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Saturday, April 10, 2010
Gibson’s Saturday Night Special: Oasis Definitely Maybe
“Is it my imagination, or have we finally found something worth living for?”
Yes, we have, Liam Gallagher. Yes, we have.
In 1994, England was ready to shake off years of bleak Conservative rule and spotty native Anglo music to throw the party to end all parties. Certainly the Stone Roses, Suede and Blur brought kids to the house, but Oasis was the guy who commandeered the stereo, smashed the front window and whipped a Carlsberg can at the poor officer responding to the scene.
Definitely Maybe lit the island country and the world (fair enough, not so much America) on fire. The fastest-selling debut album of all time in the UK, Definitely Maybe mobilized hooligans and hairdressers alike. That summer, the whole of England was ordering gin and tonics and lifting two fingers to the establishment because tonight — TONIGHT I’M A BLOODY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL STAR!
That very invocation to anarchy and idolatry kicks off the album, with songwriter-guitarist-sibling foil Noel Gallagher bending the G-string on his trademark ES-335 mercilessly before pick-sliding into a fifth-gear riff that never lets up. If ever there was a song to kick the door in for a band, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” was it.
“Shakermaker” follows, oddly enough, with a melody pinched from a hippie Coke commercial. But the lyrics — featuring a Manchester music shop name-check and the first post-Beatles utterance of the word “plasticine” — root the album in a uniquely British context, no less Anglocentric than “Waterloo Sunset” or “Penny Lane.”
The frivolity of “Shakermaker” only greatens the impact of the track that follows; “Live Forever” stands as one of rock’s all-time great anthems. Soaring, reverb-drenched guitars bathe painstakingly sincere lyrics, beckoning “Maybe you’re the same as me/We see things they’ll never see/You and I are gonna live forever.” A mere three songs into his debut album, Noel Gallagher had already joined John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and Ray Davies in the rarified air of the English songwriting elite.
“Up in the Sky” ironically returns the album to earth, sending it back into head-bobbing rock mode, with the propulsive march of “Columbia” following close behind.
Then, after much-baited tension and anticipation, the album reengages the fiery rock of its opener with perhaps the heaviest one-two-three punch of boozing, brawling anthems ever queued: “Supersonic,” “Bring It on Down” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol.”
“Supersonic” encapsulates the stagger of a late-night bender, with lyrics wildly careening from autograph requests to bartender summons. Even as they spill over into the ridiculous (“I know a girl called Elsa/She’s into Alka Seltzer”…huh?), the unrelenting momentum of Gallagher and rhythm guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs steers the song headlong into rock and roll oblivion.
From there, the only place to go is…harder, faster…with “Bring It on Down.” If ever a song sneered up from the gutters and challenged you to a fight, it was this one. Even oft-ridiculed drummer Tony McCarroll couldn’t hold back the sheer force of this guitar-overdriven juggernaut. “You’re the outcast/You’re the underclass/But you don’t care/Because you’re living fast.” Liam Gallagher’s Lennon/Rotten hybrid sneer has never dripped with so much venom.
And then comes, perhaps, the greatest drinking anthem of all time, “Cigarettes and Alcohol.” When there are no jobs and no prospects, this is as good as it gets. “Is it worth the aggravation/To find yourself a job when there's nothing worth working for?/It's a crazy situation/But all I need are cigarettes and alcohol!” For kids on the dole from years of Thatcherism aftershocks, this was their song. This was their life.
The silly, lasagna-themed vignette, “Digsy’s Dinner,” cleanses the palette (if you’ll forgive the pun), before the band launches into the final epic track (though not the final track) on an epic-track-laden album: “Slide Away.” The unbridled passion of “Live Forever” spreads its wings once more for this paean to teenage love, when the heart most recklessly tumbles headlong into nothingness. Brother Noel claims he wrote the song with a Les Paul given to him by Smiths guitar god Johnny Marr and has often referred to it as Liam’s, if not the band’s, finest moment.
Definitely Maybe closes, curiously, with the warm, playful acoustic number, “Married with Children,” almost a musical acknowledgement that everyone who has hurtled through this relentless, white-knuckle gauntlet deserves a quiet smoke before heading off into the night.
So closes the album that NME readers recently voted “the best of all time,” with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band finishing second and Revolver third. Great as those albums were, they never got you drunk and stole your wallet. Cheeky album.
via L4e / Gibson.com
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