Don’t Believe The Truth
t seems to be that the ever-cyclical, ever-fickle music press is at that point in its orbit where Oasis are deemed cool again. People are talking about Don’t Believe The Truth and lead UK single “Lyla” in terms of them being both a return to creative form and a commercial comeback. But Oasis never went away—their fifth studio album, 2002’s Heathen Chemisty, went straight in at number one and shifted millions of units, just like Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants and Be Here Now had done, despite a lukewarm reception from both press and public.
Likewise Don’t Believe The Truth will debut at number one and go on to shift a few million copies, and would even if the press deemed it as much of a failure as Be Here Now or Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. Because no matter what the press perception of Oasis might be from one year to the next, they have a big enough and loyal enough fanbase to ensure the kind of automatic sales that most bands, if being honest, would kill for. That this is coupled with a kind of cultural curiosity which impels a certain type of Guardian-reading 30-something professional to pick up the album on their monthly trip to HMV or Virgin Megastore so that they can feel that they’re “keeping abreast of the [nebulous] zeitgeist” is enough to keep Oasis in the kind of multi-million selling stasis they’ve become accustomed to.
But anyway, the record.
I don’t suppose for one second that Noel Gallagher’s into radical deconstructionism, but he does a fucking good impression of being. Why? Because arguably the Oasis machine is now staffed by simulacra. Noel is letting (encouraging?) second-rate Oasis wannabe poseurs and rip-off merchants like Gem Archer and Andy Bell (RIP Ride, burn in hell Hurricane #1) write Oasis tunes, and frankly that’s absurd. It’s like getting The Bootleg Beatles to write and record an album of new Beatles songs, or like getting the singer from an Iron Maiden tribute band in to front Iron Maiden (oh- wait…).
But the thing is that Andy (isn’t being the bass player in Oasis the most demeaning job in the record industry?) and Gem (hard G or soft G, I still don’t care) are writing better “Oasis” songs these days than Noel (witness the Bell-penned opener, “Turn Up The Sun,” which, cheesy coda aside, is the kind of sneering thing you’d hope Oasis circa 2005 would produce, much like Gem’s “A Bell Will Ring,” one of the album’s high points), who appears almost to be having a surreptitious solo career from within the confines of the group (which, I guess, saves the embarrassment of a solo album flop). And as for Liam… well, his songs are still simple, still vaguely charming in a vacant way, and still desperate to sound like John Lennon circa 66-68.
Which means that Don’t Believe The Truth is a very Oasis-sounding record, possibly the most Oasis-sounding record they’ve made since the uber-Oasis-sounding Be Here Now, when Noel Gallagher lapsed totally into self-parody by waxing guitar overdub over guitar overdub, and stretching almost every single song past the five-minute mark totally unnecessarily. After the uncharacteristically technological sheen to SOTSOG and the back-to-basics droning of Heathen Chemistry, DBTT is raw and unrefined, which is how Oasis should sound in the minds of many. The sheer volume of guitars that characterised Definitely Maybe might be absent, but the deadening thump of Tony McCarroll’s drumming on that record is replicated here by Zak Starkey rather than Alan White’s perpetual, cod-militaristic snare fill.
Part of this must be because Noel appears to have finally realised what Oasis are when they’re at their best—pastiche merchants. And, it must be said, little more than that. Don’t Believe The Truth is littered with the kind of tea-leaf moments that he built the Oasis name on 11 years ago. But while Liam’s swaggering whine could make Slade and “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” rip-offs sound thrillingly cocksure and exciting on Definitely Maybe, his sneer can no longer carry a melody the way it used to, and he largely sounds haggard as a result. It’s difficult to tell whether the melodies present on DBTT lack the sparkle of the likes of “Slide Away,” “Live Forever,” and “Some Might Say” because of Liam’s faltering growl or because of Noel’s faltering sensibility (and Gem and Bell’s lack of ability); either way, they’re not quite up to scratch.
“Lyla” opens dramatically enough once you’re familiar with it (which you will be, because the first 15 seconds are “Street Fightin’ Man” by The Rolling Stones), but the fact that the chorus seems to have been lifted from “Hey Mona” by ex Aussie soap star Craig McLachlan does little to inspire confidence. It’s quite catchy, but so is influenza, and the exposure needed to set the tune in your brain suggests that the response is Pavlovian rather than genuine in nature. Compared to the instant familiarity that most of the songs from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory ? had (which, admittedly, is perhaps due to many of them being ripped-off from children’s television or, ahem, Gary Glitter), “Lyla” seems stodgy and forced.
What Noel still hasn’t realised though is that he shouldn’t be singing Oasis songs, even if he can’t be bothered writing them half the time now either. “Mucky Fingers” is the type of dirge that’s had half the press clamouring to mention that it sounds like The Velvet Underground, and oh how cool they were and by extension it must be. But it isn’t—the repetitive drum thwack and lack of tune might be redolent of Lou Reed’s early moments (most specifically “I’m Waiting For The Man”), but that opening melody is taken straight from “Smile” by grating post-Britpop chancers The Supernaturals, possibly the least cool pinch ever in the history of rock. Arguably Liam might have added an edge of aggression to the tune, but Noel’s increasingly short-of-puff voicebox leaves it foggy and unpleasant. Likewise “Part Of The Queue,” which is a decent enough (Shack) song rendered decidedly average by Noel’s pipes. One wonders whether Liam’s croaky hoarseness elsewhere is a symptom of terminal decline in his voice, and whether Noel feels a need to carry some of the burden if Liam is to be able to continue fronting Oasis at all.
Elsewhere “The Importance Of Being Idle” is still only the second best White Album rip this year (LCD Soundsystem’s “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” beating it), while the much-vaunted “Let There Be Love” starts unnervingly like Wilco’s “Red Eyed And Blue” before morphing into yet another semi-grand White Album pastiche. Thinking back, “Champagne Supernova” may have been lyrical gibberish, but it was thrillingly overblown in its nonsense; the numbers that come close to that epic swagger here (Bell’s “Keep The Dream Alive” being the main example) seem slightly withdrawn next to such excess.
Because the greatest thing about Oasis in their pomp was precisely that—their pomp. The string of singles from “Live Forever” through “Don’t Look Back In Anger” were typified by an audacity on and off the pitch (as it were) that marked them out as superstars. What outrageous caper would Liam get into next, which song would Noel rip-off next; with “Whatever” he explicitly suggested that he should rip-off himself (“it don’t cost much”) and by “Wonderwall” he almost seemed to be doing exactly that, so strong was the character and identity that ran through his songwriting and his band’s aesthetic, even if Bonehead and Guigsy never seemed to speak or even move.
A large part of Oasis’ continued reputation is down to the mythology and iconography that surrounded them between 1994 and 1997. The problem over the last few years has been that Noel didn’t know how to deal with that legacy; consolidation or expansion. Where Be Here Now was a cocaine-fuelled caricature, SOTSOG an attempt by Noel to develop the band despite its disintegration, and Heathen Chemistry a too-reactionary kick back towards the past, Don’t Believe The Truth is simply Oasis being Oasis with maximum efficiency. Which is to say that if you’re a committed acolyte of the church of Oasis, you’ll love it. And if you’re not, you won’t give a fuck.