The way Oasis typically get the blame for the every unimaginative lumpen guitar band that followed in their wake means their place in music history has tended to overshadow their actual music. Indeed, there’s a widespread view that 90s Britpop was one of the worst things that ever happened to British popular music. All of which makes it hard to judge the actual records, especially when you listen to them outside the context of the time and place of the original release.
So, twenty years after its original release, how well does their first album stand up?
There was something about them besides that rock’n'roll swagger that appealed so much to a certain kind of music journalist. Noel Gallagher did have an ear for a good pop tune, even if he sometimes tended to steal rather than write his own. The rhythm section is solid, and the album is more than a couple of hits and a load of filler. The album does have its notable strengths.
But Noel’s stream-of-consciousness gibberish lyrics just sound ridiculous; at least Jon Anderson of Yes sounded profound. Noel just sounds as if he’s never read a book in his life, and all he can do is string together clichés. The way he established a laddish anti-intellectualism as a representation of working-class authenticity cannot possibly be a good thing.
As for his brother Liam, I’ve never quite understood why the press at the time thought he was ever one of rock’s great frontmen. His voice starts getting irritating after a bit, and his attempts to replicate Johnny Rotten’s vocal tics sound ridiculous. Anyone who thought he was one of the greatest really needed to get out more.
But there are worse vocalists than Liam, and the weakest link of all is Noel’s extremely limited lead guitar playing. He does his best on “Live Forever” with a solo containing every single note he knows and making the most of his limited technique. But a song like “Slide Away” is the sort of thing that might have been transformed had Oasis had a half-decent lead guitarist. As it is, with Noel’s rudimentary instrumental skills it comes over as a sort of lobotomised Lyrnyrd Skynyrd. And that’s one of the best tracks on the the album.
This was an album that combined the mainstream and the alternative by taking the least interesting parts of both, resulting in something too bombastic to be indie, but lacking the musical sophistication of rock or the raw energy of punk. Oasis’ success demonstrated that large scale success in rock’n'roll is as much about being in the right place at the right time as it is about depth of talent. And the extent to which enough money thrown at PR can propel the most average of bands into superstardom.
While it was still enjoyable record at the time of release, even considered a game-changer by some, two decades on it has stood the test of time rather less than Kula Shaker’s first album.