Oasis’ fallen empire

Earlier this month, Noel Gallagher opined that he abhors comparisons to a certain outfit from Oxford. "The biggest criticism that the music press has against us is that we're not Radiohead," the Oasis guitarist told Plavi Radio in Zagreb, Croatia. "Correct me if I'm wrong, they've been making the same record since Kid A, have they not?"

Aside from his rather surly disposition, Noel's chief character flaw has always been a dearth of self-awareness. It's essentially why Oasis' aesthetic has evolved very little since those budding early days of bar chords, root notes on bass, and 4/4 drumbeats. It's why, somewhere right now, Noel is talking glowingly about the Beatles. And it's why the group hitched its wagon to Britpop — a cultural movement that centered on the dizzying rebranding of England — despite the noted lack of an Anglocentric tinge to Oasis' canon. While Britpop contemporaries were achingly provincial (hear the social and generational malaise captured on Blur's Parklife, or the claustrophobic, smutty elements of urban life portrayed in Suede's self-titled debut), Oasis was relatively unconscious during an extraordinary stirring of national consciousness.

Sure, the band had the necessary gestures down pat: singer Liam Gallagher famously spouting, "It's the greatest flag in the world — we're here to do something about it!" during his first visit to the Creation Records offices; Noel Gallagher playing a guitar emblazoned with the Union Jack at a 1996 show at Manchester's Maine Road stadium. However, penetrate that slick production work, pare away those fat melodies and overlapping guitars, and, well, you get some truth: The Biggest Band Since the Beatles was all style and — short of those legendary mountains of cocaine — no substance.

Post-Britpop, the vacuousness only deepened. Releases like 2000's Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and 2002's Heathen Chemistry further proved that the depth of Oasis' genre-mining related to its lack of focus. Nicking from countless English predecessors (T-Rex, the Kinks, the Stone Roses, etc.) wasn't enough of a sin; now Oasis was keen on making it all sound lumbering and banal.

Which brings us to Dig Out Your Soul, the group's eighth studio album and possibly the final nail in Oasis' pine box. Aside from "The Shock of the Lightning," where Liam cements his status as the most skillful vocalist ever at pronouncing long vowel sounds ("Love is a time macheeeeen/Up on the silver screeeeen"), and the poignant "I'm Outta Time" (Britpop's end theme if there ever was one), Dig Out Your Soul lacks any of the melodic verve and scuffed menace typical of the band's early efforts.

"Waiting for the Rapture" and "(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady" plod along underneath Noel's stock chord progressions and flat vocals. "Bag It Up" is a blues-bar stomp that's largely forgettable; it's then poorly rehashed later as "The Nature of Reality." And of course, no Oasis record would be complete without the Gallaghers' aimless nostalgia for You Know Who. Some instances are subtle: The opening drums to "Falling Down" are a nod to "Tomorrow Never Knows," while the coda to "The Turning" cribs from "Dear Prudence." Others border on idolatry, like the insertion of a John Lennon soundbite into "I'm Outta Time."

That spacious guitar-and-drum sound, those big rhymes and anthemic choruses — they're here once more, Oasis still reaching for a pop grandiosity the group will never quite grasp. When Britpop was at its heady peak, the NME's Steven Wells made waves by panning the cultural movement, saying it was posturing typical of a faltering empire folks no longer gave a shit about. Fitting, really, because the same could be written of Oasis and Dig Out Your Soul.

 
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