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Monday, June 08, 2009
Pitchfork Review: The Dreams We Have as Children
If you can overlook the past dozen or so years' worth of Oasis' music, Noel Gallagher isn't a bullshit artist. He speaks his mind-- directly, clearly, possibly loudly, and thankfully often. Among his most frequent targets is hypocrisy, which he's often seen in the posturing of artists performing high-profile charitable acts. Hell, his quips about the toothlessness and pointlessness of Live 8 are arguably the most entertaining things he's produced this decade. To wit (no pun): "Correct me if I'm wrong, but are [Live 8] hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles [Scotland] and sees Annie Lennox singing 'Sweet Dreams' and thinks, 'Fuck me, she might have a point there.'"
Gallagher has, of course, done charity work himself, pitching in to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust (and Pablove Foundation, which benefits the cancer-stricken son of Dangerbird Records' Jeff Castelaz), Street Child Africa, Tibetan Freedom, and of course War Child. It was Oasis' contribution to War Child's 1995 Help! album-- a slowed, Johnny Depp-assisted version of B-side "Fade Away"-- that gives Gallagher's latest charitable effort its name. Dreams We Have as Children is a collection of songs recorded at London's Royal Albert Hall in March 2007 at a show again to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Bootlegs of most of the show's 16 songs have been around for a while, but in recent months iTunes has begun selling the full set to benefit the TCT. Joined on two songs by Paul Weller and throughout the set by fellow Oasis guitarist Gem Archer, it's not a strictly solo show, but it is primarily acoustic, inviting comparisons to Oasis' notorious 1995 "MTV Unplugged" set, where the elder Gallagher had to pinch-hit for his supposedly ill younger brother, Liam. The Oasis frontman watched the performance from a balcony while smoking and drinking as Noel soldiered on, earning a wellspring of respect in the process and helping to dispel the notions that both of the oft-quarreling siblings were unprofessional.
Dreams also recalls that set in another way-- of the 13 Oasis songs here, 11 date from 1994-95, by far the most artistically fruitful years in the band's history. (The two exceptions are "Don't Go Away", from 1997's Be Here Now, and "The Importance of Being Idle", from 2005's Don't Believe the Truth.) The requisite big songs are mostly here-- "Wonderwall", "Don't Look Back in Anger", "Slide Away", three of Oasis' best-- but, intriguingly, other than those, "Cast No Shadow", and "Married With Children", the set features six songs originally recorded as either B-sides or LP bonus tracks, making the night a treat for diehard fans and giving a larger variety of would-be buyers reasons to check out the record.
Of the B-sides, the deeper into Oasis' catalogue they go, the more of a mixed bag they are here. "Listen Up", when stripped of its shoegaze-biting sheen, holds up better than expected, thanks in part to Noel's more varied line readings compared to his brother's bluster. Opener "(It's Good) To Be Free", one of Oasis' weaker 94-95 efforts to start, is a slog here as well.
The song that follows, "Talk Tonight", shouldn't have picked things up either. One of the band's more poignant tracks, it was originally recorded as a solo acoustic effort by an audibly exhausted and frustrated Noel. Estranged from the group and considering disbanding it, it's arguably his most human performance and a reason why its parent EP, Some Might Say, is his band's most compelling, top to bottom. Taken out of that context, the song still holds up nicely. As does "Half the World Away", made famous in the UK as the theme song to "The Royle Family" and here turned into an audience sing-along, and "Fade Away", the song which gives the LP its title and still one of Oasis' high points.
Not that they likely minded, but the audience was rewarded for sitting through mostly B-sides with a brief two-song guest spot by Paul Weller, in which he and Noel performed one of the Jam's best B-sides, "The Butterfly Collector", and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love". A thrill in the room I'm sure, but it all feels sort of rote and almost expected from a Noel Gallagher set rather than a nice surprise. It doesn't help that the usually simmering and bitter "Butterfly" is flat and the Beatles song is, you know, "All You Need Is Love".
From there, Noel mostly rolled out the hits, all sounding fine, and an awkward cover of the Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out", whose fatalist, adolescent-appealing romanticism seems to both befuddle Gallagher and make for an awkward fit on a album recorded and released to prevent teenagers from dying. Ending with that and the jaunty "Married With Children", it's clear that the songs picked here have no specific message to impart or connection to the charity at hand, which is just as well. For Gallagher to suddenly play off as if they did, he'd risk being the hypocritical superstar he so clearly loathes. That he instead took the occasion to spotlight a slightly lesser-known part of his career elevates this set above a standard charity effort; that he focused on the first two years of his career elevates it above most of the other Oasis records this decade.
— Scott Plagenhoef, June 5, 2009
via L4e / Pitchfork
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