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 verse, Noel on 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 strong 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.
Originally written January 2013, revised April 2016.
I think I’ve mentioned that I have mixed feelings about Morning Glory. The great songs on the album are mindblowing masterpieces; the other songs are pretty much filler material. I wish they’d taken some of the B-sides that wound up on Masterplan and replaced songs like “Hello” and “She’s Electric” with “Acquiesce” and “Talk Tonight,” for example.
That said, I have to qualify my qualification. The songs that comprise the filler material are much, much, much better live. I never cared much for “Roll with It” until I heard them do it onstage, and now when I listen to Morning Glory I can bring up that memory and enjoy the song.
The truth is that Oasis was a great live band, a quality that has never really been captured on any of the live recordings available to the listening public. The reason why they were a great live band is because it was all about the music instead of the silly histrionics, gimmicks and special effects that dominate live concerts today. Oasis pretty much just fucking played, and man, could they fucking play!
And as Liam often mumbled, “We got the foo-kin’ songs, man.” And what really made those songs special is that they made you want to sing along with the band. Oasis concerts were always sing-a-longs, with everyone in the stadium or the hall belting out the lyrics along with Liam or Noel. Normally, I find such audience exuberance annoying because I want to hear the band, but in the case of Oasis, the excitement and all-out passion from the crowd was spine-tingling . . . and shit, I couldn’t help singing along, too! Morning Glory and Definitely Maybe are full of songs that are simply a gas to sing at full-throated volume.
The opener to Morning Glory is not one of those songs. “Hello” is an odd song in any case, but to open an album with it was a silly idea. If they’d opened it with “Acquiesce,” there would be no doubt about Morning Glory’s place in history. With the opening passage foreshadowing the title track, “Acquiesce” would have been a perfect fit. Instead, it wound up as a B-side of one of the many versions of the “Some Might Say” single, creating the best single since Hey Jude/Revolution. Oh, well.
“Roll with It” comes next, a rather pedestrian piece of music as well . . . then finally we get into the masterworks. “Wonderwall” remains a truly beautiful piece of music, with strings and acoustic guitar (album) or without (live). At one time or another, we’ve all been looking for someone to save us from our self-generated confusion; we temporarily fall into black holes and we just can’t seem to get our heads out of our asses. We know we’re failing, we know we’re out of touch, but that consciousness is useless unless someone can get through to us:
And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I would
Like to say to you
But I don’t know how
You’re gonna be the one that saves me
I’m really glad they decided Liam’s voice was best for this song, for while Noel has a pretty good set of vocal cords, Liam ‘s voice is more expressive and full of attitude. The attitude is important in “Wonderwall,” for Liam gives us the impression that the display of vulnerability described in the lyrics is something that had been bottled up for a long time.
Amazingly, “Wonderwall” is followed by a second masterpiece and my personal favorite, “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” This song is often presented as evidence that Oasis’ music was “derivative,” a definition attributed to Paul McCartney in an interview he did for Le Figaro—with “derivative” meaning “a cheap knock-off of Beatle music.”
“Bullshit!” say I. When I hear Oasis, I don’t hear much that sounds like Beatle music. For one, harmony is comparatively rare with Oasis but omnipresent on Beatle tracks. Second, Oasis rocked harder than The Beatles and their overall sound is heavier. The Beatles certainly influenced Oasis, in terms of song structure and the importance of melody in pop-rock, but it’s much more accurate to say that Noel and Liam drew inspiration from The Beatles rather than try to copy them. To me, Oasis reinvigorated the tradition of great British rock of combining strong rhythms with strong melodies . . . something that McCartney lost touch with during his namby-pamby post-Beatles phase.
But let’s move on from the ungrateful Sir Paul and back to “Don’t Look Back in Anger.” From the opening “Imagine”-influenced piano chords to the sweet, sweet guitar solo near the end, you know you are hearing one of the best songs ever written, whatever the influence. The melody flows so naturally through this song that it always leaves me breathless in admiration; the words oscillate between sadness (“So Sally can wait/She knows it’s too late as she’s walking on by”) and defiance (“You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out”); and Noel delivers a vocal that rivals Liam at his best.
After this, we get to catch our breath with two fillers, “Hey Now” and the background noise of “The Swamp Song-Excerpt 1” before we get to the hard rock gem of the album, “Some Might Say.”
GodDAMN I love that guitar duet! Delivering one of the best opening riffs in rock over a background of sustained distortion, Noel fingers every bit of heat out of that Epiphone and makes us forget about Tony McCarroll’s rather pedestrian drumming (Alan White did the rest of the album, and he was no Zak Starkey either). The words alternate between the strange (“The sink is full of fishes”) to the endlessly quotable:
Some might say they don’t believe in heaven
Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell
Some might say, you get what you’ve been given
If you don’t get yours, I won’t get mine as well
This is one of my favorite Noel Gallagher verses. The first couplet urges us not to get hung up on the religious connotation of the words “heaven” and “hell,” but instead view “heaven” as “hope” for the person whose life is a living hell. And I love the common fucking sense of the last line—common sense that completely escapes my American friends. I often quote that last line when my American friends ask me, “Why are you a socialist?” a riposte often followed by a confused, uncomfortable silence.
Then it’s back to the filler material, with “Cast No Shadow” and “She’s Electric,” okay songs that really belongs on Masterplan. Once again, Liam comes to the rescue with his fabulous vocal on “Morning Glory.” Whether “morning glory” refers to that gorgeous and very convenient hard cock that men awake to or is just a phrase that floated into Noel’s brain, this is a song that Liam sings with power and attitude. It’s strong on the album, but even better in a packed stadium, where there are no limits on how his voice can travel.
After a reprise of “The Swamp Song,” we hear the gentle waves that introduce “Champagne Supernova,” the album’s epic closer. As is apparent throughout Morning Glory, Noel’s wrote a good chunk of the lyrics while out of it, so we have scraps of references to Beatle songs, unusual imagery and illogical lines like, “Slowly walking down the hall/Faster than a cannonball.” What’s remarkable about the lyrics is that they still work on an intuitive-attitudinal level; it’s as if part of the theme is the experience of rock star success that became the band’s reality a few seconds after Definitely Maybe ripped into the listening public’s consciousness. Noel’s observation in Rolling Stone rings true in that context: “What’s the Story is about actually being a pop star in a band.” And that experience usually includes a whole lot of stimulants.
Wake up the dawn and ask her why
A dreamer dreams she never dies
Wipe that tear away now from your eye
Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?
Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova in the sky
Liam gives us a restrained, detached vocal that captures the mood of the post-crash reflective experience. In his delivery, “Champagne Supernova” captures another of the strengths of Morning Glory—the details aren’t as important as the feel, the attitude, the experience. I may not care for half the tunes on this album, but the whole is both unique and captivating—and you couldn’t have come up with a better ending than “Champagne Supernova.”
The excesses of the period finally caught up with the band in the follow-up album, Be Here Now, an album that excited me when I first heard it but is one I rarely play now. The best way I can describe that album is it sounds like a bunch of guys pretending to be Oasis and not pulling it off. Looking backwards, it seems that Morning Glory was an early peak that led to a pretty dramatic crash from which Oasis recovered very slowly with the generally sub-par works Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and Heathen Chemistry. Fortunately for us, they made a remarkable recovery with the one of the best albums ever made, Don’t Believe the Truth and followed it up with a great piece of work in Dig Out Your Soul before bowing out of the scene.
But they left us some great and memorable music, including Morning Glory. It might be uneven, but to borrow a phrase, it has the foo-kin’ songs, man.