Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Listening Post 4 - Oasis: Dig Out Your Soul

1997 and Oasis are about to release their massively-anticipated third album 'Be Here Now'. The music industry is in meltdown - as the ultimate winners in the Oasis v Blur Britpop war the third album of swaggering rock from the Gallagher Brothers was the hottest CD of the year and when the frenzy had subsided and the million or so first week sales digested and the dust finally settled the ghastly truth was that 'Be Here Now' was a clumsy, bloated, pretentious thing - three minute jingles stretched out to seven minute epics, their tunes and their melodies swamped by stodgy over-production. Oasis have never really recovered the ground the album lost them - but they've carried on, releasing three further workmanlike albums which, whilst they haven't done any further damaged to the band's collective reputation, they haven't exactly kept them at the forefront of popular musical culture either. It seems, these days, that Oasis are just there, a band which now exists just because neither Noel or Liam really know what they'd do without it...

So here we are with 'Dig Out Your Soul', the seventh proper Oasis studio CD, slipping onto the shelves without much fanfare and with a mediocre first single, 'Shock of the Lightning', heralding its arrival and, for its sins, only managing to heave itself to number three in what passes for the singles chart these days. But, after a few listens to the album itself, it has to be said that whilst, in places it's very much just 'another Oasis album', it does actually demonstrate signs of a band at least attempting to kick-start itself, trying to find the mojo which made it work in the first place. 'Dig Out Your Soul' is...whisper it....probably the best Oasis album since'What's The Story (Morning Glory)' and there's much here that sees the group trying to sound a bit different.

Let me qualify that. As usual The Beatles are all over this album. I think we have to accept that The Beatles' influence on Noel Gallagher is always going to be evident in his writing and the band's production. There are places where the album just resonates with virtually every Beatles period - soaring harmonies, lush strings,a bit of psychedlia and even a bit of post-Beatles Lennon. But now we're used to it I think we're better placed to just accept it and move on and see what Gallagher manages to do with his influences. The signs actually aren't too good here at first. 'Dig Out Your Soul' kicks off with four generic rockers which seem to refuse to work their way into your brain no matter how many times you listen to them. They stomp, they rock, they're entirely acceptable pub rock fodder but they sound like filler and that's not good for the first four tracks on an album three years in the making (or at least in three years since the last one). But eventually 'Bag It Up', 'The Turning', 'Waiting For the Rapture' and the aforementioned single offer up their own simplistic pleasures and whilst they're far from the best the album has to offer they're inoffensive as a mission statement and at least they're good for the air guitarists out there.

Track five is where the CD starts to get interesting and your ears will prick up. Here starts a run of four tracks which are right up tyhere with the best of the Oasis canon. Liam Gallagher's 'I'm Outta Time' is a gently-rolling little number, the closest the album gets to a ballad and it's quite haunting and effective, a nice change of pace after the slam of the first four tracks. Better yet is '(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady' which virtually channels Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' with its clumping, choppy beat. 'Falling Down' is a curiously hypnotic mid-tempo number and then there's the psychedlia of 'To Be Where There's Life', written by guitarist/keyboardist Gem which has a chorus lesser bands might kill for. The band slip back into default 'rock' mode in 'Ain't Got Nothin'' before coming on all thoughtful with 'The Nature of Reality' and album closer 'Soldier On' which suggests this is exactly what Oasis will do because it's what they've always done.

Return to form for Oasis? Hard to say because it's quite hard now to quantify exactly what Oasis' form has ever really been. Certainly the band are hugely anachronistic nowadays and it'd be hard to argue against the suggestion that they're completely out-of-date and even out of touch. But 'Dig Out Your Soul' certainly suggests there's life in this old Mancunian dog yet and, if I was to suggest such a thing, I'd suggest that if you don't fancy taking a chance on the whole CD you'd do yourself a favour by downloading tracks 5,6,7 and 8 because they're really startlingly good.


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