Archive for the ‘ComBlete’ Category

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It’s where we both belong.

June 19, 2009

Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Part 5: The final single.

In a lot of ways, the release of the “Sunday Morning Call” seemed incredibly foreboding.

For one, it was released when the band was splintered — Liam, Andy, Gem, Alan and replacement guitarist Matt Deighton were out making summer festival rounds while Noel sat at home in England, still fuming from a fight that he’d had with Liam in Barcelona that prompted him to all but quit the group entirely. From a promotional standpoint, it must be somewhat handcuffing to not be able to perform the brand new single, but Noel did deliver a stripped down performance of the song for Top of the Pops back home.

For two, the single remains the only release in Oasis history not to feature Liam at all. The first thing I remember about the single itself is actually reading a posting on whatever Oasis message board I frequented at the time and someone calling it “Just the Noel and Alan single,” which by all accounts and measures, it is. So in effect, you had a Noel Gallagher solo EP here, and a well rounded one at that — an introspective song, a flag waver, and a full out rocker. It’s almost like he’s serving notice on record that he can manage just fine himself (a feat he’d proved live several times before).

For three, look at the cover. Does it not say, “Alright, this party’s over”?

In the end, the single proved only to close the book on Oasis’ somewhat difficult transitional period — a couple months later, the band was fully reunited and making music as a collective five-piece again, and Noel got back to writing consistently even material without extracurricular influence.  In looking back this week, I realized I kind of set out what I didn’t want to do by ramming home how uneven all this material was, but I still say there is some great work among the ruins.

The point is, it’s not worth binning everything Oasis put out in the year 2000.

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Oasis – Carry Us All
A lot of fans got a preview of this song when a the bootleg of the demos Noel had compiled for the album was released, and while at first I was fascinated with this song’s demo, I think it was because it was just an opportunity to hear a new Oasis song (see this series’ first post on the increasing waiting time between albums). The polished version here is nice and has a bit of heft to it, but at the end of the day, it still kind of sounds like a misfired attempt at doing a Neil Young-type protest song. I’ve always enjoyed Noel’s religious one-liners and this is no exception. I also enjoy the phrase “ten bob revolution.” But how, I ask, is faith in what you got going to carry us all? Still, this is a lot better than that cover of “Helter Skelter.”

Oasis – Full On
The downside of this era’s B-sides is that unless you were a fan, you just weren’t hearing them. That does a great disservice to this song and “One Way Road.” For whatever reason, The Masterplan compilation seemed to close the general public’s interest in Oasis, and all the B-sides from 2000 on seem almost to be like fan club exclusives. They don’t find their way into live sets like B-sides did in the 1990s, the singles aren’t selling at the volume they did in Oasis’ heyday, and maybe there is a justifiable argument in putting something like “Carry Us All” up against “The Masterplan” or “Helter Skelter” up against “Cum On Feel the Noize.” Maybe the songwriting wasn’t as stellar and maybe the covers weren’t as inspired. But see, I think this song would blow the roof off any Oasis set, and everyone who says Noel just can’t sing rock tunes like Liam can deserves to give this song a listen. Sure, I’d love to hear Liam’s take on this, but Noel’s really roaring on that chorus. This is a tune.

As far as the video goes, it seems to be kind of a sideways take on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” but in the pantheon of the band’s videos, I’ve never rated this one that highly. Aside from the “Go Let It Out” video, all the ones they did in this era just visibly bore a “Do we really have to do this?” vibe about them. It looked stylish, sure, but it doesn’t really sell me.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this series and are a little more appreciative of the era than Noel seems to be nowadays. Have a fabulous weekend, all.

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I’m like a one-man band, clapping in the pouring rain.

June 18, 2009

Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Part 4: The second single.

“Who Feels Love?” in my humblest of opinions, is the finest thing on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and a significant departure for a band that’s still constantly maligned for doing the same thing over and over and over again.

Granted, the track does go head first into completely different stratospheres in terms of being a techno-punk with rap and jazz overlay sound experiment, but considering the almost comedic levels to which Oasis revered the Beatles, it’s kind of funny to consider it took them six years to that eastern vibe. I mean, the Beatles did it in four years…

And if Noel was finding any peace in a cleaner lifestyle, “Who Feels Love?” proved to be the best reflection. Sure, the “Thank you for the sun, the one that shines on everyone who feels love” chorus seems pulled out of the guidebook to hippie cliche, but there’s something kind of genuine about it. Even the fact that Liam’s in sneer-rather-than-sing mode does little to compromise the track. It’s the sound of a band that’s found a little bit of peace in a time of chaos. I’d say it’s the sound of an Oasis, but I’m not that ridiculous. Oh…

And like “Go Let it Out,” the song is anchored on solid groove with a tabla loop and busy (by Oasis standards) bassline helping move the whole affair. The song never fails to put me in a decent mood, and that’s why I included it on this year’s summer mix.

Of course, it was an ill-timed single. Although reviews of the album and new Oasis lineup were for the most part positive, a lot of critics weren’t as eager to stay on the Oasis bandwagon and it was really around this point that all that “Should have packed it in after Knebworth” talk really started to bubble. In it’s review of the single, NME called the track emotionless and “pure mock Maharishi spirituality that not even Liam can salvage from the realm of self-parody.”

To make matters all the more ironic, the band singing about feeling love would face the biggest threat to its existence a month after the single’s release when Liam and Noel got into yet another argument, and Noel departed the world tour, vowing to never play with the band outside of England again. Thankfully he rescinded on that promise, but that news easily took the focus off any new music the band was releasing for the rest of the album’s promotional cycle.

Which is a shame, because the single actually featured the band’s best B-side of the era. And the worst.

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Oasis – One Way Road
Everything that Noel was trying to encapsulate about his state of mind in the ignored songs of the time like “Solve My Mystery” and  the material that did make it on to singles and albums — even “Who Feels Love?” (“Now you understand that this is not the promised land they spoke of”) — is perfectly rendered here. It’s a simple verse, bridge and chorus that completely repeats itself once before fading away. And if Noel’s falsetto on the bridge and passion on the chorus don’t make you think the guy’s not half bad after all, I think any argument in Oasis’ favor is lost. This is a bit of early 21st century soul, and might be the most soulful thing the band’s ever done. Too bad no one was paying attention.

Oasis – Helter Skelter
I never understand band’s desire to do this song. Well, no. I understand it — who doesn’t want to turn the amps up to 11 and figure out that little riff on the chorus, but of all the Beatles songs to do, I just never understand the obsession with this particular one. It seems so obvious. And for a band of Beatle completists like Oasis, that just makes me wonder all the more. Noel has a special feeling in his heart for the song — he reckons this song is the reason punk rock ever came into existence — but, meh. If covering Beatles songs is a useless exercise to begin with, why not at least challenge yourself and try something like… “It’s All Too Much”? I don’t even know if the Beatles ultimately did the best version of “Helter Skelter” that they could have. Ah well.

The video for the song turned out pretty cool, although I like that it took this long for a director to think “Why don’t we put Oasis in a desert?” Hey!

Tomorrow: The “Sunday Morning Call” single.

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And trying to keep that bag of bones in trim.

June 18, 2009

Oasis – Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Part 3: The first single.

Oasis’ “Some Might Say” single in 1995 kicked off a trend that was not broken until last year. The lead single off every album from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? through Don’t Believe the Truth (to wit: “Some Might Say,” “D’You Know What I Mean?” “Go Let it Out” and “Lyla”) all went straight into the UK singles charts at number 1. “The Shock of the Lightning” from Dig Out Your Soul last year made it to number 3.

Such is (or was, I suppose) the anticipation for new Oasis material that massive public interest almost secured chart dominance, no matter what shortcomings the song might contain. In the case of “Some Might Say” and “Lyla” it’s hard to argue — both are arguably perfect rock songs (if just a hair too long). But in the case of “D’You Know What I Mean?” (despite my love for the song and Be Here Now) it had to be momentum. The song was just heavier version of “Wonderwall” and about 30 percent of the song was nothing more than computer blips and splices of backwards tape.

That leaves Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’ public trailer, “Go Let it Out.” Although it’s undoubtedly single material — good hook, a chorus you can learn after the first go-round and a “Strawberry Fields Forever” aping mellotron.

NME actually decided (or, I suppose derided) it as  the exact product you might come up with given a do-it-yourself Oasis song kit.

If there is a fault with it, though, it says absolutely nothing. Given the band’s history for famously clumsy rhyming (“Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball,” “And my dog was itchin’, itchin’ in the kitchen,” “Say what you’ll say, say that you’ll stay, forever and a day”), it seems almost pointless to pick on the lack of product here.

But “Sister psychosis don’t got a lot to say”? The difference here is that it halfway sounds like Noel’s trying to say something. It sounds cool, but what does it mean? And why compromise it with something as egregiously counterintuitive as “Go let it out, go let it in, go let it out?” Noel’s off the marching powder and this is his first lucid statement?

Indeed, inspiration was in such short order that the “Is it any wonder why princes and kings…” bit was pinched from an old poem called “Bag of Tools.”

I remember a column by Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone at the time essentially making the same complaint, and it pains to me say that 9 years later I find myself agreeing with him. Side note — how much cooler did you think Rob Sheffield was before he started showing up on those “E! 50 Most_______” shows and giving his dumbass, unfunny commentary?

But what “Go Let it Out” does have is an effortless groove. The departure of Guigsy allowed Noel to finish bass duties and pull basslines all over the record away from the root note basics Oasis songs had been stuck on for six years prior into more adventurous, McCartney-esque territory. “Go Let it Out” doesn’t have the most innovative bassline ever, but maybe for the first time in Oasis history, it was distinguishable. And it grooves. The whole song does. Even if the demo had a better sense of humor.

You’ve heard some of the demos, and where Noel’s mind seemed to be at the time. But at the same time, he seemed to know they weren’t “Oasis” songs. They weren’t simple sentiments to raise a fist to or put your arm around a friend to in a packed stadium. So it’s reasonable that a business- and career-minded individual would see a need for something more formulaic. Problem is, once you’ve seen the downside of fame and excess, it’s hard to put your viewpoint back on the other side of the fence.

So what you have here is a perfect preview of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants — a song by a guy who has an unwavering ability to deliver a memorable tune, but a shortage of things to say.

Fortunately, the B-sides ran a bit deeper.

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Oasis – Let’s All Make Believe
Rumored to be about the changing face of the band and the loss of two founding members, but whether or not that’s the case, this sounds a lot more inspired than the A-side and this would also prove to be the only B-side of the era that Noel handed over to Liam for vocal duties. It’s an effective move. Whereas Noel’s vocals likely would’ve made this song a bit more mournful, Liam’s sneer provides an effect that pulls the regret a little closer to bitterness.

Oasis – (As Long As They’ve Got) Cigarettes in Hell
So maybe Noel lost the whole “feelin’ supersonic” vibe, but at least he didn’t totally lose his sense of humor. But he nicely walks a fine line between being funny and wistful and finds the balance nicely. I also think this song is one of the finest summations of his state of mind at the turn of the century. I ask you, how much more memorable would Standing on the Shoulder of Giants have been if this closed the album? Food for thought.

The single’s video is actually one of my favorite videos, although I wish they’d kept Liam from miming guitar. Maybe it’s a small minority of us that notices he’s not even playing the right chord during the one-chord verse, but que sera sera. The video also showed the new-look Oasis featuring the debut of Gem Archer on guitar. I said it the first time I saw this and I hold it now — he upped the group’s coolness factor tenfold.

Tomorrow: The “Who Feels Love?” single.

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She said, “Don’t ring while he is here,” and gave me back my poetry.

April 17, 2009

Well dear readers, as if the Proclaimers version of “Five O’Clock World” wasn’t enough for you, I’ve got even more of a bonus for you heading into the weekend — a whole new post! My superiors showed a rare case of generosity this afternoon and on account of the number of hours put into the office this week, gave me an early out today. 

After doing a bit of walking around Madison on this glorious day and finding a painfully affordable copy of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (a book I’ve been meaning to read for years now), I’ve found a quiet spot outside to read and do a bit of blogging.

Obviously the previous incarnation of this blog had a lot of various series going for it, most of which should carry over, but one that didn’t show up as often as I might have liked was a series called “ComBlete” where we examined that wonderful thing of the 1990s — the CD single that contained three or four exclusive tracks.

As much as I like iTunes and means of sharing, obtaining and releasing music on the internet, there’s really no payoff anymore for the true fan is there? It used to mean a lot to go into a record store, peruse the import section and find some rare copy of a four-year-old single that’s long since been deleted in its mother country but still contains songs that never even saw the light of day over here. Now odds and ends are there for anyone with a search engine. Of course I take advantage of it, but as I see more and more record stores disappear, I slightly ache for the kids that will never know the joy of finding a host of treasures and debating what to spend what little hard earned dosh they have from their part time retail jobs on. I always loved that turmoil. My family and friends hated it though, because it always meant I spent hours in music stores…

Anyway, one of my biggest gripes about artists’ CD singles was always directed toward those who wasted B-side space with superfluous remixes. Oddly, as I grow older, I’m actually developing the smallest little soft spot in my heart for remixes. I have respect for remixes if they can preserve the integrity of the song and create something interesting as opposed to looping a 5-second clip of the bassline and one line of singing from the song over and over for eight minutes.

When Billy Bragg released the single for “Sexuality” (his smarmy ode to conscientious free love, co-written with Johnny Marr) from his Don’t Try This at Home album in 1991, he put two different remixes of the song on the B-side. They both  sound very much like early 1990s remixes, but they also actually keep the verses and choruses in tact which is kind of interesting. And after years and years of listening to the album version of the song (you know, because I always detested anything with a ‘remix’ tag in parentheses) it’s kind of refreshing to hear different interpretations of the song, but still preserving Billy’s delivery. Plus the last track is “Bad Penny,” one of very best and most forgotten ruminations on unrequited love Billy ever wrote.

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Billy Bragg – Sexuality (Manchester Remix)
This remix was done at the hands of Owen Morris, who handled production duties on the first Electronic album and later had a hand in Oasis’ first three albums. The undertone has a bit of a ‘Madchester’ feel to it, but stays true to Johnny Marr’s guitar work and screws a bit with some of the song’s chorus harmonies, which is kind of enjoyable. Who knew you could groove to Billy like this, anyway?

Billy Bragg – Sexuality (London Remix)
If the Manchester remix took Billy onto the dance floor, the London remix insists you reconsider it after a hit of E. This remix actually reminds me of the sounds that would pervade the Stone Roses’ single, “Begging You,” four years later, but like the Manchester remix, the song’s skeletal structure remains. The refrain dolls up Kirsty MacColl’s backing vocals a bit, and while this version is a bit more droning and less earthy than the Manchester version, it’s also not completely intolerable. Coming from a recovering remixphobe like me, that’s high praise.

Billy Bragg – Bad Penny
Bragg actually wrote and demoed this song around the time of his 1988 album Workers Playtime, and the demo (which recalls his early days of just voice and electric guitar )can now be found on the rereleased version of the album. But the final version with full band in tow has a nice energy to it, too. Like several Billy tracks, though, the lyrics ultimately override whatever music sits under them. Sensitive boys all over the world will be able to relate to the story of a shy boy writing poems and songs for a girl who goes out with everyone else and only gives the author in question the time of day when she’s feeling a little lonely herself. “She comes back and asks me to sing all her favorite songs as if she’s never been away, as if she’s done nothing wrong. But I’ve come to the conclusion that she doesn’t realize a thing. And she probably still thinks I love her, and she doesn’t know that it’s a sin…” Amen. And just as heartbreakingly direct as his classics like “A Lover Sings” or “The Saturday Boy.” 

The song’s most entertaining video can be viewed here.

Enjoy and have a great weekend, all.