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Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis – Classic Music Review

whats-the-story-morning-glory2

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
Because maybe
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.

Oasis – Don’t Believe the Truth – Classic Music Review

Originally published May 2013, rewritten February 2016.

When Don’t Believe the Truth hit the shelves, I had pretty much given up on Oasis, mourning the loss of unrealized potential. The trajectory of the band seemed to be that of a plummeting roller coaster with lousy brakes. They had burst through the confusion of an aimless music scene of the time with Definitely Maybe, a ringing statement of the value of kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll and one of the great debuts in music history. What’s the Story Morning Glory became a classic as well, containing many of their most memorable and lasting songs. The cocaine and the crap caught up with them on the forgettable Be Here Now, though the negative impact was blunted by the subsequent release of The Masterplan, demonstrating the strength of their back catalog. The next two albums were clear disappointments, and only the most optimistic believed a revival was possible.

So, when Don’t Believe the Truth was released, I wasn’t exactly standing in line before the music store opened to snag a copy.

When I finally caved in and bought the damn thing, I listened skeptically to the first two songs and had what I would describe as a mildly positive but reserved reaction. One key moment in “Lyla” blasted any doubts I had to smithereens. I knew they were really serious when Liam climbed up the scale and snagged that high note on the line, “The world around us makes me FEEL so small,” a tiny moment that caused chills to shoot up and down my spine and send an electric charge to my sweet spot. “Fuck, yeah!” I screamed to the empty room. I stopped the playback immediately, returned to the beginning and listened to the entire album three times in a row. The next day I put it on first thing in the morning after my coffee and cigarette and it was only then I allowed myself to define exactly what I was hearing in Don’t Believe the Truth.

The long-awaited masterpiece.

Several things contributed to the vast and stunning improvement over Heathen Chemistry. First, the bullshit tension between the brothers took a back seat to the desire to make some great music. Gem Arthur and Andy Bell played stronger roles, giving the Gallagher boys some musicians who could not only play but write and make valuable contributions. Liam continued to grow as a songwriter, differentiating himself from his brother with his natural affinity for melodic flow. Finally, hiring Zak Starkey to pound the drums was a masterstroke, as the weakest part of the Oasis sound until that time had been the drumming. Don’t Believe the Truth was the first time Oasis had recorded an album where the drums really mattered.

The album opens with Andy Bell’s “Turn Up the Sun,” with its magical guitar arrangement building to a fabulous climax and setting the stage for Liam to deliver one hell of an opening line:

I carry a madness everywhere I go

When I saw them do it live (in Everett fucking Washington, of all places), I closed my eyes for the intro and waited with nervous anticipation for Liam to sing that opening line with the confidence and command he showed on the record. Holy fuck, did he ever! He nailed it, bringing moisture to my eyes and clitoris. The song is power surrounded by magic, with take-no-prisoners power chords, full and satisfying bass and knock-you-on-your ass drum support. Some have commented that the song’s repeated message of “love one another” is so-1960’s, but I would respond, “Since when is the power of love limited to a decade?” “Turn Up the Sun” is a great song, as strong an opening track as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.”

Noel follows with “Mucky Fingers,” and it must be said up front that Don’t Believe the Truth contains Noel’s best vocal performances, and the songs where he takes control of the mikes are among his strongest creations. “Mucky Fingers” is a song about having to deal with bullshit people in the bullshit, competitive atmosphere of the modern city, an Noel exposes the superficial, unthinking, sound-byte culture for what it is:

You found your God in a paperback
You get your history from the Union Jack
And all your brothers and sisters have gone
And they won’t come back

I’m fed up with life in the city
All the phonies have blown my mind

“Lyla” follows, a song that is surprising on many levels, but the greatest surprise connected with “Lyla” is that Noel considered leaving it off the album! It wasn’t until he felt the reaction of a live audience to the song that he knew he had something. As I’ve mentioned before, the great Oasis songs command the listener to sing along, and the “Hey, Lyla” refrain is as good as it gets for sing-a-long purposes.

The arrangement is carefully constructed for maximum effect. The reverberating acoustic guitar that opens the song and fills the headphones establishes both the dominance of the root note (B), the core driving rhythm and the syncopated four-beat pattern that will reappear at crucial throughout the song. Zak Starkey joins in to reinforce the beat, then Liam enters in clear, confident command:

Calling all the stars to fall
And catch the silver sunlight in your hands
Call for me to set me free
Lift me up and take me where I stand

The bass doesn’t enter until the fifth line of the verse, ratcheting up the tension another notch. After Liam sings the closing lines of the second verse, “I waited for a thousand years for you to come and blow me out of my mind second verse,” Zak Starkey ramps it up with cymbal crash while the band remains absolutely fixated on keeping the core rhythm intact. The magic of “Lyla” is fueled by that insistent beat, and except for the four-beat vamp and a relatively brief passage containing the guitar solo, the core beat and the B-note drone never die. The discipline displayed in “Lyla” is a long way from the sassy, relaxed sloppiness of Definitely Maybe, but the outcome is still the same: great fucking rock ‘n’ roll.

Tip: If you’re trying to mimic the arrangement of “Lyla” and all you have is your acoustic guitar, always play the chords with an open B-string. Your version may lack the bottom of the original, but the open B maintains the drone and provides the drunks at the party enough of a hint so that they stay relatively on-key during the sing-along.

Liam developed a fascination with the Julie Christie of the 1960’s and enlisted Gem Archer’s assistance in creating an ode to her stunning beauty, “Love Like a Bomb.” Sung over a simple arrangement of flashing acoustic guitar and percussion, the melody floats along effortlessly, reflecting the dreamy fascination of a teenage crush. Liam’s vocal is unusually—dare I say—submissive, expressing the joy of discovering the magic of female beauty. Up to Don’t Believe the Truth, Liam’s songs were generally tunes with a pleasant juvenile quality but not much depth or imagination. That all changes from this point forward, as he proves elsewhere on the album and with his amazing contribution to Dig Out Your Soul, “I’m Outta Time.”

Meanwhile, big brother’s got more to say, and man, does he say it in “The Importance of Being Idle,” a song Noel proudly defined as a classic in the accompanying DVD. In this case, the egoism is entirely justified. With a “Sunny Afternoon” feel but with more oomph, this is Noel Gallagher at his songwriting best. The intimate nature of the song becomes clear in the final verses, as he speaks to the cocaine-driven excess of the early years:

I begged by doctor for one more line,
He said, “Son, words fail me.”
It ain’t no place to be killing time
I guess I’m just lazy.

I also love the way the lead guitar solo echoes the sound of the guitar in “Turn Up the Sun.” There are many of these connections throughout the album, in both the lyrics and the music, giving Don’t Believe the Truth a wholeness often missing in other Oasis albums.

“Meaning of Soul” provides a quick burst of rock energy driven by Zak Starkey smashing away at a cornflakes box attached to the snare (they were looking for a very specific sound and found it in the cereal cupboard). The song serves as a brief intermission and effective to the contrasting sounds and beautifully-woven melody of “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel.” Once again we hear Liam’s incredible gift for melodic flow, this time in a more complex number with slightly shifting rhythms between verse, chorus and bridge. In this case, the simplicity of the lyrics communicate wonder rather than childishness:

You could be my best friend
Stay up all night long
You could be my railroad
We’d go on and on
Let’s get along—there’s nothing here to do
Let’s go find a rainbow.

Noel comes back with a different take on the weirdness of modern city life in the more intense “Part of the Queue.” When he sings, “I’m having trouble just finding some soul in this town,” my snarky response is, “Yeah, good luck with that.” As a committed city girl, I find cities endlessly energizing, but ever since the technology boom turned most of my generation into money-obsessed losers, cities are becoming places for the wealthy, where the pursuit of riches and status has dampened the dynamism and sanded down too many of the delightfully rough edges that make a city come alive. I’ve seen it happening in San Francisco, in London, in New York and in Paris, and I appreciate Noel’s expression of feeling like a fish out of water in a place that still looks the same on the surface but has lost the soul that made it special. The arrangement is fascinating—almost a duet featuring Noel and Zak Starkey, who pounds the living crap out of those drums.

An even more powerful but more personal song of isolation in the modern world comes next in the form of Andy Bell’s “Keep the Dream Alive,” a majestic ode to the differentiation between the world truths and personal truths. The message in the lyrics is that the tension between the desire to manifest self and the difficulty of doing so within the endless limitations presented “the real world” can only be resolved through a commitment to those personal truths and belief in one’s imagination:

I’m no stranger to this place
Where real life and dreams collide
And even though I fall from grace
I will keep the dream alive

Opening with complementary acoustic guitar parts and Liam singing the simple melodic line, the song becomes both more powerful and compelling after Zak Starkey’s explosive entrance. You simply can’t underestimate the value of Zak’s contribution to this album.

Obviously Zak’s daddy paid close attention to what his offspring was up to, and Ringo was particularly proud of his son’s contribution to “A Bell Will Ring.” When you tune out the rest and pay close attention to the drums, it’s almost like son is paying tribute to father because the patterns echo two of Ringo’s signature contributions: “Ticket to Ride” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” This is Gem Archer’s songwriting contribution to the album and it is one hell of a contribution, an intensely satisfying beat-driven rocker enhanced by an edgy vocal from Liam.

Although far too soon for my tastes, Don’t Believe the Truth comes to an end with Noel’s “Let There Be Love,” which closes this masterwork by connecting to the theme established at the start of the album (love) as well as the imagery (sun and sky). Either symbolically or ironically, the vocal is a dual vocal with Liam taking the verses and chorus and Noel handling the bridge. In addition to being one of the cleanest vocal performances Oasis has ever recorded, the message of love is given credibility by the juxtaposition of real world human pain and suffering:

Who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me?
Who stole the soul from the sun in the world come undone at the dreams?
Let there be love, let there be love.

“Let There Be Love” is a beautiful ending to a beautiful album, the album that would prove to be Oasis’ masterpiece.

 

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