make nice sounds and smile a lot", but when you've put up with Miserable Bastards Who Hate You for too long, you're quite flattered by the attention.
Buy the album because you'll be able to play it to your grandchildren and explain where Oasis were at this moment in time, before (hopefully) they got really good. And by then, without the weight of crushed expectations on top of it, it might sound better too.
What they didn't say about the new Oasis album:
"...breathtaking in the scope of it's ambition."
"...quirky, inventive and irreverent."
"Sounds like it was made by twelve different bands."
"That drummer is sooo versatile."
"Makes Morning Glory sound like total crap."
24th August 1997