The best decision Oasis made in approaching Dig Out Your Soul is to not try to re-create Don’t Believe the Truth.
The best advice any artist can receive is, “When you’ve done your best work to date, forget about it and try something different.” There’s always a strong pull to stay with the patterns that generated both excitement and artistic satisfaction, but a creative moment is just that: a moment in time governed by variables unique to that time. It’s best to move on and explore new possibilities.
Oasis figured that out, creating a heavier and darker soundscape in Dig Out Your Soul in contrast to the more melodic, free-flowing and upbeat feel of Don’t Believe the Truth. The result is a work where they sound both confident and curious, exploring new directions while remaining strongly attached to their core rock foundation and the ever-present influence of The Beatles. The only regret I have about this album is that it turned out to be their last, because it made you look forward to what they might come up with next.
I was in the crowd at the WaMu Theater in Seattle where they began their world tour promoting Dig Out Your Soul. Unfortunately, in an all-too common example of the disorganization that too often characterized their promotional efforts, the album hadn’t come out yet! I suppose that was the reason why they pretty much stuck to Oasis classics and tracks from Don’t Believe the Truth. That was unfortunate, for Dig Out Your Soul may not be the masterpiece that Don’t Believe the Truth turned out to be, but it still one of their better albums. I wish I’d seen a concert driven by the mood of Dig Out Your Soul, which is almost the evil twin of its predecessor.
The album opens with the crunchy chords and throbbing toms of “Bag It Up,” establishing one pattern that would set a good part of the feel of the music on Dig Out Your Soul: half-step movements. Here there’s a descending triple half-step movement on the last line of each verse, moving from F to E7 to E-flat 7 to D. The bluishness of the movement is accentuated by the use of the seventh chords, which always convey tension. This kind of movement (which we’ll also see in “Shock of the Lightning”) gives the album a darker, grittier feel compared to the more optimistic scales used on Don’t Believe the Truth.
We also hear a single half-step descending movement at the start of the chorus on the minor-seventh dominated “The Turning,” reinforcing the comparative eeriness of the album. A second motif is established here: the rapture. Remember when a bunch of dumb ass Christians were getting ready to bash their heads into ceilings all over the world because they believed some nut who told them God was calling them home? Steve Miller would have been more bloody likely. Apparently, Noel Gallagher was fascinated by the concept (or the insanity of it all), for we have the line “When the rapture takes me, be the fallen angel by my side” in this song, and the next song is, voilà, “Waiting for the Rapture.” Also in a minor key, with another half-step move up in the chorus, this is a boozier song with more energy, some good old-fashioned Oasis kick-ass guitar licks and a delightfully energetic vocal from Noel. The song ends with the ever-present nod to The Beatles in the form of a “Dear Prudence”-like fade.
All the opening tracks are strong, but “Shock of the Lightning” is on another plane entirely. Dominated by oscillating half-step movement (B to B-flat and back), this is not only one of Oasis’ best rockers since their early heyday, it’s one of my favorite rockers of all time. The backing instrumentation is full, solid and consistently on edge, providing a perfect sonic stage for Liam Gallagher to deliver one of his greatest vocal performances. This is not the Liam of Definitely Maybe, whose natural timbre and cheekiness made up for a leisurely approach to pitch. This is an exceptionally disciplined lead singer in total command of his voice. The power that has always characterized his vocals is still omnipresent, but this is power with clear intent . . . and it’s fucking powerful. The very last line of the song, where he uses that command to capture the song’s oscillation pattern and stretches the word “time” into “ti-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay ay-ay-ay-ime,” gets my thighs grinding every time I hear it. Now that’s rapture!
In another great example of “stick to the simple,” I love how Noel’s lead solo tracks the melody instead of taking off in a different direction. Coming after the quieter passage and the lead in from Zak Starkey’s gloriously riotous drumming, the restraint he employs is very sexy indeed. I love a disciplined lover.
Liam isn’t done yet, folks. Continuing to develop as a songwriter, he gives us the album’s most beautiful composition, “I’m Outta Time.” Showing once again a natural feel for melodic flow, he delivers a vocal as sensitive and nuanced as he ever has. It’s also a very refreshing change from the heavier numbers that made up the first four tracks. The piano touches from “A Day in the Life” and the excerpt from a John Lennon interview once again pay homage to the masters of melodic rock ‘n’ roll.
I suppose that given Noel’s vision of this album as one he wanted to “completely throw the kitchen sink at it,” there had to be at least one track that should have been left in the can, so “Get Off Your (High Horse Lady)” should not come as a surprise. With a pattern very reminiscent of the horrid “Wild Honey Pie” from the White Album, the song has a grating sonic quality that is most irritating. Noel gets his head screwed back on with “Falling Down,” borrowing the drum passage and some of the soundscape from “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Much more melodic and dynamic than the preceding track, this would prove to be Oasis’ last single.
Much of the album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, which may explain why Dig Out Your Soul is their most Beatle-influenced album. This is further confirmed by another drone song, Gem Archer’s “To Be Where There’s Life,” where the drone comes not from a real sitar but a cheap plastic toy sitar that sounds ab fab. Oasis can’t help but put rock energy into such a song, and the result is a swaying, unified track heightened by an energetic vocal from Liam. It’s followed by “Ain’t Got Nothin’,” where Noel’s kitchen sink mentality leads to a muddled mess reminiscent of Be Here Now. This is followed by Andy Bell’s “The Nature of Reality,” a track with sort of a mystical bluesy feel that works well in the overall context.
Oasis’ final album closes with “Soldier On,” another excellent Liam Gallagher contribution and one of the few songs I know where the vocal delay patch actually works. The strength of the song cannot be found in the lyrics, which consist of short monosyllabic phrases, but in the thumping groove, insistent drone and clean arrangement. Another song in a minor key, it puts the finishing touches on the dark unity that pervades the album.
No one in the world was surprised that Oasis called it quits. The Gallagher brothers were always calling it quits in one form or another throughout their run; this just proved to be the real deal. Liam moved on with Gem and Andy to form Beady Eye, whose debut album was a delight; Noel gathered his High Flying Birds and produced a debut album that was only so-so. There’s no question that they’re better together, as were Lennon and McCartney, but sometimes you have to move on. I was getting rather bored with their public sniping at each other, so I think I was ready for them to go, too.
Unfortunately, they’re still sniping at each other to this day, so now we have the noise without the beauty of the music to compensate for it.
Absolutely love reading your reviews, even if the erotic spin you put on everything sends this Englishman’s skin colour bright read! Would love to hear your thoughts on my favourite noughties rock band The Horrors. Skip the erratic debut and begin with sophomore Primary Colours. Keep up the great work!
Gee, I kinda like Strange House, probably due to my punk origins . . . but it’s sort of a one-off that doesn’t really connect with the rest of their work, like Radiohead and Pablo Honey. Primary Colours is the more logical place to start, so I will definitely put in on my list. Right now I’m catching up on some American music to make up for the lost time during my boycott, but I should be wrapped up pretty soon and then back to the Brits!
My apologies for causing you to blush. It’s just part of who I am.
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Good review! Just an aside: at least to me, “Get Off Your (High Horse Lady)” is very reminiscing of Tommy Tucker’s R&B classic “High Heel Sneakers” (no, they didn’t sample/quote the Beatles only). See/hear if you agree:
Yes! I knew I’d heard that sucker somewhere before!
[…] 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 […]