Friday, August 04, 2006

album reviews: Oasis

Be Here Now
(Sony, August 26, 1997)

The album that exterminated Oasis' international stardom, Be Here Now (or as one Amazon commentor put it, Be - Ware Now, LOL!) is the third and lesser of the bands three efforts up to this point.

"I think it's a genuine shame that these songs are so bloated, because there's real good songs getting dragged down in their length: four seven-minute songs and one nine-minutes, this album just goes on too long and killed Oasis' megastardom."

"A disastrous comedown
You see, Be Here Now must be viewed as the album that destroyed Oasis' reputation. Whilst most British people still like some Oasis anthems from the first two albums, their public image went from brilliant rock idols to soggy Northerners making copycat, soggy songs."

It was a calculated gamble on Noel "The Chief" Gallagher's part, and his overly-conservative songwriting cost him. Sure, Wikipedia shows the album has sold 8 million copies, but that's less than half of 1995's What's the Story (Morning Glory) sales. And to put it into context today, Oasis' subsequent albums are selling less than half of Be Here Now on average. Outside of their loyal fan base, the music community at large doesn't have an interest in them anymore. I understand the very nature of "pop" music has a 'here today, gone tomorrow' market, but acts like U2 continue to attain a larger fan base through the years. Not the case with Oasis. Their popularity has been, for the most part, relegated to the UK.

The problem derived, as has been mentioned before, from too much sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, but also Gallagher underestimating his audiences interests. Be Here Now was partially What's the Story (Morning Glory) II with an overblown production, as three fans say:

"Indeed, Be Here Now seems thrown together for the sake of pleasing a salivating British public, who, like me, wanted more Morning Glory?."

"The rockers lack the intensity and the credibility of Definitely Maybe and the ballads are practically identical in structure to Morning Glory's."

"I will admit that the sound is much like older Oasis recordings, but that's just the problem. It's TOO much like the older stuff and sounds suspiciously like the Gallaghers were in a hurry to turn out something - anything - a.s.a.p. What makes this album so bad is that it was hyped SO much, which left this Oasis fan with a sharp sense of being taken for a ride."

Before I get into my own views on the album, I'd like to touch on the matter of music's subjectivity. It's been said many times before that everyone is entitled to their own opinion on art. But even though that can be said most of the time, is it not also possible to occasionally prove otherwise? Here's one persons take on the majority of Amazon comments...

"Please read the bad and fair reviews on this album before considering buying it because I think they say a lot more about the album then the good reviews posted by fans who think anything Oasis is good. No way! Definitely Maybe is an excellent album, Morning Glory is good, and then this?! The songs all sound the same, most are way too long, and they have a lot of bad guitar distortion, repitition, but nothing precise and good."

Lets take a further look at some of the contradicting examples given at Amazon...

"As with any Oasis album, there are the references to John, Paul, George, and Ringo. "All Around the World" is a direct copy of Hey Jude, and the lyrics of the songs are almost carbon copies of Beatles' songs (The fool on the hill/And I feel fine). That is permissible, however, because the music is damn good."

"This album is wonderful. Every song is great. "All Around the World" and "D'you know what I mean" are particularly good. I'm a huge Oasis fan, and I consider this album to be one of their best. There is one drawback to the album, though: they don't try anything new."

"Their classic Britpop sound is sort of drowned out by the multiple guitar layers that permeate this album...but that's not really a bad thing. Hey, Britpop is cool, but it can get repetitive."

"I know it is a bit repititous by the time you get to the last couple of songs, but when the first few songs are as good as this, who cares if they go back on themselves?"

"... a genuine '90s masterpiece."

"although I always disliked "All Around the World"-can you say 5 minutes too long?
Truth be told, though, they always have, and probably will always be in some fashion, good at this sort of manufactured, mindless pop. The lyrical fragments in each song are sometimes repeated 2 or 3 times, with the lines a bit rearranged each time, and what lyrics there are are pretty uninspired ("Don't go away/Say that you'll stay/Forever and a day"). The riffs are circular and generally uninspired. But it's so crunchy, loud, rocking (even on the slower songs like "Magic Pie" and "Don't Go Away"), and sincere (especially when they aren't trying to make a point like on the leadoff "D'You Know What I Mean") that it's hard to resist even for someone like me who (I think) has standards."

"Also, Noel is writing very long dreamy heavy rock songs and rock ballads that are well-crafted, yet that go nowhere and in circles but just enjoy doing that, cause that's what it's all about anyway, ehs?"

"Sure the lyics don't make much sense sometimes, but who cares. It's just music."

"Having watched Oasis flounder with "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" and "Heathen Chemistry," and regroup with this year's "Don't Believe the Truth," it's easier to judge "Be Here Now" in context. It's a sprawling, out of control record that has a life of its own."

"I don't think any band could purposefully set out to make a record this audacious. "Be Here Now" is a product of a band that was too high and wrapped up in their own fame to believe they had limits. When you listen to it now it sounds overblown in the best way possible-- like T.Rex's "The Slider" or the "Use Your Illusion" records."

"The sound is huge, arena rock. The songs last too long. The album as a whole lasts too long. The cover art is ridiculous. The lyrics are ridiculous. It's almost a parody. But beneath it all, the songs are good. It's loud. It sounds great when you're drunk. There are a couple of good ballads that might even cause the drunk girl next to you to drunkenly make-out with you. In short, this is what rock n roll is supposed to be."

Even the respected Stephen Thomas Erlewine (AMG) seems to be suspiciously contradicting himself...

"And that self-possessed confidence, that belief in their greatness, makes Be Here Now intensely enjoyable, even though it offers no real songwriting breakthroughs."

" create impossibly catchy songs that sound fresh, no matter how many older songs he references. He may be working familiar territory throughout Be Here Now, but it doesn't matter because the craftsmanship is good."
-STE [1]

Or IMO uncritical...

"This album is great to listen to and was unfailry snubbed by all those set-in-their-way alternative music fans who think its cool to hate Oasis."

"I like every song they have ever written..."

"Once again the boys of Oasis have created a musical and Lyrical masterpiece, no matter what anyone says."

Then those who agree their are problems with Be Here Now...

"This album shows that Noel Gallacher has gotten too big for his boots - why make the tune 4 minutes when I can make it eight? - didn't anyone tell him that we do not need the chorus to be repeated 50 times?"

"Songwriter Noel Gallagher's hooks have always been painfully derivative of The Beatles, but now he seems to have decided to hang a sign around his neck with lyrics like: "The fool on the hill and I feel fine," and "Down the long and winding road and back home to you." And those are just the ones that spring to mind. Also, he's named one of his songs "Stand By Me," which is hardly original, either. Hell, Lennon even covered a song of the same name, a song which dates back decades. There's not a copyright on names, no, but still, certain titles reach the point of public awareness that they should then be left alone by future songwriters. "Stand By Me" would definitely qualify as one of those titles. All of this could be forgiven, though, if Noel had concentrated on songwriting rather than production. People accused The Beatles of overproduction on Abbey Road, but Noel's one up on them with Be Here Now."

"Oasis slipped a bit here. Noel can still write great songs, but his guitar playing is starting to sound similar. He has great riffs, but you can here a lot of other songs in his "new" ones."

"And much like a stream of consciousness we find "Be Here Now" moves from thought to thought without any clear indication of change or direction."

"While the album title is a quote from John Lennon, and the songs are filled with references to Beatles songs ("The Fool On the Hill," "The Long and Winding Road," "Let It Be," "Helter Skelter""

"Coming off of what is arguably Oasis' best album, (What's The Story) Morning Glory?, they would return with the tasty (if not somewhat derivative) Beatle-ish Brit-pop infectiousness that was their stock in trade. So, what's different this time around? Not much, except that some of the songs tend to run much longer than they need to.

And this is where the album precisely suffers. Had some of the tracks been trimmed down in length -- or had been removed, altogether -- this would definitely rank right up there with their earlier classics."

"Sometimes, the songs don't really go anywhere, and become annoying..."

Rolling Stone...

"...and guitarist Noel Gallagher's best songwriting is based on repetition: elementary riffs and choruses slowly, inexorably digging beneath your skin. He can literally beat a good idea to death; nine and a half minutes of "All Around the World" is at least five minutes of "Hey Jude"-meets-"Let It Be" too many. And why do pop stars think they need big orchestral arrangements to sound important?" -RS [2]

According to a couple fans, even Noel has problems with the album(s):

"Noel Gallagher himself in an interview disowns Morning Glory, Be Here Now and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants."

"Noel Gallagher has refused to play anything from BHN since the world tour of 1997/98"

Here's Noel acknowledging:

'When people ask why this album took so long, I say, "Because we're lucky," ' he shrugs. 'I would fight anyone in the street to have three years to follow up Morning Glory. We rushed Be Here Now. We went on a huge tour, all fell out, then we came back. Instead of taking a year or two off, and basking in all the glory of all the records we sold and all the money that we made, instead of buying big houses, we went straight back in the studio. I'm definitely taking another three years before the next one.' -[3]

Q: Why do you think Be Here Now is so mediocre?
First of all, the songs are too long and the lyrics are rubbish, it's just an album I don't like very much. We were just getting our royalty checks from (What's the Story) Morning Glory? and we had more money than you could dream about. It was drugs, girls, and one big f---ing party all the time. But in the middle of all that we were trying to make an album and since we're not Coldplay the quality on the record suffered, because we simply partied too much and made a lot of noise. I would never change anything, but the truth is I don't remember that much from that time except for the album, which I don't like. So I guess we learned a lesson from that.

It's been a problem with Oasis' music since '97: where to go next? Even Noel acknowledged this in Paolo Hewitt's "Getting High" right before the making of Be Here Now. 1994's Definitely Maybe was much more outright rock and homage (Chapter 1), and the generational melodic pop of 1995's What's the Story (Morning Glory?) (Chapter 2). Oasis have since to this day unsuccessfully created Chapter 3. Too many of their songs sound like shells of past glories.

However, this isn't to say Be Here Now is without its moments. D'You Know What I Mean? is a genius production and daring in its layers upon layers of psychedelics and backward loops. Where "Live Forever" was the song to a nation, My Big Mouth typifies the Gallagher cocksureness to a tee. The exploding intro of "24 guitars recorded on top of one another" is sonic brilliance even if the remainder of the track follows standard Oasis verse-chorus. ("'My Big Mouth' was more concerned with the volume of the song rather than the tune. It didn't do anything interesting, but it has a rousing chorus you can't help but like.") (This is what has dogged Oasis since then; the volume of their recordings rarely matches their level of arrogance.) Noel's solo guitar work on My Big Mouth this is top notch. I've never understood the backlash Magic Pie gets? Yes it's overproduced and sloppy, but compared to the rinse/repeat epics of All Around the World and It's Getting Better (Man!!), structurally it does a much better job of moving along and justifying it's 7 minute length. Noel even said lyrically this was in his Top 5. (""Magic Pie," sung by Noel, which uses original lyrics to conjure up the life of a one-time rock 'n' roll star who's come and gone.") The two other standouts are the country-western guitarslinger FadeIn-Out (with terrible lyrics but great Johnny Depp slide guitar) and the beautiful melodic ballad, Don't Go Away.

After that I'm afraid it all falls into uninteresting predictability. There are also some sequencing issues. Putting the sameyness of Stand By Me (cliched guitar & orchestral chorus), I Hope I Think I Know (stagnant) and The Girl In the Dirty Shirt (bluesy piano, tiring chorus) together was a mistake. It really took the life out of the album in the 4,5,6 slots. The title track doesn't really help matters either with more familiar guitar chords and a *toilet flush* effect that is more indicative of where the latter half of the album is heading than making a cocksure statement. All Around the World... well, lovely video anyway. (" the two-part "All Around the World." Making it go on for almost 12 minutes on two tracks is totally unnecessary."; 9:20 to be exact) It's Getting Better (Man!!) has to be heard to be believed. If you think the rest of the album is overlong, just wait till you hear this! Running 7 minutes, the song has kind of a cool guitar buzz going, but the rest of the track is terribly daft and predictable formula the first 5 minutes. But I'm not done. The outro, I don't think I've ever heard such a shocking ending. Liam & Noel repeat the chorus "It's getting better man" over 30 times without any variation. No, it's not getting better, man, and the means doesn't justify the ending! ("It's Gettin' Better (Man!!): Enjoy life and hope it gets a lot better. The length just makes it better. 9/10") The melodic Reprise is much more wholesome than its epic counter part. Short, sweet, and to the point without overstaying its welcome (that's if you can justify Noel's obsession of copying Sgt. Pepper). ["Oasis' Beatles fixation in sound (most notably "Magic Pie" and the album's beautifully Sgt. Peppered orchestra ending) and sentiment ("I got something in my shoe / It's keeping me from walking / Down the long and winding road... back home to you") is still intact on this album (which was partially recorded at... you guessed it - Abbey Road Studios)"] -[5]

The problems with Be Here Now are bewildering to say the least. Where was the editing? ("The band just needed more external input on this album") My theory is one of two things: (1) Producer Owen Morris was rumored as being just as coked up as the rest of the band, or (2) he could not give The Chief advice for fear of being fired, which is plausible given Gallagher's clout is documented in various Oasis books. What the answer is I guess remains a mystery.

What I really want to say is Be Here Now, barring a few instances, is an insult to rock 'n' roll. That a band can just throw together an album on the basis of past successes, as well as tossing together mostly meaningless lyrics, is inexcusable. It's an insult to bands in general who are unwavering creatively. It's not acceptable under any genre, and Oasis are still paying that price today with the demise of their popularity. I hope these examples are a learning tool. Because Be Here Now is arguably the most maligned album from a big-named band in the '90s.

1. D'You Know What I Mean? 7:42
2. My Big Mouth 5:02
3. Magic Pie 7:19
4. Stand by Me 5:56
5. I Hope, I Think, I Know 4:23
6. The Girl in the Dirty Shirt 5:49
7. Fade In-Out 6:52
8. Don't Go Away 4:48
9. Be Here Now 5:13
10. All Around the World 9:20
11. It's Gettin' Better (Man!!) 7:00
12. All Round the World (Reprise) 2:08



Blogger Nostalgic Nerd said...

"First of all, the songs are too long and the lyrics are rubbish, it's just an album I don't like very much. We were just getting our royalty checks from (What's the Story) Morning Glory? and we had more money than you could dream about. It was drugs, girls, and one big f---ing party all the time. But in the middle of all that we were trying to make an album and since we're not Coldplay the quality on the record suffered, because we simply partied too much and made a lot of noise. I would never change anything, but the truth is I don't remember that much from that time except for the album, which I don't like. So I guess we learned a lesson from that."

Looking back on this statement, I think what infuriates me more than anything is Noel's own contradictions. He says they "learned a lesson", but before he says, "I would never change anything". Sad.

8/05/2006 3:08 AM  

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