It was always going to end this way, the brothers Gallagher falling out in a shower of bruised ego, damning words and broken guitars. From the day Noel joined Oasis (or The Rain as they were then known) fireworks have never been far away. One early (unofficial) single, Wibbling Rivalry, consisted of an interview with the pair which escalated into a heated argument within seconds. That particular recording contained the following gem from Liam, “That’s why we’ll be the best band in the world, because I fuckin’ hate that twat there. I fuckin’ hate him. And I hope one day there’s a release where I can smash fuck out of him, with a fuckin’ Rickenbacker…” Although it took longer than expected for the arguments to splinter the band completely, the disharmony at the heart of the group was there from day one. It drove Oasis to be the most exciting British band of the ’90s and eventually it destroyed them “- not with a bang, but a tiff.
In the aftermath of Oasis’ split a retrospective collection was inevitable. Stop The Clocks, a potted history of their best bits is still fairly fresh in the compilation stakes, so Time Flies takes a slightly different tack by compiling the band’s singles over two discs.
Supersonic, the band’s first single (the white label release of Columbia doesn’t count as a single apparently) opens this collection, and still sounds as fresh and vibrant as it did sixteen years ago. It’s easy to forget the musical climate Oasis were swaggering into back in 1994, but to say they sounded out of place at the time is not unreasonable. The world at that time was in thrall to Grunge, introspection, and self loathing. Nirvana‘s rage filled In Utereo had been released to critical acclaim in September 1993 and artists such as Manic Street Preachers were heading in a similar direction. Rock stars didn’t want to be rock stars at all apparently. They hated themselves and wanted to die.
Oasis were pointing towards a new way. Released days after Cobain’s suicide Supersonic had a punk vigour about it that Cobain would have recognised, but it was driven with an ambition that was undeniable. When Liam sang about being a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, he meant it. From the introspection of grunge, rock music suddenly became about self belief, energy and enjoying yourself despite what life throws at you.
Those early singles, Cigarettes And Alcohol, Shakermaker and Live Forever are all wide eyed anthems that pinch from T-Rex, The Beatles, and er… Coca Cola, but the sheer unyielding belief in Liam’s Lydonesque sneering vocals and the wall of sound provided by Bonehead and Noel Gallagher made any accusations of being derivative seem inconsequential “- these were songs shot through with vitality.
Of course, having similarities to other artists wasn’t entirely without its pitfalls. The release of Whatever – distinctly more melodic and deft of touch than anything that preceded it – caused a few problems. Neil Innes, a man who made a name for himself with aping The Beatles with parody band The Rutles (among other things) sued the band for plagiarism, and was awarded royalties and a co-writing credit. Which proved if nothing else, that sometimes life writes the jokes for you.
With Roll With It the band offered a taster of their second album, but such concerns were far from the public’s consciousness when it became embroiled in a race for the number one spot. Pitched against Blur‘s Country House, the Britpop war was national news for weeks. Looking back, it’s only possible to speculate what might have been had Oasis released either Wonderwall or Don’t Look Back In Anger instead of the rather lumpen offering that eventually stumbled to number two in the charts. These two songs are the ones that Oasis will be most remembered for by many. With Noel reaching his peak as a songwriter, they were the soundtrack to the mid ’90s. Despite the laddishness that Oasis appeared to promote, the sentimental nature of this pair of aces shed light on a different side to the band. They were perfection in the space of 4 and half minutes, and the zenith of the band’s achievements.
By 1997 and Be Here Now, Oasis was reaching it’s most bloated phase. After making two of the best British albums for decades it was inevitable that the band would struggle to hit the same heights again. Despite the swagger of D’You Know What I Mean suggesting the band had lost none of its arrogance; with the fame, money and mountains of cocaine came a sense of detachment. They were no longer on the same level as their audience. Liam wasn’t singing about becoming a Rock n Roll star anymore “- he was one.
Albums came and went, each not quite as exciting as those initial two statements of intent. Standing on The Shoulder of Giants was patchy at best, Heathen Chemistry “- the soundtrack to Noel’s relationship breakdown with Meg Matthews – had its moments but failed to inspire. Despite this there were a couple of great heartfelt anthems to found in the shape of Little By Little and Go Let It Out.
A slight revival in the shape of Don’t Believe The Truth found Oasis almost back to their best, and The Importance of Being Idle suggested that Noel hadn’t completely lost his touch when it came to writing killer tunes. However Dig Out Your Soul was the sound of a band scraping the barrel and checking the well to see if it really was dry. It was.
The tracklisting of Time Flies… does listeners a favour by not being chronological. Although the first disc is primarily filled with earlier material and the second covers the band’s later work, it’s probably no coincidence that the compilers opted to stick the appalling Songbird between Cigarettes And Alcohol and Don’t Look Back In Anger. Those with an itchy skipping finger will only need to exercise it the once “- until they hit The Hindu Times, whose cod-psychedelic tones are likely to inspire the need to indulge in the soaring chorus of Stand By Me sooner rather than later. Likewise, the inclusion of Whatever on disc two among some disappointing Dig Out Your Soul and Heathen Chemistry era efforts adds a bit of quality to a series of songs that would never be considered Oasis’ best work.
This then is the end of an era, as far as British music is concerned. Time Flies… provides a snapshot of Oasis at their best, and occasionally at their most bloated. There’s no doubting the quality of most of the material here, and as a quick way to hit those memories from the last sixteen years there won’t be many compilations that do a better job. Like it or not, Oasis were a cultural phenomenon, and this collection provides ample evidence as to why.