Love or loathe Oasis, at their Britpop peak they helped make pop songs important and exciting again. With (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, the band’s crowning achievement, they managed to define their era – the fag end of Conservative rule, the promise of New Labour (yes, it was that long ago), the euphoria of Euro ’96. Not since 1966 did it feel this good to be British.
All that really does seem half a world away as we’re confronted with Oasis’s difficult fifth album (sixth if you include the Masterplan b-sides compilation, seventh if you factor in the live LP). The bloated egocentricity of Be Here Now, the sheer mundanity of Standing On Shoulder of Giants (how many tunes can you hum from that album?) left the Gallaghers with much to prove.
Long before the release of Heathen Chemistry there were mutterings about the band’s long-term decline and the virtual drying up of Noel Gallagher’s considerable songwriting talents. The two were always indelibly intertwined. When Noel soared, as on Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger, so did Oasis. When he was only working at half throttle, as on the last album, Oasis merely cruised.
The omens certainly weren’t good for this album, mainly because only six songs are Noel’s – democracy was ever imperfect – the band settling all too easily for run of the mill rockers like Hung In A Bad Place, written by Gem Archer, and Andy Bell’s inconsequential instrumental A Quick Peep. Liam’s songs – Songbird, Born On A Different Cloud and Better Man – have a certain innocent charm but, for all little brother’s pretensions, he’s no John Lennon.
Which leaves Noel’s contributions. The Hindu Times – The Beatles‘ Tomorrow Never Knows via Anarchy In The UK – is simply magnificent, full of the old Oasis swagger, while Stop Crying Your Heart Out has the same air of world-Big Brotherry defiance as Don’t Look Back In Anger. Both are as good as anything in the Oasis catalogue, while Force of Nature, which may or may not be about Noel’s ex-wife, smoking his stash and burning his cash all over town, is not far off, Gallagher at his most enjoyably nasty.
By contrast Little By Little and (Probably) All In The Mind are Oasis by numbers, while She Is Love is a gentle love song that, followed as it is by two of Liam’s efforts, merely assures that the album ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.
A job only half done then. Oasis will still sell-out stadiums and the summer festivals but they can do better than this – much better.