Wednesday, August 22, 2007
All my people right here right now
It's not even a cover, is it, it's just A Mess Of Things. Note Bonehead playing the big Chubb key - hilarity! - as if it were a guitar, and the big calendar, apparently there to emphasise that this was A Historical Event In Popular Music History.
Oh, and it was.
696,000 copies in three days in the UK and a reported 8m shifted in total worldwide (more than Definitely Maybe) later, Be Here Now, ten as of yesterday, has become the great British music millstone, the sole release that ended a signpost genre and changed the fortunes of Oasis forever. There are much better places to read about its protracted conception after a Morning Glory campaign that had ended up buckling under the strain and difficult coming into being, not least Creation and Ignition's genius thought that holding back information and radio play for as long as possible might quell some of the post-Knebworth anticipation for new Oasis material, even to the extent of barring midnight store openings in case the hypemen of the press pack turned up (they turned up to see the 9am queues instead). Famously Steve Lamacq had advance plays of album tracks withdrawn as he hadn't spoken over them enough, which led to John Peel, seemingly without explanation as this hadn't been made public at the time, playing Radio 1 jingles throughout the following night's handover.
We've never quite seen a convincing explanation as to why the reviews were uniformly uber-positive, besides some sort of reaction to the faint praise Morning Glory had received and wanting to keep in with the biggest band most of those journalists would have ever seen. We now know even Creation insiders, including Alan McGee, had bad feelings about the sound, but literally nobody went against the Britpop grain for about three months. Bear in mind that this was also the year of OK Computer, Urban Hymns, Homework, Blur, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, Fat Of The Land (similarly hyped and denied in retrospect but still the band's commercial high water mark), Dig Your Own Hole, New Forms, Vanishing Point, If You're Feeling Sinister, Buena Vista Social Club, Mogwai Young Team, Time Out Of Mind, Homogenic, Radiator, Either/Or... not exactly a short year in terms of moving forward and planting your flag on the landscape (or back on it in Dylan's case), so not a lot to hide behind when popular opinion turned. Either way, it was a permanent mark in pop culture, and not one that anyone would really like to return to if given the choice.
Or is it? Be Here Now currently has a 4 star rating on Amazon from 96 customer reviews and even Noel Gallagher, one of its hardest critics, said in the NME earlier this year of their next album (reportedly they're esconsed in Abbey Road as you read this) that "I really fancy doing a record where we just completely throw the kitchen sink at it. I'd like to get a 100-piece orchestra and choirs and all that stuff". Presumably Noel Gallagher is one of the few people in Britain concerned that the production on Be Here Now, notoriously helped along by the rows, fights and immense amounts of marching powder all concerned were nose-in-trough into during its recording and mixing (Owen Morris, whom Alan McGee later described as "out of control, and he was the one in charge of it", didn't work on a notable album again until The View's Hats Off To The Buskers), might have been a little underwhelming. Still, there's a definite sway back in its favour going on, so on this most notable of anniversaries a decade on from the death of Britpop and that movement's concurrent destruction of what we know as indie there was only one thing to do. Get hold of a copy, sit through its 71 minutes 38 seconds for the first time since our solitary previous hearing nearly ten years ago and annotate it as we go to see just where it actually lies here in August 2007.
D'You Know What I Mean?
0:00 Right, so this is where it all began. We remember listening to Jo Whiley as she gave it its first play without build-up (it had in fact been leaked in advance by a Scottish independent station and a playable copy had been couriered round to the BBC) and Radio 1 proceeded to play it in its entireity for the rest of the daytime schedule, interspersed with B-sides and so forth. Such was their sway over the populace at the time that Noel says he fully expected the call for a radio edit to come in and was surprised that nobody requested one.
0:24 Planes! Rushes! Morse code! Scratchy rhythm guitar in the background! Feedback! It's Apocalypse Now! Only with, for once, less drugs!
0:42 Christ, put those drums a bit further back in the mix, especially when they're only competing with acoustic guitar. Noel's backing vocal gets cut and sliced. Presumably this is psychedelic.
1:20 "Fool on the hill and I feel fine". We see.
2:29 Well, it's a strutting, cocksure Oasis starter, and as we hit the first big beery singalong come-together chorus it's a more effective one than Hello. The drums are sampled from Straight Outta Compton, although it sounds like a fairly standard loop.
3:56 This "I met my maker...listen up pal" business - Liam believing his Messianic press, or believing his struggles (having cocaine, marrying actresses) are those of the lord?
4:56 You can step away from the amp now, Noel.
5:17 For a change, the slowdown followed by big wah-wah-aided solo sounds like a filched idea from The Queen Is Dead's title track
6:30 Everything disappears into a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet of backward vocals and playing with even more bloody feedback. Our temples are starting to throb, but Vietnam has been cleared.
7:42 It'd be an all time high water mark if they'd thought to compress its running time down a bit, but it sounds like a great big production mess of an album by the contemporary cocks of the walk should start. Better than the demo-esque The Hindu Times at least.
My Big Mouth
0:06 It's an army of Dave Hills! The bovver-boy glam riffs are nothing new, the sheer scale of them meant to bludgeon people into submission. Maybe that's what the reviews were about. And they seem to be playing several slight variations of the riff. Eat shit, Glenn Branca.
1:04 At least they hide the fact this bit up to the chorus is stolen from Soul Asylum's Runaway Train.
1:58 More talk of God and heaven. We know they were brought up good Catholic boys, but it's not something you'd connect with them at this point.
3:07 "My Big Mouth, my big name/I'll put on my shoes/While I'm walking slowly down the hall of fame". Either it's the most self-aware album in history, or the most ironic, or he genuinely hasn't got a clue.
3:35 Bit more bass in the speakers, please.
4:25 Distorted guitar overdubs! That's just what the song needed.
5:02 Oasis have always had long, pointless Noel solos at the end - it's what briefly got him a tag of the era's great guitarist and gave him a dirty great cameo on a track on the album that saw Goldie's career off - but it's difficult to see what he's doing here. It's a throwaway pop-rock song, and it's slathered in layers of production, all of which actually might be turned up to eleven.
0:00 A what?
0:20 Morse code! Maybe there was meant to be a theme running through the album, although this comparatively pastoral effort suggests it's not essentially a musically architectural one.
0:37 Sing properly, Noel.
1:08 As if on cue, half a verse in the amped-up cavalry arrive.
2:08 As much as Noel possibly denies it, there's definitely a framework in this song for much of what has followed. The second part of the chorus is a first go at Where Did It All Go Wrong?, for a start.
3:45 He's clearly meaning whatever he means about it from the heart, and then he's gone and called it Magic Pie. This is why you need a clear-headed second voice in studios.
4:18 A Mellotron arrives to not much garnishing effect. Solo two!
5:08 Seriously, Noel, just making that noise on what must be an expensive instrument to maintain these days won't do much for this extended coda... oh, you're going to sing the chorus half a key higher. That's a studio tack-on.
6:04 Is it finishing?
6:11 Oh, no, he's going to stick in little riffs and vocal improvisations for a minute.
6:42 Oddly, for such a meticulously mixed album, the drums sound hollow and slightly tinny.
6:48 Now what the fuck have you found?
7:07 And out, just in case it needed to be any longer, with what the trade knows as 'pissing about'.
7:19 Even at the time this must have come across as Oasis Lighters Aloft Anthem By Rote. Like driving a coach and horses through Champagne Supernova's bridge.
Stand by Me
0:00 The second single
0:17 Already sounds like Northern Uproar.
0:41 Alan's had a word and now the drums are mixed higher in the verse than the guitars, strings and everything.
2:02 So much for the old Motown maxim of hitting the chorus within 50 seconds.
2:51 Has Noel ever said this is a song for Meg Matthews? From half-inched title downwards the subject of wanting a loved one by your side through thick and thin is horribly hackneyed.
4:48 We're never quite sure what to make of Liam's mid-paced vocal - of course he has the Northern Lydon sneer to take him through
and everyone remembers the falsetto he hits in Live Forever even if he can't reproduce it live, but this sounds like the aural version of a two week beard and parka. That held note on "away" is just out.
5:36 Handclaps?! Note that the strings are kept subtle rather than over the top.
5:56 Well, that was relatively painless. It definitely sounds like something from classic rock playlists we can't quite place, though.
I Hope, I Think, I Know
0:00 4:22! It's virtually the Ramones.
1:02 It'd probably only be B-side quality an album earlier, but at last it's back to Faces-esque straight up snotty barnstorming. How come, by the way, they never properly followed up the post-baggy angle suggested by Columbia?
2:48 "You'll never forget my name" is the hook line. Not short of self-confidence, this lad.
4:22 Well, it's Oasis rocking out. What more do you need to know?
The Girl in the Dirty Shirt
0:19 Already it can't decide whether it wants to rock out or be Fade Away.
1:11 This is definitely taking liberties with some other tune, and we suspect it's another Oasis song.
2:13 It's another song about how great Noel's new wife is. Tip: never do this if an acrimonious divorce is in your future.
2:52 As Alan White makes like he's Keith Moon in power, it occurs that it's actually not that far removed from Stand By Me, especially in the rhythm guitar undertow.
3:54 "God Be Here Now is sure a great album. Hey oasis arent only good with the hit single !! Usually their b sides are even better !! This is one of the proof !!!!! Start posting to their other song peeps !!" It's not even a B-side, SongMeanings' 'milhouse4'. Anyway, it's not helping with the tunejacking thought.
4:26 The sort of electric piano sound you only otherwise hear now on Paul Weller at his most cod-soulful turns up.
5:28 Not for the first or last time, there's no need to keep going for this long.
5:49 Not even the apologists can work up much enthusiasm for this one, by the looks of it.
0:20 Odd one, this, as it's clearly an acoustic campfire lament, with tambourine in the mix, that's been overdubbed to cod-blues Chris Rea drivetime hell. Johnny Depp is on this. Johnny Depp.
1:14 And then Liam starts bellowing as if it's a Sex Pistols tribute in his headphones.
3:06 Too much splash cymbal on this album by far.
3:10 And then there's a ridiculous filtered scream and it turns into an attempt to match D'You Know What I Mean?'s sound on bottlenecks which can't quite let go because it's still driven by that acoustic guitar.
4:20 Noel, from Wikipedia: "Liam does the best singing I've ever heard from him. I pushed him to the limit on that. I said, Pretend you're a black man from Memphis." No. No. Noel, just... no.
5:13 And this is this track's point where the extended nature of the outro begins to really tire as Liam repeats the title almost endlessly and Johnny and Noel play the same bits they've been playing for the last two minutes/months.
6:13 Fade, you bastard.
6:52 At least it's not got the steamroller production of most of the album, which is about all you can say for its attempt at getting the blues. Mark Ronson has more natural R&B (old definition) energy than this.
Don't Go Away
0:00 This was an American single, but it was talked up at the time as the album's big Wonderwall moment.
1:03 And you can see why. Though everything's quite subtle, including the vocals, and the mix is condensed down - there's cellos aplenty but they're only helping things on rather than stuck over the top - and there's a definite emotional touch that actually isn't quite there on Wonderwall and the like because that seemed so much like Guitar Band Arena Hit by committee.
2:53 Except now it's turned into Slide Away.
3:56 And maybe that's what really stops it going over the top - it's trying to catch a point between the first two albums, the lager-louts-have-feelings-too air of Definitely Maybe and the national unification of ...Morning Glory.
4:00 And we know this album too well by track eight to know that just because the flangers have been turned off that the song's not finished for a good minute yet.
4:48 Apparently it's about family health traumas in the band, which might be why it catches the unaware listener right there. But crossing over into the homes of the nation? Stop Crying Your Heart Out did it much more effectively through force of nature, despite being rubbish bellowing. An emotion in search of something new and solid to attach itself to.
Be Here Now
0:18 Odd keyboard effect and shaker give way to pub rock. Ah, here we go again.
0:55 Is that whistling or a really cheap keyboard?
1:01 "Your shit jokes remind me of Digsy's". Note - never cannibalise yourself when you're in this precarious a position.
1:33 "Sing a song for me/One from Let It Be". Goodness' sake.
2:52 God, listen to that little riff there. Noel adopted the 'Quoasis' jibe as a T-shirt, but it really is like half speed Quo without the sense of fun or humour. Everyone seems to be knocking this out in a trance.
4:03 Most bands would finish here.
4:22 The "yeah yeah yeah"s from quite a few previous songs of theirs make a cameo appearance. Otherwise Liam's just repeating "come on, come on" to mark out time, perhaps thinking he's Richard Ashcroft.
5:13 Seriously, you didn't have to put a stodgy rock song on just because you're Oasis.
All Around the World
0:00 Right, let's steel ourselves. All Around The World is the song Noel says he wrote when he was 17 and they played live early on but decided all along to save for album number three when they could afford to give it the grandiose orchestral treatment.
0:04 Just because it starts acoustically means we cannot assume it continues like this. We have learnt this from Coldplay over the years.
0:24 And we're off.
0:49 See, the strings are there but aren't really doing anything, they're just there stabbing away or playing whole notes as filler between the acoustic and electric guitar tracks.
1:16 Rhythm from Wonderwall, drum fills from Don't Look Back In Anger. If we knew anything about chord sequences they'd probably be copied over too.
2:46 And the Hey Jude "na na na"s are underway as if to signpost for even the thickest where the inspiration comes from.
3:20 Key change, roaring strings, more guitars. The words run out here.
3:35 Even more violins playing basic notes. Fully trained professional orchestra, remember.
4:22 Horns and repeated shouting of "it's gonna be OK". The effect seems to be some sort of tempest of strings, like George Martin might have arranged.
4:46 Seconds over halfway, key change two. OV now well in the red.
5:34 Isn't that horn arrangement from Echobelly's unashamedly Sgt Pepper-esque I Can't Imagine The World Without Me?
6:15 It's at this point you get the impression they've barely touched the surface of what they think is possible.
6:44 Noel thinks of something else: "Please don't cry, never say die!" The way he sings it it's unfortunately sounding like "pigs don't cry" to us.
7:20 You start thinking the guitar solo, going nowhere but mixed up well over everything else, is going to go on forever.
7:57 Key change three.
8:22 See, if only all these millions of string sections and trumpets could have clashed then we'd have had some quasi-avantgarde thing going on to keep attention levels up this far into it, but they're all playing the same bloody thing.
9:20 A fadeout, giving the impression that even this far down the line they might still be there, playing at a pitch only dogs can hear and Liam's still going "please don't cry, never say die" at the end of each bar. It's not so much that it's nine and a half minutes long, it's that it's nine and a half minutes with no message, no surprise, no insight, no valuable arrangement and in which nothing happens. It's an epic pop song filled with helium when it should have been hewn from marble.
It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)
0:01 As if to realise what they've just put us through, a phalanx of guitars arrive once again to...erm...
0:23 To be the Faces, apparently. This is one of the tracks that was previewed in live form on the night before release's fawning puff piece on prime-time BBC1, so clearly they valued it.
2:00 By the way, the best Oasis song is Some Might Say B-side Headshrinker, which actually achieves their much vaunted 'Pistols with Ron Wood' ambitions and then some.
2:45 And at least it goes somewhere having decided on its intentions early, unlike this. It's as if the band are so much out of puff after the longeurs of All Around The World that they don't appreciate being roused to record this.
3:35 Halfway through the song, Noel's forgotten to write the rest of the song again. Morrissey used to be mocked for this, but at least he kept it to three and a half radio minutes.
4:45 And yet more title repetition designed to hide the fact that they've got tape spare and nothing much to do with it except keep playing this mini-solo.
6:33 Fucking hell, he's still doing it! Noel meanwhile launches into full throttle in the hope it makes it sound more energetic.
7:00 Shame, we thought we remembered that one as quite the rabble rouser. Right, how are we finishing?
All Around the World (Reprise)
0:00 Oh shite.
0:03 And it's not even a literal faded back up reprise, it's just the strings to show you how little they're actually doing at those different keys, the trumpets playing all the main riffs and loads and loads of cymbal, with backing walls of guitar just to remind you what you're missing. Which is, of course, their dealer's number.
1:36 Before breaking down into piano, feedback and, thank goodness, not cheering and clapping as you might expect but footsteps away from the mike and a door slamming, somewhat spoilt by the fact they start before the music has faded out.
2:08 So, what have we learned about this greatest of time-addled follies? Erm... not a great deal. Clearly there's songs in there, but they're so weighed down by the crushing weight of the production mix and the need to carry them further than surely possible because these are songs of great import from our one true working class genius (self-appointed) that any benefits are automatically made negligible. (Can we not pay someone to do a Let It Be...Naked on it?) It's like someone attempting to be Oasis in 1996-97 with wannabe anthemic chants for choruses but lacking the seige mentality and spark of boggle-eyed intensity that marked Oasis well apart from the pack in the first place, worn away by their sheer scale. This world out here of record buyers was not their world of Supernova Heights and Johnny Depp on slide guitar cameos any more. They couldn't be that band on Definitely Maybe any more; what Be Here Now showed was that, in their desperation to make the enormoalbum for all time, they were the last to know that. Even after this album Noel could never resist adding a couple of useless minutes onto the end of potential crowd-slayers.
In summary, to anyone who may be time travelling and be reading this in early to mid August 1997: please don't put your life in the hands of a rock'n'roll band.