As a long-time Oasis fan, the re-mastering and re-release of the band’s back catalogue has got me revisiting their albums. Over the last few weeks, for what must be the umpteenth time, I’ve listened to each and every Oasis album from start to finish, and taken the opportunity to rank them from best to worst.
No matter how many times someone ranks Oasis albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory will always be number one and two (arguing otherwise is like arguing that Ringo was the best Beatle), but from there it’s less clear-cut, with Heathen Chemistry and Standing on the Shoulder of Giants the most difficult to place. Alas, to see where they ended up, read on….
1. Definitely Maybe (1994)
Definitely Maybe picks itself as Oasis’s finest album. It’s perfect, with Liam’s sneering ‘John Lennon meets John Lyndon’ vocals fronting up Noel Gallagher’s songs about living forever and being a rock and roll star. Songs like ‘Supersonic’, ‘Colombia’ and ‘Bring it on Down’ beg you – no, force you – to turn it up loud. But for me, the crowning glory of Definitely Maybe is ‘Slide Away’, a six-minute long track which could be another six-minutes long and still not overstay it’s welcome. It’s a love song (“I don’t know, I don’t care, all I know is you can take me there”) which provides a genuine tenderness many would never think Oasis capable of. By my reckoning, it’s still the best thing Noel and Liam have ever done.
There are more hits on the first half of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory than most artists have across their entire discography. Really, what can you say about an album that features not only ‘Roll With it’, ‘Wonderwall’, and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, but also ‘Some Might Say’, ‘Morning Glory’, AND ‘Champagne Supernova’. Hell, that’s a return on investment that even the Beatles or the Stones would proud of. But as utterly brilliant as …Morning Glory undoubtedly is, for me Definitely Maybe just eclipses it, offering up a sense of urgency and rawness that it’s ubiquitous successor can’t quite live up to.
Don’t be put off by the dull cover art – Don’t Believe the Truth is the best Oasis album of the new century. It’s their least ‘Oasis-y’ sounding album, bringing together influences from the likes of the Kinks, the La’s and even the Velvet Underground. As the best of Oasis’s ‘democratic’ albums, it features strong contributions from Andy (‘Turn Up the Sun’), Gem (‘A Bell Will Ring’), and Liam (‘The Meaning of Soul’). Noel too, was in a rich vein of creativity; with ‘The Importance of Being Idle’ he wrote Oasis’s last number one single… and arguably their last truly mega song.
In the argument that Noel Gallagher is one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, I present Exhibit A: The Masterplan, a compilation of B-Sides from Oasis’s first three albums. Incredibly, these are songs which were deemed not good enough to make it onto an album. I say ‘incredibly’, because many of the songs here are on par with those on Definitely Maybe or (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. Of course, as a compilation, The Masterplan lacks the flow of a ‘proper’ album, but nonetheless there are some absolute gems here, amongst them the gorgeous ‘Listen Up’, the Gallagher-brother duet of ‘Acquiesce’, and the rueful ‘Rockin’ Chair’.
The come-down to the cocaine excesses of Be Here Now, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is Oasis’s most underrated album. It’s an album that I used to rarely listen to, but over time I’ve come to appreciate it’s vulnerability and neo-psychedelia, most notably on the likes of ‘Gas Panic’ and ‘Roll it Over’. It’s not all melancholic gloom though – Liam’s vocals are at their snarling best on ‘Go Let it Out’, while 15 years later the menacing ‘Fuckin’ in the Bushes’ still sounds like it could start a riot. There is only one travesty here (no, I’m not talking about ‘Little James’) – the omission of the superb ‘Let’s All Make Believe’, which instead lived out life as a B-Side to ‘Go Let it Out’. It’s a song that deserved so much more.
To me, listening to Be Here Now from start-to-finish is a bit like eating an entire packet of jelly beans in one go. At first. it seems like a tantalising prospect, but by the time you get to the end, it’s all been a bit too much to take in. And, like a packet of jelly beans, everyone has their favourite flavours (mine being ‘Don’t Go Away’, ‘D’you Know What I Mean’ and ‘All Around the World’) and their not so favourite flavours. In short, BHN is the sound of Oasis coked up to their eyeballs, fuelled up with lager, with the volume turned up to 11. That doesn’t make Be Here Now a bad album, but it does make it an album that you have to be in the right mood to listen to.
There was a time when I would have placed Heathen Chemistry in the top half of this list. Even today, I still marvel at that run of songs from tracks four through to six – ‘Little by Little’ / ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out’ / ‘Songbird’ (Liam: “It’s about a bird who sings”). The problem with Heathen though is two-fold. Firstly, those songs aside, there aren’t enough songs here which have stood the test of time (of the others, probably only ‘The Hindu Times’ and ‘Born on a Different Cloud’ are in anyway notable for me). Secondly, the in-house production on Heathen Chemistry doesn’t do the album any favours, resulting in an album that somehow manages to sound both flat and overly saccharin at the same time.
It wasn’t the best way to go out. Put it this way, if Oasis reformed tomorrow and went on a world tour, it’s unlikely that anything from Dig Out Your Soul would make it onto the set list, with only ‘The Shock of the Lightning’ (notable for it’s pounding drum solo) a long-shot of inclusion. Where Dig Out Your Soul falls down for me is the half-way mark, where we are introduced to Noel trying to do something different – but not really hitting the mark – with ‘(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady’. From there, there is a brief glimmer of hope with ‘Falling Down’, before a disappointing run of largely forgettable Liam/Andy/Gem songs ends the album – and Oasis’s discography.