After the disappointment of Be Here Now, the Gallagher brothers headed to La Belle France to record their next album. Unfortunately, they’d lost Guigsy and Bonehead somewhere along the way and hadn’t quite gotten around to replacing them at bass and rhythm guitar. They still had drummer Alan White, whose best work can be described as “adequate.” Noel Gallagher would wind up playing nearly all of the non-percussion instruments on the new album by default.
People often say, “things always happen for a reason.” Actually, dumb people say that. Though I don’t buy into the Grand Design Theory of Human Existence, I’ll make an exception for the way events unfolded on Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. If this album has any value at all, it was to convince the Gallagher brothers to get stronger and more reliable musicians in the band to share the load and add contrast and diversity to the music. This process began with the next album, Heathen Chemistry, and bore full fruit in the band’s masterpiece, Don’t Believe the Truth.
There are a few good things about Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, primarily in the form of more promising experimentation as Oasis brings in a slew of instruments from The Beatles’ creative heyday (sitar, mellotron and backwards guitar). This is where Oasis made their first steps in the direction of embracing drone-based songs, a development that would reach full expression in their swan song album, Dig Out Your Soul. Still, none of the songs on this album rank with their best, though if they’d recorded “Who Feels Love” with the same power they brought to the live version, it might be worthy of consideration. Noel admitted later that he wasn’t inspired as a songwriter at the time and needed to share the load with others. That strategy would pay off on Don’t Believe the Truth, where he regained his mojo and then some.
“Fuckin’ in the Bushes” opens the album and would wind up opening most Oasis concerts in the future. It’s probably the most interesting musical piece on the entire album, with Noel playing a solid lead, Alan White showing more energy than usual and a variety of organ and choral voices adding to the drama. The sound is a bit muddled, though, a problem that characterizes most of the tracks, due to overdub excess.
The next track, “Go Let It Out,” is a bouncy number where the most prominent feature is Noel’s strong bass performance. It was the lead single from the album, but in comparison to previous Oasis hits, it lacks excitement and energy. The bridge doesn’t seem to fit well with the verses, an example of a songwriter pushing too hard to come up with something different while forgetting about the flow. “Who Feels Love” follows, and as I mentioned above, the power they brought to this song in concert absolutely flattened me (actually it got me to jump out of my seat and engage in a series of hard thrusts with my ass in perfect rhythm with the beat). This is probably the most Beatle-like song they ever recorded, and you can trace how this drone song led Liam to the brilliant conclusion that Oasis should do a version of “Within You, Without You” (an idea Noel thought was loony at the time but turned out ab-fab).
“Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is” brings back the excessive muck that characterized Be Here Now, but oddly enough leads to the most clearly recorded song on the album, “Little James,” Liam’s ode to his young son. The lyrics are pretty Hallmark-card and rather sentimental, but Liam sings the song with sincerity and conviction. The choral vocal support is a sappy distraction, and way over the top for such a simple song.
“Gas Panic” never really twiddled my diddle, and worse, it’s the longest song on the album, so it’s a long time for me to go without some diddle twiddling. The next two songs are Noel vocals, and both “Where Did It All Go Wrong” and “Sunday Morning Call” should have been set aside for Masterplan II. I rather like the intro and drive of “I Can See a Liar,” but it makes me yearn for their more let-it-all-fucking-out days of yesteryear. The traditional album ending opus, “Roll It Over,” isn’t bad, but it falls a long way short of stunning.
I rarely recommend this album to people unfamiliar with Oasis, as I don’t think it shows them at their best. I see Standing on the Shoulder of Giants as the final act of Oasis: Phase One, a dead end that would inspire the Gallagher Brothers to seek a way out.