Summer is nearly over and so too are our holidays. But joyously and unexpectedly, one final chink of bright sunshine has appeared on the horizon to drive away our back-to-school blues: Oasis, the most overrated band in the history of British music, have finally done the decent thing and split.
This isn’t just another desperate publicity stunt designed to boost what little interest there is left in their ailing brand. At least let’s hope not.
This time, according to the band’s chief songwriter, Noel Gallagher, it’s official and it’s permanent.
Fool Britannia: Prime Minister Tony Blair meets new celebrity friend Noel Gallagher at 10 Downing Street in 1997
‘It’s with some sadness and great relief I have to tell you that I quit Oasis tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer,’ he announced in a heartfelt statement on Friday, with which many of us could identify. Well, the ‘great relief’ part, at any rate.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum, the Romans said. Only say good things about the dead. But in the case of the late and unlamented Oasis, I’m afraid I find it almost impossible. Bad enough that their music was so ludicrously over-hyped and often shockingly derivative; far worse though, were the values Oasis represented.
A vulgar, meretricious phenomenon which owed far more to marketing and spin than genuine talent, led by two feuding egotists with barely an original idea in their bones but with a rare skill at artful repackaging, Oasis were the perfect musical counterpart to the New Labour project.
In Downing Street, we had Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; on the pop stage, the battling Gallagher brothers Liam and Noel; both pairs the very embodiment of style over substance.
Quit: Noel Gallagher left Oasis because he can’t work ‘a day longer’ with his brother Liam
What’s remarkable is just how long it took the world to rumble them. I remember in 1994, during that first rush of Oasis hype, feeling rather like the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Was I really the only music journalist in the world, I wondered, who had noticed how murky and bombastic and dull these supposed Great White Hopes of British rock sounded on their first album?
The album was called Definitely Maybe and was biked to me by their publicist with the breathless promise that these lairy Mancunians, recently signed by Alan McGee to his achingly hip Creation Records, were ‘hotter than a hot thing on a hot day.’
‘Hmm,’ I thought after my initial disappointment. ‘Maybe they’ll sound better live.’ So I made a point of catching their first appearance at a major festival, when they played a late afternoon slot on the second stage at Glastonbury.
MANY people who weren’t actually there said that this event was history in the making. As someone who was there, I can assure you it was the mother of all anticlimaxes. But save for the small gaggle of in-the-know hipsters dancing enthusiastically at the front, the audience was so underwhelmed by Oasis’s sludgy, lacklustre performance that it didn’t even bother to get up off the grass.
Sure Oasis grew a lot more professional. I’ve no doubt that there were moments when their gigs – fuelled by the tension between the Gallagher brothers – could be truly electrifying.
Nor would I ever suggest that they weren’t capable of the odd toetapping tune. Though I’m still not at all convinced by that busker’s perennial Wonderwall – a dirgey, (very) poor man’s Let It Be, if you ask me – there were definitely occasions in the late Nineties where you’d hear a song like Champagne Supernova come on the radio and you’d think: ‘This is all right.’
But the main reason you would think: ‘This is all right’, unfortunately, is that it sounded so comfortingly familiar. Liam Gallagher’s sneering, back-of-the-throat vocal delivery was – as he was never ashamed to admit – a homage to John Lennon’s.
The band: Liam Gallagher, Alan White, Gem Archer and Andy Bellleave head to the airport. They were due to play at the Paris’ Rock Festival in Seine but pulled out last minute
The lush string arrangements were exactly the sort of thing George Martin had devised 30 years earlier for The Beatles. And when Noel wasn’t being inspired by the back catalogue of Lennon and McCartney for his melodies, he was looking to a host of lesser artistes instead.
Among the more obvious influences identified by author John Harris on Oasis’s second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory were Gary Glitter’s Hello, Hello I’m Back Again and the theme tune to the Seventies children’s programme You And Me.
Another mooted song sounded so similar to Stevie Wonder’s Uptight (Everything’s Alright) it had to be removed shortly before release under threat of legal action.
The standard artistic counter is that ‘talent borrows, genius steals’. Maybe so. And perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered nearly so much if Oasis had been treated merely as a rather upmarket Beatles tribute act with a Manchester flavour and a comical tendency for the two main players to break out in fights mid-set.
What’s so galling, however, is that for most of their career they were taken so much more seriously than that. They won multiple Brit Awards; their records were slavered over by critics with five-star reviews; (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? remains the third biggest-selling album in UK chart history after Queen’s Greatest Hits and The Beatles’s Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Looking back at Oasis from our post-credit-crunch perspective, it’s hard not to pose the same question one asks so often about the New Labour era: How on earth did so many of us manage to get so royally taken in?
Like the collected works of Damien Hirst, like cheap city breaks every other weekend by easyJet, like wanton-consumption of champagne and cocaine (as ‘normal as having a cup of tea’ Noel famously claimed), Oasis belong to an age where the whole world seemed to have lost all perspective and judgment.
One in which it didn’t even matter whether you were any good at what you did, just so long as you had sufficient front and attitude – ie swore a lot, walked with a swagger and repeatedly told everyone how fab you were – that was all you needed to carry you through.
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