Album Of The Week – August 22, 2022

Yesterday, August 21, marked the 25th anniversary of a monumental album. While the band’s first two records would be known as worldwide sensations, their third one was a bloated mess that sold like hotcakes on release but quickly soured among the fans. It would be the final nail in the coffin of the musical movement the band had helped bring to international attention.

Oasis – Be Here Now

Released August 21, 1997 via Creation Records

My Favorite Tracks – D’ Ya Know What I Mean?, Stand By Me, Don’t Go Away

Oasis came into the recording of Be Here Now off the high of their historic live sets at Knebworth in August 1996. With their public visibility came the attention of paparazzi, and the Gallagher brothers made rich targets for the tabloid hounds. Add in a healthy dose of cocaine, and the table was set to record the third album.

It’s easy to see the one of the primary faults of the album without even playing it– 12 songs clocking in at 71 minutes. This isn’t a prog album and nothing justifies that kind of length. It’s coupled with curious production choices, such as excessive layering of instruments, that bog down what truly are some quality song ideas.

Nevertheless, we have this chonk of an album to get through.

D’ Ya Know What I Mean?

The lead single also opens the record. It’s one song that seems too long by its near 8 minute runtime but for some reason actually works. It’s also another of many Oasis songs that really aren’t about anything – this is just a rock in and rock out tune, not offering much in the way of discourse. Sure it has lyrics, but good luck analyzing them.

I do still quite enjoy this song even with apparent faults. It’s one of a few from the record that don’t throw me off and holds places in playlists I make today. The single did extremely well for Oasis, charting well in many different countries.

My Big Mouth

This is one of two songs from the record that were aired out live at the Knebworth gigs a year prior. It was a highlight of that live set but studio choices made render the studio version somewhat lesser. Here, Noel decided to layer his guitar a lot, and it did not enhance the song. It’s kind of a mess to listen to, even though a very good track is hiding under all of the guitar. The version on the Knebworth live recording is much more worthy than the studio cut.

Magic Pie

A song title that came about because Noel misread the word “magpie.” This track is interesting, in that it both sucks and is really good. The messy production suits the song well and the overall vibe is a melancholy affair that gets my attention. But the song is WAY too long and also there are a few stupid lyrics thrown in. Very much a mixed bag here.

Stand By Me

The album’s second single and one that sees a decent runtime at 5:55. Noel apparently wrote it after getting food poisoning but Noel at times also states that he doesn’t remember writing it, so who knows. This is one of Oasis’ strongest songs after the first two albums and it’s one from this album that works well without needing any real editing.

I Hope, I Think, I Know

For all the criticism of the album’s length, it’s a song that comes it at a very acceptable 4:22 that is a total castaway. The song isn’t “bad” per se but it’s totally forgettable. Should’ve been a B-side.

The Girl In The Dirty Shirt

Noel wrote this about his then girlfriend, who was ironing a dirty shirt because she didn’t bring enough clothing along for a tour. It’s a decent track that sounds good and isn’t burdened with overproduction.

Fade In-Out

A bluesy rock anthem that would be fine for most bands but does sound odd coming from Oasis. Overall it’s a pretty cool song, though. Johnny Depp played slide guitar on it.

Don’t Go Away

The album’s final single, released only in Japan and North America for whatever reason. It could easily be called the album’s best track, everything works here and there isn’t any room for criticism. It’s a sad affair about not wanting to lose someone close and might have been influenced by cancer scares among mothers of the band members around the time.

Be Here Now

The title track offers a pretty good rock tune with some annoying sound choices with whistling and a cheap piano (apparently Noel wrote the original piano line on a toy one belonging to Mick Jagger’s kid). The annoyances are minor though and the song is overall solid.

All Around The World

The album’s third single clocks in at over 9 minutes. The song is fine but not really needing that long to run. It’s a definite “homage” to the Beatles, something Oasis have been accused of being time and again. It’s not one I play very often.

It’s Getting Better (Man!!)

This was the other song played at Knebworth a year before seeing a studio release. The studio version has some sloppy production and is over a minute longer than the live version, another case where the live cut wins the battle. It’s still a decent offering.

All Around The World (Reprise)

We close out with another two minutes of All Around The World, because we needed to I guess.

Be Here Now was initially a massive success for Oasis. Out of the gate the album sold everywhere and cracked the top of the charts in 17 countries and an impressive number 2 in the US. The album went platinum in Britain within 24 hours of release and was the nation’s fastest selling album until Adele many years later.

And then people listened to the album they just bought in droves. Be Here Now quickly became the album most sold back to music stores. The critical reception was tepid and the band had fallen far short of delivering a masterpiece worthy as a follow-up to (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? Noel Gallagher would begin the process of re-producing the album in the mid 2010’s but abandoned the concept after only working with the first song.

Oasis would live on for another 12 years after the record, but the era of Britpop was now dead. Other influential acts like Suede, Blur and Pulp had intentionally abandoned the sound, while Oasis tried and failed to recreate the anthem rock magic of their first two records. The band would live on through reputation and a few scattered hits in the 2000’s, but the golden era of Oasis was over.

I do have a hard time truly summing up what I think of the album. There are good songs on it, and I think a few other songs would benefit from more attention to detail in the studio. But – I don’t think the album is a hidden goldmine of great music either. Many of the songs are secondary tracks and even some of the stuff that works doesn’t touch the heights of the first two records. The songs that stand out were the album’s singles and those are known quantities among the fanbase. The songs didn’t outshine the massive hits the band had in their early stage.

I could say that Be Here Now is one of their stronger albums when compared to the rest of the catalog, but that’s honestly saying more about the records that came after than it is finding strengths about this album. In the end I don’t think a better production job would have raised the album’s bar a whole lot, but a few tracks would benefit greatly from it. This is still a middling affair, even if more care had been taken to shape it sonically.

This was the end of the road for Oasis as a world-conquering entity. The past few years have seen a great deal of retro appreciation for the works that put the band on the map, but now we’re into the 25th anniversary of the work that marks the stopping point. The band is still broken up with little realistic odds of getting back together, and even that would be a celebration of hindsight as opposed to a new creative era. England itself would be no worse for the wear in the absence of Britpop, as Radiohead were queued up to command the music world’s attention just as Britpop was being laid to rest.

S-Tier Songs, Vol. 9

It’s time for a new entry in the S-Tier songs series. For an explanation of what that’s about as well as a list of the other songs, head here.

Today’s song is very well-known, in many cases it’s the band’s only known song in America. Many people know the song without knowing who the group is at all. It’s only two minutes long, it’s the second song off the album and my only blogging regret is not making it the second entry in this series.

Blur – Song 2

Blur entered 1997 in a curious position. They’d been crowned kings of Britpop in 1994 after their triumphant Parklife record and tour. In 1995 they seemed poised to build momentum with The Great Escape and their initial single Country House, but then the British press went mad for Oasis and left Blur in the dust, even going so far as to change reviews of the album. Oasis went on to become the biggest band in the world for awhile as Blur sat at home wondering what happened.

By 1997 Blur were ready to get back at it, and this time they were leaving behind the Britpop elements they had previously worked so hard to be known for. The group convened around more lo-fi and grunge sensibilities and released their self-titled album to a new world that was about to move on from the Britpop scene.

While Blur would become internationally celebrated for the self-titled album as a whole, it was Song 2 that would take on a life of its own and become the band’s most recognizable hit. And, of course, as the story goes with many of these hit songs, the whole thing was a joke and an accident.

The above video outlines the origin story of Song 2 as told by Blur guitarist Graham Coxon. The song began as an acoustic piece on Damon Albarn’s guitar, featuring whistling in place of the song’s now-immortal “woo hoo” bit. Coxon suggested adding a bunch of noise to the tune and actually playing it for the record company as a gag. Albarn obliged and the band turned in the fully-formed, distorted as all hell Song 2 to the record company. Instead of being met with a sour reaction, the label execs loved the tune and Blur were off the to the post-Britpop races.

Song 2 was a well-received hit in Blur’s native UK and it also did something the band had been previously unable to do – it broke in the rest of the world. Song 2 charted on the higher end in many countries and became a staple of college and modern rock radio in the United States. Britpop as a whole hadn’t fared massively well on American shores, save for Elastica and Oasis. But now Blur arrived with a grunged-up tune just in time for the post-grunge era to truly take over rock radio. The song has been a part of sporting events, video games and other media ever since its release 25 years ago.

Background and reception are all well and good, but what really is Song 2 on about? Well, it’s a two minute song full of lyrical nonsense. The most noteworthy lyric is “woo hoo,” it’s the signature part of the song and the one many folks know the tune by. A fair few people couldn’t tell you who Blur is or the name of the song but they know “the woo-hoo song” by heart. And nobody, including the people who wrote it, can tell you what any of it means.

And that’s the beauty of music – not everything has to have a pinned-down, easy to digest meaning. Song 2 is a total lark through the English language and its only memorable words aren’t even really words. The whole thing from lyrics to instruments is just noise being made and it all works splendidly together. That’s not to say no thought went into it – as Graham Coxon outlines in the interview video, he was looking for specific sounds. And he got far more than he bargained for, with the song often cited as his greatest work.

Why is this an S-Tier song?

Song 2 is a monument to absurdity and noise and it tackles its premise extremely well. The song was a huge hit for a band reeling in an identity crisis after the events of 1995. Their response was to shrug off the sounds of their given genre and explore new areas, which led to a new legacy for the group that would far outshine the Britpop movement. It’s a simple song with no comprehensible theme and it’s just a bunch of noise, but it captured the attention of people all across the world.

A Story And A Song, Vol. 3

Just a quick note – this series is an unconnected group of stories, just titled this way for summary purposes. Nothing missed before is necessary for this or the next, and so on. The category this is under on the right will lead one to other one-offs in this series.

This will be a bit of quickie. It’s a song and a quick story.

The song is this – the big hit from the Wallflowers in 1996. One Headlight would become the signature song for Jakob Dylan’s outfit amongst the alternative rock, post-grunge hits of the late ’90’s. It placed on multiple US Billboard rock charts and was a staple of mid- to late-90’s rock radio. The Wallflowers would have a few more noticeable songs, mostly from the same 1997 album Bringing Down The Horse, but One Headlight is the band’s bona fide hit.

Here’s the story – I think it’s 2018, or maybe 2019. It’s winter, so if it’s 2019 it’s just a bit before the pandemic came over to the United States. I can’t quite remember which winter this story fell into, but I recall the details clearly.

Several of us met up at a local brewery. Craft beer has been a social and economic boon the past decade, and our semi-sleepy Midwest town caught the late wave in the latter half of the 2010’s. One of the best ones in our town that now boasts 12 or 40 or however many has hosted music over their few years of existence. While now they have a mix of renowned local talent and hot regional acts come in to play on a prepared stage, such was not the case in 2018 or 2019 when this story happened.

I was out with several of my friends on that evening. As time wore on, our friends and significant others left us (for the evening), just leaving my friend and I behind at around 8 PM.

We were at one of those tall bench tables, standing and having a few more suds on a Saturday night. Around that time, some dude comes in and sets up shop with a mic, practice amp and an acoustic guitar. He does cover songs. A one-person project doing cover songs acoustically is not some huge deal, other than the guy is set up just a few feet away from us. We press on with our drinking and talking.

At some point this one-man band busts out his rendition of One Headlight. It was the first noteworthy song he did to point. My friend and I looked at each other with this combination spark of bewilderment and familiarity – “we know this song.” Then, “oh yeah, it’s that one song from way back when.”

We had to take a moment to assess this rendition being done basically in front of us. We started debating the merits of One Headlight and The Wallflowers. Are they worthy? Is it a good song or not? We defaulted to “nah,” but as the song went on we amended our two-person consensus to “you know, it isn’t terrible.”

We finished our brews and called it a night, leaving the one-man acoustic project whose name I can’t recall but I think was Tyler behind. Then I woke up the next day.

Come on, try a little, nothing is forever….

I had the damn song stuck in my head.

It’s ok. I’ve been jamming to music since I was like 5 and I was 43 at this point. I can hack this, I’ve had songs stuck in my head before.

But this wouldn’t go away.

Got to be something better than in the middle…

I honestly went for days with this song in my head. I get it, in a way – I really hadn’t heard it in many years and it was a sudden nostalgia trip. I have never had a song stuck in my head for as long as this ear worm crawled its way in. It was honestly days, even weeks that I had to play it. This wasn’t that momentary song you could get over after a bit – this fucker was straight stuck.

Me and Cinderella, we put it all together…

I had to reckon with this song for awhile. I’ve had songs stuck in my head that I don’t necessarily mind, but I don’t really want to be stuck with them. I’ve also had songs stuck in my head that I wish would die in a fire and the ashes be shot into the Sun.

But this was different. Hearing The Wallflowers again caused me to revisit the album and remember that, hey, I dug this stuff once upon a time. I do wind up in fond nostalgia from time to time, as I’m sure most music listeners do. This was one that had truly passed me by but I became re-acclimated through this dude with his guitar at the brewery on a Saturday night.

We can drive it home on one headlight…

That’s about all there is to this story. It isn’t world-changing or even that notable. Hell, it’s barely a story. But I do still vividly recall that night I got this damn song stuck in my head after nearly two decades of not hearing it. And now I’ll even cop to being a fan, even if on the edges, of The Wallflowers. Hell, they put out a record last year that I gave a minute to. It’s nice to get back in touch with something seemingly long lost, you only get so many of those moments before it’s all said and done.