When I first heard Heathen Chemistry, I wanted to fling it into the nearest body of water. Fortunately, Noe Valley is in the dead center of San Francisco and both the bay and ocean lay beyond the boundaries of reasonable walking distance.
After a couple of months of failing to find something decent to listen to in the new releases of the period, I played it again. I still wasn’t particularly happy with it, but I had to admit I liked a couple of the tunes. What I didn’t like about it was it lacked a feeling of togetherness, of unity. My intuition was confirmed when I found out that Liam didn’t bother to go to the studio to record his vocals for months, after the rest of the band had finished their work. Heathen Chemistry reminded me of a bad version of Abbey Road; it had the funereal feel of musicians splitting in different directions.
Little did I realize that Heathen Chemistry was the starting point for those different directions to merge, instead of the bitter end that awaited The Beatles after the final note of “Her Majesty.”
Looking back through the lenses of Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul, I see Heathen Chemistry very differently. I still think there are some godawful songs on it, that the recording quality isn’t what it should be and that the new lineup hadn’t gelled yet. What I do see now are signs of rebirth: Noel singing with much more confidence, the hint of new directions in the contributions of Gem Archer and Andy Bell, and the fact that when he was in the mood, Liam Gallagher could still bring it.
I’m surprised I didn’t like “The Hindu Times” from the get-go. It’s one of Oasis’ best rockers; certainly the best since “Some Might Say” and “Acquiesce.” Liam may have been late to the party, but he hits all the right moods and modes on this one. Maybe I was in a pissy mood because I was expecting so much; maybe it was the lingering 9/11 blues.
Then again, I might have been on the rag. Women!
I rather like “Force of Nature,” a mid-tempo rocker that Noel delivers with surprising strength and cool hardness. Unfortunately, his brother doesn’t live up to his billing in Gem Archer’s “Hung in a Bad Place,” which I suspect I would have liked had Liam cleared his sinuses before stepping up to the mike. I also don’t care for “Stop Crying Your Heart Out,” as the simple melody falls under the assault of an overwrought arrangement.
Making it three in a row, I don’t like “Songbird” either, where Liam’s budding songwriting talents are still comfortably ensconced in the bud. The chord pattern is so simple and boring that the various keyboard frills added by the band fail to save it. I was very surprised that it was released as a single; perhaps the Brits were as desperate as I was during a particularly weak period in music history.
Noel comes back to save things with a power ballad, “Little by Little,” where the band delivers a tight, rough backing to support his belt-it-out vocal. “A Quick Peep” was the only track on the album that I liked on the first pass, a well-constructed instrumental with great flow that sounds like no other song in their catalog, thanks to Andy Bell.
Unfortunately, this snappy little number is followed by two disasters. “(Probably) All in the Mind” is “Who Feels Love: The Sequel,” and as is the case with most sequels in any field of the arts, it sucks. Oasis really didn’t get the drone genre down until “Dig Out Your Soul,” and this number clinches that argument. After that is the way-too-cheery, “She Is Love,” which belongs on the B-side of a single produced by a one-hit wonder in the country-western field.
“Born on a Different Cloud” is yet another attempt at the album-ending opus that goes on way too long, given the weakness of its melody and lyrics (partially borrowed from “Working Class Hero”). The song also takes some odd and unsatisfying directions before returning to its predictable baseline. The album seems to end with “Better Man,” a muddled mess of a song . . . but after 30 minutes of silence, we get what really is Heathen Chemistry’s final song, “The Cage.” Needless to say, it’s hardly worth the wait or the trouble.
It shouldn’t be surprising that after hearing this album and the stories of more brotherly bickering that I thought that Heathen Chemistry represented Oasis’ death throes. I remember thinking at the time, “Shit—another fucking band I like has pissed it all away.” I knew Oasis was capable of so much more, but I also knew from following baseball that all the fucking high-priced talent in the world won’t save your team unless the guys can get their shit together. I didn’t think these guys would ever get their shit together.
Man, was I wrong!