This weeks marks the theatrical release of the Oasis – Knebworth documentary. It chronicles the two historic nights Oasis played in England at the height of their immense popularity in 1996. So I felt it fitting to make this week Oasis week around here. We’ll start with the usual Album Of The Week, and I’ll get straight into it.
Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Released August 29, 1994 via Creation Records
Favorite Tracks – Live Forever, Cigarettes & Alcohol, Columbia
Creation Records had been plagued with financial troubles, at least somewhat owing to the ridiculous saga surrounding the recording of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Label founder Alan McGee sold half of the label to Sony and then needed to find a hit to stabilize finances.
He found his hit in the pubs of Manchester.
Oasis’ debut album was an instant success, smashing debut album records in the UK and also hitting platinum in the US. The “brothers’ war” between Noel and Liam Gallagher played out as great fodder for the British tabloids, both painting them as brash bad boys and keeping Oasis in the press. It was a case of instant success for some down on their luck blokes from Manchester, with that would come all the good and bad.
But let’s talk about the album itself. Definitely Maybe is a monster release and a stellar debut that belies the absolute inexperience of anyone in the band besides chief songwriter Noel Gallagher. These are songs of the hopes and dreams of working class people looking for something more than the doldrum of everyday life. It’s spelled out in the beginning on album opener Rock N Roll Star, and excellent banger than sets a hopeful, dream-laden tone.
The album contains several songs of varying scope and heft. Digsby’s Diner and album closer Married With Children are more fun tunes, not quite filler but also not exactly top-shelf stuff. Up In The Sky is a bright, rocking tune while Bring It On Down is a flat-out headbanger, on par with the title track from the second album.
Then there’s Columbia. This song is all about the atmosphere and vibe. This song isn’t about anything at all, or it’s about whatever you want or need it to be. Oasis would offer a few things like this, kind of “nonsense” songs, through their career. And honestly I love it – I just want to go full hipster and strut down the street with this as my theme music.
If one nonsense song wasn’t enough, the album brings another. Highlight single Supersonic is a heavy, mid-tempo affair with a whole lot of words that rhyme with each other and little else. It tells a story of … something or someone who does stuff on a helicopter and, well, that’s about all I get out of it. But it’s a solid song that stands out on a record filled with brilliance.
Sitting between the two “odd” tracks toward the album’s end is Slide Away. A masterful tune, this is a quintessential love song from the Britrockers. And it is actually a love song, unlike Wonderwall, which shocks some people when they find out it’s not a love song. (Seriously, go look up what Wonderwall is really about. Then sing Slide Away to your boo at your next drunken karaoke night. Then consider the existential dread that Wonderwall truly envelops. Then go back to another drunken karaoke night.)
Another favorite of mine is Cigarettes & Alcohol. Yes, both the products and the Oasis song. This tune is a nod to the hollow pursuit of substance abuse to alleviate the strain and nihilism of working class life. Damn, if that ain’t the truth. I’ve been there myself many different times, or perhaps even for just one very, very long time. It’s a statement similar to that of Pulp’s smash hit Common People, though the latter includes some different commentary about how the working class are viewed. No matter the perspective, it’s kind of damn bleak out here, and it wasn’t any different in the early ’90’s.
This album does have one song that, in my estimation, stands head and shoulders above the rest. The song was, metaphorically and literally, an antidote to grunge’s sometimes miserable self-flagellation. Noel told NME in 2013 that he wrote Live Forever as a response to the Nirvana song I Hate Myself And Want To Die.
Live Forever is an amazing song that expresses the bonds of friendship, family, romance, or whatever between people. The song could be, and has been, played anywhere – weddings, funerals, dances, or just hanging with mates. It is a sentimental, sweet, perhaps melancholy yet ultimately triumphant celebration of those deepest, most meaningful connections between people.
Live Forever has been voted among the best of Britrock’s songs in multiple polls, often sharing space with the aforementioned Pulp hit and a few other Oasis tunes. Noel has called it the best song he’s ever written and Liam has said it was his favorite song as well. And it’s number 3 on my list of all-time Oasis songs.
Definitely Maybe was an amazing debut album that helped set the stage for the scene of Britrock to take over the world in the mid ’90’s. Oasis themselves would truly conquer the planet the next year with their second record. But the debut is absolutely possessing of its own merits and is often, perhaps rightfully, regarded as their best overall record.
With the theatrical release of the Knebworth documentary coming this Thursday, I’ll take the rest of the week to discuss Oasis. On Wednesday I’ll pick out one song in particular, and on Friday I’ll address the “what if?” elephant in the room question that comes up when talking about Oasis these days.
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