"Toodaaay is gonna be the day that they throw all back ta yewwww ..."
"Wonderwall," the latest hit from Britain's Oasis, appears to be spewing out of every radio on just about every rock, Top 40, and adult contemporary station in the known universe. The band is seemingly everywhere: Liam Gallagher's whiny, nasal vocalizations boom from loud speakers across the globe, his mop-topped, Lennon-bespectacled mug peers from the telly and from magazine covers. The Manchester quintet's success stems apparently from their command of the British and American pop-music vocabulary. No doubt, Oasis can write ultra-catchy and intrinsically familiar pop songs, but that doesn't quite make up for their distinct lack of originality: Liam's brother, songwriter-guitarist-backing vocalist Noel Gallagher, cuts and pastes pilfered classic rock riffs and lyrical themes in a banal reconstruction of the music he grew up on, providing what he considers some sort of public service by exposing a younger generation to the wonders of the Beatles, whose canon his band continually bastardizes.
Oasis bowed in 1994 with Definitely Maybe, which, when it was originally released on the British mega-indie Creation Records, became the fastest-selling debut record in U.K. history. The album, subsequently released stateside on Epic, is a blustery rock and roll assault imbued with Noel Gallagher's fantasies about rock stardom. A year and a half later, Definitely was followed by the Billboard Top 5 hit album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, a mellower, more melodic record that reflected Noel's reality as a rock star. Both efforts have won a bevy of British Music Awards (the U.K. equivalent of the Grammys), and Glory has sold more than three million copies in the U.S. alone (and three times that worldwide). The band is on their seventh U.S. tour, fresh from playing to about 410,000 people over seven shows in Europe, and they figure on performing before more than a quarter-million fans during this U.S. trek.
Guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, and drummer Alan White (replacing Definitely drummer Tony McCarroll) round out the band, but it's the Gallaghers that get all the attention. The thick-browed, boisterous boys have been the British media anti-darlings since the release of their first album, earning reputations as arrogant, womanizing, alcoholic, coke-snorting, ecstasy-heads. The brothers revel in behaving obnoxiously and blathering stupidities, trashing hotel rooms, and, of course, getting into fistfights with each other, sometimes in the middle of interviews. On one particular day trip, they were removed from the grounds of Stonehenge for fighting. And the two have a penchant for going on and on about themselves and Oasis, convinced they are at the helm of the world's greatest rock band. This history of black eyes, bloody noses, and big egos has led to comparisons to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and to another pair of British brothers, Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, but hasn't led to any inspired collaborations. All of this brattiness smacks of a deliberate attempt to generate publicity; Noel Gallagher has said himself that it makes for interesting copy.
While attitude and a familiarity with pop classics may make for instant fame, most of those interlocking guitar melodies, rolling rhythms, and clear vocal harmonies are ripped off from other bands -- namely the Rolling Stones, T.Rex, the Kinks, Small Faces, and the Who, as well as the Beatles. Definitely Maybe was a promising debut, but it borrowed too heavily from these sources. The raucous "Cigarettes & Alcohol" cribs a riff directly from T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)"; "Fadeaway" cops the melody from Wham!'s "Freedom," then turns it into a punk song; and "Shakermaker" takes an uncredited line from the New Seekers' Coca-Cola jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing," a move that almost led to a lawsuit with the soft-drink corporation.
Even more shockingly derivative are the songs on Morning Glory. "Anger" contains a piano passage straight out of John Lennon's "Imagine"; "Hello" borrows a chorus from Gary Glitter's "Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again"; "Some Might Say" is a T. Rex-ish anthem; and "She's Electric" closes with a passage from "With a Little Help From My Friends." Also, in yet another direct nod to Noel Gallagher's heroes, "Wonderwall" borrows its title from a George Harrison solo album, and "Morning Glory" drops in yet another Beatles' song title in the line "Tomorrow never knows what it doesn't know too soon." Critics have called the album introspective, but you have to wonder why. Perhaps because Noel Gallagher thought deeply about what and from whom he would steal next?
The obvious criterion for judging Oasis would be the Beatles, considering that Noel Gallagher continually holds his music up to those high standards. And that's justifiable, considering that he's lifted so many hooks from the Fab Four (Noel even admits that everything Oasis does is taken from Lennon and McCartney). The only testament to the band's collective intellect is their understanding of the Beatles' deep influence -- they have become part of the Western world's collective unconscious. But like pop-idiot savants, Oasis just play a tune they heard somewhere, one that will surely put some extra zeros at the end of their bank balance. Their success comes down to familiarity, the safety of the known.
The band's lyrical expoundings are incomprehensible. Not since the mid-Eighties heyday of Duran Duran have audiences on both sides of the pond been subjected to such inanities. "Wonderwall" flows with a beautiful melody, but no one knows what the hell Liam Gallagher is singing about, not even Liam Gallagher. Noel wrote it for his girlfriend when she was out of work and he wanted to tell her how special she was to him; Liam says he thought it was just a beautiful word. And surely Noel intended "Champagne Supernova" to be a metaphor for something, but one can only wonder what; someday, somebody will find him buried in the landslide of whatever it is he's singing about. This attempt at profundity has taken Noel away from the more enjoyable simplicity of Definitely's "Live Forever" or even the lysergic Dr. Seuss humor of "Supersonic." You could call the lyrics pretentious if they were more intelligent. Noel admits he doesn't really care too much about the lyrics, and Liam confesses that he has no idea what they mean, although he insisted to a Rolling Stone writer that there is a "shitload of meaning" in them.
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And that's the bloody problem. This band just doesn't seem to care. For all their arrogance and pop-star posing, they are actually rather dull and indifferent on stage: Liam folds his hands behind his back, Noel scowls, nobody moves around much. In some passive-aggressive fashion, they might say they have nothing to prove and that the music speaks for itself, but the fact is that it doesn't say much.
Noel Gallagher has been quoted as saying that he and the rest of Oasis like annoying people -- that pissing people off is a Manchester thing. If that's the case, then Oasis are doubtlessly good sons of their hometown.
Oasis performs on Sunday, September 15, at the West Palm Beach Auditorium, 1610 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd, 407-683-6012, with Screaming Trees and Manic Street Preachers. Tickets cost $23. Showtime is 7:30.