Sensible music fans, this will horrify you, but there are apparently some people who think that What’s the Story? (Morning Glory) is a better album than Definitely Maybe. I know, it’s bizarre. I don’t understand it either. For more details of this frankly appalling dispute, read on as David Nilsen and I return to the ’90s to argue about Oasis’ first two albums.
Katy Goodwin-Bates: I can’t overstate just how ubiquitous Oasis’s music remains over here. Our radio system is far less genre/geography based than yours, but it is literally impossible to turn on an indie or 90s station without hearing pretty much all of the first two albums. Without even trying to, I hear at least three Oasis songs a day. As long as they’re good ones, I have no issue.
For me, Definitely Maybe is the quintessential 90s album. Britpop was a hugely formative experience for me and Definitely Maybe was the record that kick-started my love of guitar music. I still remember buying the cassette in my local independent record store; I think this is part of why it’s still so familiar and comforting to me, almost in its entirety, because I experienced it in a medium that made it really inconvenient to skip tracks. When it comes on my iPod now, if the shuffle setting is on, it just feels wrong.
David Nilsen: I found Oasis, like many Americans, on their second album. Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova were some kind of melancholic daydreams that took over our radio waves and made us all believe the Gallagher brothers were sweet, sensitive romantics and not brawling, petty hooligans. I fell hard for Oasis, reading every Rolling Stonearticle I could find and going onto chat rooms (remember chat rooms?) to discuss my love for the band. I even read a weird memoir written by their bodyguard, which gives someone uninitiated an indication of how huge this band was, if even their hired muscle got a book deal.
I would put on What’s the Story, Morning Glory?on tape and sing along, imagining I was Liam, though I always liked Noel more. That all of England fell under their trance helped elevate my opinion of England as a whole when I was 16.
Anything not American was exotic in my small little Midwestern high school, so even though Oasis was doing pretty basic rock (albeit doing it well), and even though they were possibly the biggest band in the world at the time, it still felt hip and in-the-know to like them then. Of course, I was convinced no one liked them as much as I did.
KGB: But it wasn’t all of England! Do you not know of the Great Blur versus Oasis War of 1995? This was a major conflict. It was lucky teenagers don’t have automatic weapons.
DN: Oh, yes. And it made me like Blur less, even though I didn’t really like them all that much anyway (I was going to put an axe through our television if I heard one more commercial with their Woohoo sample).
But still – Oasis was impossibly huge there, right? I remember reading almost 5% of the population tried to buy tickets to their Slane Castle show.
KGB: It was very dramatic, epitomising as it did some of the issues that persist in British society even 20 years later: north vs south, working class vs middle class. Just to be contrary, I am southern and middle class, but I fell hard for Oasis like you; it felt weirdly rebellious to opt for the snarly Parka-wearing Mancunians rather than mockney Damon Albarn. I don’t know why it never occurred to any of us that you could like both bands.
Oasis were and still are huge; I have already heard three Oasis songs on the radio today and it’s only 3.30 p.m.
I think because they were never particularly original in the first place, a lot of their music hasn’t dated.
DN: Sure, that’s a good point. It is so weird to me they’re still big there. They more or less don’t even exist here anymore. Who’s even in the band at this point?
KGB: Their possible reunion is mentioned in the media at least once a week here. They split a few years ago and both Liam and Noel have done their own thing (with nowhere near as much success).
DN: I wonder how much more damaging their uncouthness would be if they were first coming out today, with social media being what it is. It’s hard to picture them getting away with saying they hope Damon from Blur dies of AIDS and surviving that commercially. As they did in the 90s.
On the other hand, if your fan base is white bros with attitudes and expendable income, maybe you survive it just fine.
KGB: I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just because I’m not 13 any more, but exaggerated swagger impresses me a lot less now than it did back in the day. I imagine the warring brothers narrative would still engage people though. Maybe they’d fight with each other on Twitter. Noel Gallagher, incidentally, is something of a national treasure now. He’s very funny and a lot more articulate than his 1990s persona.
DN: He always struck me as the brains and polish of that operation. He was always my favorite. How about I offer a few unpopular opinions to get us started, and you can yell at me?
KGB: Yes, please.
KGB: That’s just silly.
Definitely Maybe is a glorious, snarling statement of intent. It’s a wild night out of reckless abandon. What’s the Story is the following night, when you go out again, trying to replicate the excitement, but end up throwing up on your shoes by 7 p.m. and tucked up in bed earlier than on a school night.
DN: You are so wrong right now.
KGB: I am very pleased with this metaphor.
DN: Definitely Maybe feels like they had idealized shitty American dive bars in St. Louis or something and never realized the appeal of those bars is only intended to be ironic. Liam’s voice is whiny as hell on the entire album, and he tries to affect this southern twang that makes no sense and, we discover on the next album, is not his actual singing voice.
And there’s hardly a single to sing along to on the entire album, with the exception of Live Forever.
I get the idea of it being grittier and dirtier and all that, but the next album really does feel better from a songwriting and delivery standpoint.
KGB: What! That is outrageous. Supersonic is a great song. Also, try telling a British dude in his 30s that you can’t sing along to Cigarettes and Alcohol. I don’t think they ever recorded another song as good as Slide Away.
I also think Definitely Maybe is perfectly structured. Any other band would be laughed out of the NME for starting their debut with a song called Rock n Roll Star, but here it’s a perfect mission statement. The album peaks in noisiness from tracks 5-8 and then lovely Slide Away is sandwiched between the mundane silliness of Digsy’s Dinner (“lasaaaaaaagnaaaaahhh”) and Married with Children, which I always really liked.
DN: Married with Children is good.
And yes, opening your debut album with a song called Rock n Roll Star could not be a more Gallagher brothers thing to do. But they sound like they desperately want the worst American fans of the Rolling Stones to like them. For being a band that steals Beatles lyrics every other song, they sure seem to love 1990-era Stones.
KGB: I don’t think Oasis were ever about the lyrics though. For one thing, they’re generally very silly. Case in point; “I’m feeling supersonic/give me gin and tonic/ you can have it all but how much do you want it?” Want what? The gin and tonic? Also I refuse to believe Liam Gallagher was a G & T drinker. It’s far too refined.
But if you’re critiquing their lack of originality, how can you justify preferring What’s the Storywhen it’s just a less good version of Definitely Maybe?
DN: He seems like he could drink the worst of dry London gin on the rare nights he’s feeling reflective and masochistic. But yeah, not very often, and never good gin.
But What’s the Story wasn’t a version of Definitely Maybe at all. It doesn’t try to be. For one album, they matured into pop songwriters who could appeal to more than their street-level bar crowd. Liam abandons his silly twang, Noel’s songwriting reaches its pinnacle, their production quality hit the perfect balance between the quasi-garage rock of Definitely Maybe and the lamely posh veneer of Be Here Now (though that still had a couple decent songs on it).
They’re not writing at all the same kinds of songs on their second album.
KGB: I am in strong disagreement now. Some of the songs on What’s the Story are just rubbish; Hey Now, for example, serves no purpose and says nothing. If starting an album with Rock n Roll Star was a cliche, beginning the next one with a song called Hello is just ridiculous, and I imagine they regret sampling Gary Glitter now.
Part of the problem with the 2nd album, for me, is its ubiquity. Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back were and still are SO overplayed here, they basically mean nothing to me any more. I do think What’s the Story follows the template of Definitely Maybe; storming starts, anthems like Live Forever and Wonderwall a few tracks in, then big, long ballads near the end in the form of Slide Away and Champagne Supernova. I’d also draw a clear line between Digsy’s Dinner and She’s Electric. Though I’ll grant you She’s Electric would have been right at home on Definitely Maybe.
I think What’s the Story is just too overblown. There are so many songs on there which follow the formula of the previous album but just aren’t as good.
Melodically, I’ll grant that What’s the Story is better.
But lyrically, I’m sticking with its older brother.
DN: I wonder how much of this disagreement is something difficult to bridge based on our different experiences of coming to the band, which spring directly from you growing up in England and I in America.
KGB: This is very probably the case.
Also, with Oasis making it big over there with the second album maybe it’s inevitable. I think music fans usually have the most affection for the album they came to first in a band’s oeuvre.
DN: Okay, Unpopular Opinion No. 2: All of that being said, neither of these albums holds up as well as I remembered.
DN: Well, I’ve expressed my thoughts on Definitely Maybe. But even with Morning Glory, which I prefer, it feels less substantial than it did back then. This seems like a classic case of a band being hurt by their own popularity. As we’ve said, they were just such a big deal. I adored them. And now, while there are some fun songs, it’s hard to listen and remember how this completely captured the imagination of the English-speaking world. It’s fine. It’s good. It’s not world-breaking. And that comes with a letdown that isn’t really the band or album’s fault, I suppose. Continuing the metaphor you started with the night of wild drinking, it’s like remembering one of those legendary nights twenty years later when you have a kid and you’re married and you have actual things you’re trying to accomplish in life. Yeah, it can still bring a smile to your face to remember it, but do you really want to go back and be that silly and reckless? Maybe now and then, if the moment and reason is perfect, but you’ll probably end up feeling shitty about yourself afterward, like you were trying to recapture something that’s lost.
KGB: I think part of the issue is that there wasn’t much else for the discerning indie music fan in the mid 1990s. Britpop started with Oasis, and that opened the floodgates for a lot of bands that, I think, have stood the test of time more successfully, like Pulp. The album Blur bought out in opposition to What’s the Story was pretty terrible, but their work after that was interesting (with the exception of the Wahoo song as you have mentioned). What’s the Story was a real product of its time, especially here, with awful Lad Culture and the European football championships in ’96; for a lot of people, it holds up just through nostalgia.
I saw Oasis play in 2005 and remember nothing about it (not even through drinking because I never drink at festivals). That tells me a lot about their long-term impact on my life.
I saw The Cure at the same festival and remember every second, by contrast.
DN: Even if you disagree, do you at least hear the whininess and faux-country twang in Liam’s voice in the early stuff?
KGB: Oh completely. I think Liam might be the source of my theory about male singers not actually needing to be able to sing. You must have noticed the “shi-yin-ah” bit that seems to be in about half their songs?
That’s always really annoyed me.
DN: I mean, there are a few female leads who can’t sing, but are still wonderful. Emily Haines has no range at all, but I will hear nothing bad about Metric. Also, Dolores O’Riordan secretly cannot sing at all, but did that matter?
KGB: I love Metric! I always really like her voice. Maybe because it didn’t make me feel inadequate.
DN: Right. She’s doesn’t need to be able to sing better than she does. She can’t hit anything high, and mostly doesn’t try to, but her voice is adequate and perfect to their sound. I love her.
Dolores flatly cannot sing. But I adore the early Cranberries stuff with ardent passion.
KGB: But I guarantee nobody else I know has heard of Metric, while nobody in the English-speaking world can be unaware of Oasis. Sigh.
DN: There is a tremendous amount of the Oasis story that reeks of male mediocrity getting ushered into the spotlight because it is brash enough.
KGB: Amen to that.
DN: Is there anything else about Oasis to discuss? Are we still friends?
KGB: I feel like we’ve reached a conclusion. To our relationship.