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And if there’s a God, would he give another chancer an hour to sing for his soul?

June 16, 2009

Continuing on with Standing on the Shoulder of Giants week, we’ll pick up where we left off yesterday.

It’s quickly approaching three years since Oasis last released a new album. Noel is off cocaine and onto pills to help him kick the habit. Oasis is down to a three-piece after losing founding members Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs and Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan. The shakeup in personnel and recreational lifestyle has Noel foresaking the simple “Live Forever” themes that informed his previous (maybe best?) songs for soured, acoustic driven laments on the shortcomings of fame and other existential musings.

With an early 2000 release date for the lead single and album looming, Noel goes into recruitment mode and makes arguably the soundest Oasis-related decision of his career within weeks of each other when he brings Heavy Stereo frontman Gem Archer in to play lead and rhythm guitar and ex-Ride and Hurricane #1 man Andy Bell in to handle bass duties. Although recording is done by the time they join ranks, they will represent the new look of Oasis and the new album ready to be bestowed upon a sufficiently intrigued (if a tad indifferent) public.

Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Part 2: The album.

sotsog

Oasis
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Big Brother/Sony/Epic, 2000

01. F*ckin’ in the Bushes
02. Go Let it Out
03. Who Feels Love?
04. Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is
05. Little James
06. Gas Panic!
07. Where Did it All Go Wrong?
08. Sunday Morning Call
09. I Can See a Liar
10. Roll it Over

Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, apparently, is Oasis’ lowest-selling album to date, which is probably a better indication of the interest in Oasis in 2000 as opposed to the quality of the music within, which is certainly questionable, but never completely horrible, either.

See here’s the thing about every Oasis-related career retrospective interview you read now. There’s this lingering “shoulda coulda woulda” sentiment about packing it in after the record-breaking Knebworth concerts in August 1996. “We should have called it quits,” “We should’ve taken a long break,” etc. etc. Although you can’t discount the amount of work and touring done between September 1996 and December 1999 as nothing — there was one album and several band-testing tours packed within — I’d also argue with anyone who wants to say they were going non-stop. There was little more than a year between the first and second albums. There was almost two years between the second and third. And there was almost three between the third and fourth.

And that’s what hurt interest in Standing on the Shoulder of Giants the most. As mentioned yesterday, the turn of the century was not the time to start dawdling if you wanted to maintain a rapt audience. All the world was slowly signing online and although there was more opportunity than ever to communicate with fellow fans and browse or build your own fansite, discourse material would run short if everyday you signed on to discuss the same years-old albums.

The other thing that absolutely killed Standing on the Shoulder of Giants was Noel’s decision to hide the personal-type tracks he’d been demoing on B-sides or subsequent albums and singles. When you look back and consider what he was writing at the time, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants could have actually proved a significant departure for the band. It could have been the pill-addled, soul-searching comedown record from Oasis’ ride on the Britpop wave. Noel could have silenced a lot of critics by choosing to bare a bit of his emotions and fostered cynicism in songs, but I think the thought proved too daunting.

After all, he must have thought, that’s solo record material. It’s not for an “Oasis” album.

The result? A compromise. A compromise so obvious and scattershot that it’s almost painful. A couple personal numbers, a couple catchy tunes with none-too-subtle Beatles allusions and a couple “I think this is how you write rock and roll, right?” numbers displaying more personal uncertainty than any of those demos he was recording. Oh and what the hell, let’s give Liam a song too.

There’s nothing to sustain Standing on the Shoulder of Giants as a complete album. Just as comfort sets in and a bit of swagger starts to show, a bad song comes along to blow it out of the water. The opening triology of “F*ckin’ in the Bushes,” “Go Let it Out” and “Who Feels Love?” are among the best opening trifectas of any Oasis album. Loops, grooves, somewhat silly lyrics, memorable hooks and choruses — this is the kind of stuff that made you love Oasis in the first place.

Unfortunately, “Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is” is nothing more than a terrible Doors rip-off that goes nowhere. It sounds like it was written on demand for a “rock and roll type” song. Noel’s always been a successful plagiarist, but the spirit and joie de vivre that moved “Cigarettes & Alcohol” from minding too much about the T. Rex pinch. “Put Yer Money…” just had people reaching for Morrison Hotel instead.

“Little James” left cynics without a sword in the fight in that not only was it Liam’s first composition to show on an Oasis record, but it was about his little stepson to boot. Complaining about it’s decidedly un-rock and roll preciousness or that it’s bad obvious John Lennon aping (as opposed to the better obvious John Lennon aping of “I’m Outta Time”) just seemed in sour taste. Then again, I ask Oasis fans — how many times have you put this CD in your player and skipped right over to track 5? I thought so.

“Gas Panic!” relates Noel’s little horrors in coming off a cocaine addiction, but another chance to be upfront and confessional as Noel dispatches Liam to handle the vocals, suspiciously lowers those vocals in the mix and then lets the song descend in to the a 6-minute-plus guitar-on-guitar-on guitar soundscape. The exact kind he professed and still professes to hate so much on Be Here Now.

“Where Did it All Go Wrong?” and “Sunday Morning Call” find Noel taking lead and a bit of front in finally showing some heartache, but just as it seems there might be a chance for late inning redemption, “I Can See a Liar” takes about as lazy a take at the “Pictures of Lily” riff that “Put Yer Money…” did with “Roadhouse Blues.” And even if “Roll it Over” is purported to be an epic, wonderful song of a closer, I can safely say I’ve not listened to the song in its entirety since 2001. And I highly doubt you have either. Or if you have, it hasn’t been with much frequency.

So what, then, was there? Five songs worth repeated listens? Out of ten? How thoroughly disappointing – only a half decent Oasis album.

Of course, if the exact same album had been released just one year earlier, what are the chances we’d be looking back on it with less cynicism? Instead of the afterglow offered by The Masterplan, there’d have been an immediate “This is where we’re going now” statement. Would it have made the songs any better? Not in the slightest. But it would’ve had a lot more attention on it, and one must believe the quality control tick that Noel usually posesses just might have stopped “Put Yer Money…” and “I Can See a Liar” from bleeding through and maybe it would’ve kept “Gas Panic!” under a 4-minute cap.

But you wait another year, and a lot of interest wanes. Sure, you’ll still be able to sell out stadiums in Europe and you’ve got a devoted fan base in almost every country in the world that will blindly buy and try to adore everything you put out. And when this album is good, it is very, very good. But the saddest thing to think about is that note Robbie Williams sent Noel Gallagher after hearing the record with a funeral wreath and “Rest In Peace” card. Cold and callous? Yeah. The exact same move Oasis would’ve pulled on another artist a few years earlier? Yeah. Completely off base? Actually… no.

There was still good stuff to be found on the B-sides, but for the first time in Oasis career, a lot of fans started saying the B-sides really outdid the album. Before, they’d always kind of been on par with each other, right?

Whether through shrewd calculation or randomness that turned out to prove appropriate, Oasis chose to use “Where Did it All Go Wrong?” to promote the record in the states. Even more appropriately, the album was also promoted by a fantastic “Behind the Music” special that provided great insight but also gave the same commercial weight to the album that well… “Behind the Music” gave the new Leif Garrett or Hootie and the Blowfish album. Where did it all go wrong, indeed.

 

Tomorrow: The “Go Let it Out” single.

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