Originally written February 2013, revised April 2016.
During the dark period after the release of Be Here Now, the release of a collection of B-sides provided welcome support for a fan’s belief that Oasis still qualified as a band worthy of devotion. Noel Gallagher never had a more fruitful period of songwriting than he had during the first few years of Oasis’ existence, a period that was both prolific and marked by songs of exceptional quality. Oasis recorded so many great songs during that period that they couldn’t fit them all on Definitely Maybe and What’s the Story, Morning Glory? Ergo, we have The Masterplan.
While I wish “Acquiesce” had opened Morning Glory, its presence here tells that Oasis wasn’t just using The Masterplan to unload a bunch of crap on gullible fans who at the time would have flocked to the music stores to buy Liam Gallagher’s Greatest Kazoo Hits. Featuring fabulous dual vocals (Liam on the verses, Noel on the chorus), “Acquiesce” is a driving, loose, explosive rocker that is one of my all-time favorites. In the little room where I listen to music, I only have one picture hanging on the wall: an art piece containing the lines from “Acquiesce” that expresses my most cherished beliefs about human togetherness and human potential:
Because we need each other
We believe in one another
I know we’re going to uncover
What’s sleepin’ in our soul
The B-side to “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” “Underneath the Sky” opens with a frantic double-speed guitar that eases into a mid-tempo groove that in turn supports a melody floating over a chord pattern mingling minor-seventh, major-seventh and sustained fourths. When you combine more complex chords like that into a song, it’s more difficult for the listener to fixate on the root notes of the chords, so “Underneath the Sky” has an airy feel to it, with a flow that seems effortless. This tale about the desire for the freedom of anonymous rootlessness (forced or unforced) is both rich and delightfully melodic.
Noel wrote “Talk Tonight” after one of the many dramatic near break-ups that characterized the band’s history. A quiet, introspective acoustic number characterized by remarkable vulnerability in lyrics and delivery, “Talk Tonight” is one of those archetypal songs that simply had to be written by someone at some time or another. It’s followed by “Going Nowhere,” a song that would have been much better without the cheesy horns in the verses. Following that rather sleepy song, the hot guitar riff that opens “Fade Away” comes as a blessed relief, although the initial energy is sapped by breathtakingly boring drum work that fails to keep up with Liam’s energetic vocal. The instrumental “Swamp Song” follows, the only track on The Masterplan that clearly qualifies as filler material.
I’d always thought that what made “I Am the Walrus” such a great song was not all the special effects but the underlying baseline rock pattern that gave Lennon and friends solid ground on which to play with possibilities. That hypothesis is proven in Oasis’ version of the song, a live-performance, no-nonsense kick-ass rocker delivered with energy and commitment. It’s followed by “Listen Up,” a song that sounds like a lesser version of the classic “Live Forever.” On the other hand, “Rocking Chair” is one of those songs that makes you want to pick your acoustic guitar and learn it so you can play it with friends on those occasions when slight drunkenness neutralizes your stage fright. The song flows naturally and easily, and the chords are indeed grouped in such a way that it’s an easy song for the amateur to master.
Noel’s second acoustic number is the country-tinged “Half the World Away,” a soft and wistful tune about that vague feeling of restless dissatisfaction that comes upon us from time to time when we feel out of touch with the world:
I would like to leave this city
This old town don’t smell too pretty and
I can feel the warning signs running around my mind
And when I leave this island I’ll book myself into a soul asylum
‘Cause I can feel the warning signs running around my mind
I can so relate to those lyrics right now as I negotiate my way through a period of moving away/moving towards.
“(It’s Good) To Be Free” is a darker song than the title would lead you to believe, and though I like Liam’s vocal, this song doesn’t quite work for me. On the other hand, “Stay Young” is one of Oasis’ most positive and anthemic songs, a song that might have significantly improved the feel of Be Here Now had it been included instead of being relegated to obscurity as the B-side of “D’You Know What I Mean.” With a great melody, strong chorus and Liam singing with warm enthusiasm, “Stay Young” is one of Oasis’ most optimistic numbers:
They’re making you feel so ashamed
Making you taking the blame
Making you cold in the night
Making you question your heart and your soul
And I think that it’s not quite right
Hey! Stay young and invincible!
‘Cause we know just what we are
And come what may, we’re unstoppable
‘Cause we know just what we are.
“Headshrinker” takes off like a Corvette from a dead stop and just keeps on flying down the highway. Almost punk in terms of its frantic energy, this is Oasis kicking ass without apologies. After that welcome burst of energy, the epic title track commands your complete attention with its contrasting and subdued opening passage made even more captivating by the introduction of strings. How “The Masterplan” wound up as a B-side is anyone’s guess, as it’s a perfect album closer that could have been held to strengthen Be Here Now. The core message of the song is captured in the line, “All we know is we don’t know how it’s going to be,” an apparently contradictory comment to the expressed belief that “We’re all part of the masterplan.” In truth, life is a story written by our choices, and we will likely only see the design of the tapestry as we’re on our way out. Noel’s advice is “dance if you want to dance,” to follow your impulses rather than the script and let the plot emerge and surprise you. Beautifully arranged and featuring one of Noel’s clearest vocals, “The Masterplan” is a wonderful bookend to an album that opened with the equally strong “Acquiesce.”
The Masterplan has the same effect on me today that it did when I first heard it during my waning years of high school: I wished that Oasis would live forever. Well, that didn’t happen, but at least we have this wonderful collection that will indeed live forever regardless of any stupid shit one Gallagher brother says about the other in the future.