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They told me that I lost my mind.

June 15, 2009

In this blog’s previous incarnation, I started doing something every once in awhile that I’d hoped would show up a bit more frequently than it ever did. That something is analyzing all parts of an album — performing an “overdue reconsideration” post on the album itself and then thorough “ComBlete”-style posts on the album’s singles. The reason I didn’t do it as much as I thought I might is because it turned out there are actually few albums I’m that obsessive about or that I feel need that kind of revision.

However, the series I did on Paul McCartney’s Off the Ground, Oasis’ Be Here Now and The Verve’s A Northern Soul garnered me a few nice comments and e-mails and while there are still albums I think deserve the full on treatment, a recent post I did made my brain start spinning on another Oasis album.

So, thanks to my inclusion of “Who Feels Love?” on the summer mix, we’re going to take this week to reassess their 2000 LP, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.

Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Part 1: The groundwork.

The reason I feel this album needs reassessment is because of a recent case of Noel Gallagher’s own revisionism. Noel has a way of liking an album very much when it’s brand new and out there for the world to see, but regauging his opinion years later after the dust settles and said album fails to make any old Q, NME or Mojo “50 Best Ever” list. If there are doubts about how Noel once felt about the album, check the interview on the “Familiar to Millions” DVD in which he professes his admiration for the album mere months after its release.

But in March of this year in an interview with the Times, Noel ended up calling it the low point of Oasis’ career.

“From the defining moment, which was the lights coming on at Knebworth in 1996, at the end of that second show, to (original members) Bonehead and Guigsy leaving halfway through the recording of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, during that period, for my own part, I was kind of just doing it for the sake of it. I didn’t know what else to do. What we should have done, after Knebworth, was let that whole thing just land, settle, and taken two years off. But with the drugs and all that, you get so addicted to the attention, and you get institutionalised by the band. ”

The thing about it, however, is that Noel made it sound like 1996-2000 was nonstop. As an obsessive Oasis fan at the time, I can most definitely say it wasn’t.

Sure, there was Be Here Now. And that album’s gone down in history as a dangerous tale of excess and self-destruction, but people still seem to forget that album got to #2 in America, had them playing arenas on this side of the Atlantic, got them a spot on “Saturday Night Live” and, if nothing else, contained “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt.”

The tour lasted into 1998, but by the time the “All Around the World” single shifted in January of that year, that was pretty much going to be it for awhile. You can’t count the “Don’t Go Away” single, because those B-sides were just odds and ends from the whole of their career to that point.

Apparently the Be Here Now tour proved to be a cocaine-fuelled wrecking ball that pushed the band to the brink of extinction (as all Oasis tours seem to do, depending on who you ask), and Noel made it quite clear he wanted a break at the end of it all. And I’m not letting you count the Jam tribute that both Noel and Liam got involved with as an acceptable substitute.

Management must have been a bit perturbed. Up to that point, they’d always had the promise of at least a new single within a few months’ time to bestow upon the waiting masses, but now there was going to be nothing. So in the panic of not having a new product to sustain interest (which was becoming increasingly hard to sustain for bands as the new century loomed and more and more people got online), the label cobbled together the band’s best B-sides and issued a new album called The Masterplan.

Here’s why that one didn’t work — the fans that would’ve bought an Oasis B-sides album en masse were the kind of fans who’d already doled out the money for the singles. Or people like my sister, who loved the songs, but knew there was no way their big brother would let them borrow his imported stash of Oasis singles. And I think with every group, there are more hardcore fans out there than there are half-interested sisters.

But my sister buying The Masterplan at least allowed me the opportunity to look through the booklet and read the liner notes. And part of me still shakes when I think about it. There is nothing more self-aggrandizing than to get a journalist to write an extensive sleeve piece talking about how important your band is within the history of popular music when your career’s not even four years old. THAT is exactly the kind of things fans want to discuss and duke it out with other bands’ fans about. Having some dude punch up 1,000 words on how important this music your holding is — unless it’s some kind of anthology 20 or 30 years after the fact — is just arrogance beyond the cartoonish kind Noel and Liam had babbled on about for the four years prior. Of course the tunes backed it up. But that’s just it. You let the music do the talking. You don’t spell it out for a bunch of people. It kills whatever hope for discovery you might have had in putting it in some novice’s yearning hands.

Still, The Masterplan served as some kind of half-hearted afterglow for the madness of the years prior, because when 1998 turned to 1999, the wheels completely came off the bus.

First, Noel’s much publicized and self-celebrated cocaine habit started giving him chest pains that resulted in a midnight run to the hospital. Doctor told him to get off the cocaine, but also gave him a healthy helping of pills to help matters.

Ready with some unsurprisingly drony new songs, Oasis set off for France to start recording their new record, but then original members Guigsy and Bonehead bid adieu, effectively leaving Noel and Alan White to lay down most of the backing tracks and Liam to provide vocals. The brothers held a press conference to assure everyone interested that the band would continue, but Noel seemed visibly unsure.

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Now, the theories on how this all could have made for a fantastic album that Noel was probably too scared to make will be fleshed out as this series progresses. But what you can hear immediately is that in the transition from cocaine to the pills designed to help him kick cocaine, Noel was in a different state of mind than what informed songs like “Supersonic” or “Live Forever.” He was waking up and reassessing what he could remember of the madness of the five years prior, and actually writing some of his most personal songs yet.

The demos from the period became a popular bootleg item and actually provided a lot more insight into Noel’s frame of mind than the final album would.

Oasis – Where Did It All Go Wrong? (Demo)
True, this song made the album in this same lyrical form, although the backing track got a heavy revision. A lot of subsequent reviews of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants quoted the “Do you keep the receipts for the friends that you buy?” lyric as a clear indication that Noel had become a lot more self-aware and was maturing as a lyricist. What always kind of surprised me was that there wasn’t more alarm in the fact that the guy who five years earlier was singing never-ending praises of fame and unabashedly proud of spinning lyrics such as “And my dog’s been itchin’, itchin’ in the kitchen once again” was on this kind of existential, “celebrity is bullsh*t” kick. Now, calling celebrity bullsh*t is about as original as knocking off Beatles songs for your own hits, but think for a moment about the drone here. The gulf between this and “Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it’s alright,” is pretty damn big.

Oasis – Solve My Mystery (Demo)
To the chagrin of a lot of hardcore fans, this song never made it out into a properly finished form on an a single or album, and my personal theory as to why will be examined a bit more in detail tomorrow. But again, listen to the musings contained within.  “Because I failed, they constantly ignore me,” “You can pit your gold against my soul, but I bet you’ll get shattered,” “What do I believe in?” — I mean the self pity and confusion here is enough to make you think you might be listening to a Dashboard Confessional type track. Probably not the kind of thing to make a stadium full of punters pogo, but when you get down to it, when before did Noel ever dare to the say the kind of stuff he does here? Would Oasis have had a hit or been revered for this one? Maybe not. But what if Neil Young sang this? Food for thought. This is a sound of a guy handcuffed by the monster he created.

Oasis – It’s a Crime (Demo)
After some lyrical revisions, this made it onto the band’s 2005 Don’t Believe the Truth LP as “Let There Be Love.” I go back and forth on whether I think the changes made the song stronger. Most days I do think they did — I love the middle part of the Don’t Believe the Truth version and think that these lyrics sound unfinished. However, there’s an interesting contradiction here between pleading for love and also speaking a little bit about the ramifications of karma. “You can say what you want, but you won’t get a thing from me,” “All the things that you’ve done are coming right back to you,” “Does it make you feel ashamed?” Although not a million miles away, it doesn’t have the same bite in the putdowns he locked in “Bring it On Down,” “Headshrinker” or “My Big Mouth.” It just sounds like a guy who’s tired of the BS everyone’s giving him.

Perhaps tellingly, only one of these sets of lyrics ever made it out for the general public to dissect.

Tomorrow: The album.

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One comment

  1. Cheers!



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