All images courtesy of Getty Images/Oasis Facebook (official)
By Andrew Daly
When conversing about popular music in the 90s, it’s impossible not to include British Rock giants, Oasis. After all, their standout tracks “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and the swirling epic “Champagne Supernova” have been permeating radio airwaves since the release of the band’s 1995 sophomore megahit album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
It probably goes without saying that if you were a child of the 90s in America, then you are familiar with at least one of, if not all three of these songs. That said, what many don’t know is that across the Atlantic Oasis was and still is one of the biggest bands to ever grace a stage. Period. Their meteoric mid-90s rise, which coincided with the Brit-Pop boom should have led them to complete and total world domination, and yet stateside, they are too often thought of as one-hit wonders.
So, what happened? Why didn’t the outstanding music of Oasis translate to most American listeners in the way it did for their British counterparts? For a band that literally never put out a bad song, or album for that matter, what went wrong? Seemingly, Oasis had it all: a string of outstanding albums between 1994 and 2008, the ability to put on an effervescent and energetic live show, and of course, the age-old Rock ‘N’ Roll swagger to boot.
When looking back at the 90s, like any other decade, you’ve got a whole lot of cheese, fodder, and imitators. To me, it goes without saying that Oasis was none of these things. It is also noteworthy that while they did not take over America in the way they did the UK, they still have maintained a certain level of popularity, which is coupled with an ever-creeping wave of 90s nostalgia that millennials seem to be bathing themselves in lately.
If there was ever a time for the Gallagher brothers to figure out their differences, and take the stage again, it’s probably now, and in doing so, they might just finally take the American market in a way they had hoped to all those years ago. In the meantime, let’s look back on the strange and eventful journey of Oasis, a band that perhaps never reached its promise, but wasn’t too far off either.
Liam Gallagher: The Consummate Frontman
There have been a great many frontmen in Rock ‘N’ Roll history, but there aren’t many who carry the natural-born swagger of Liam Gallagher. With a style pulled directly out of an early 70s John Lennon photoshoot, and a cocksure bravado that harkens back to the days of Johnny Rotton, Liam Gallagher didn’t just take the stage to perform, no, to this day, he very literally owns any stage that he steps on. With little regard for his audience, or bandmates, Liam sneered his way through now-classic tracks such as “Supersonic,” “Morning Glory,” and “D’You Know What I Mean?” Hunched over in his unique couch, with his head arched upward toward the sky, Liam would twist and stretch vowels to their literal breaking point with unbridled arrogance and downright anger, which was more often than not, directed at his older brother, Noel.
While Liam’s prickly attitude and sauntering swagger came to define the band, the hard-partying lifestyle that came with that, along with the undue stress his unorthodox singing style placed on his vocal cords would be part of the latter-day undoing of the once-mighty Oasis. As the 2000s wore on, and Liam’s vocal cords became both drenched in whiskey and weathered by cigarettes, leaving his once singular singing voice, which acted as the literal mouthpiece for his brother’s songs a shell of its former self. To make matters worse, a cocaine addiction had done serious damage to his sinus and respiratory system, which did absolutely nothing to help matters.
As Liam’s ability deteriorated, as did his relationship with his brother, Noel, who in turn was growing tired of his younger brother’s antics. The relationship with the Gallagher brothers was always integral to the success of Oasis, but as things reached critical mass, this same relationship would ultimately be the band’s undoing. At the end of the day, Liam Gallagher’s refusal to give even an inch in his war of words with his brother is ultimately what laid the groundwork for Noel’s decision to quit, which effectively killed Oasis. Liam Gallagher is the ultimate Rock Star through and through. His performance on the band’s early records such as their debut, Definitely Maybe, is the stuff of legend. In a way, I guess you have to respect his refusal to compromise who he is, even in the face of what he feared most– the end of Oasis. I personally find that to be his most endearing quality, while also perhaps serving as his most toxic trait.
Noel Gallagher: The Chief
When Liam Gallagher asked his older brother, Noel, to join his band (The Rain) in the early 90s, no one could have predicted what was to come. In relatively short order, the band changed its name to Oasis, and it became readily apparent that this was now Noel’s band, much to the chagrin to the younger Gallagher. Noel had cut his teeth as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets in the late 80s and early 90s, and during his time on the road, Noel had developed a deep understanding of songwriting and structure, which would go on to serve both him, and Oasis well as the decade progressed, and their star ascended.
Like his younger brother, Liam, it was apparent early on that the arrogant swagger which swirled around the band was something of an inherited trait, as Noel too was never shy about his intentions or his eventual accomplishments. As Oasis began to grow, as too did Noel’s ego, who was infinitely aware of his very real status as a class-a songwriter. To be fair, if you had a cache of songwriting credits under your belt which included genre-defining tracks such as “Live Forever,” “Slide Away,” “Lyla,” and literally dozens more, you probably would be walking to the beat of a different tune as well. When it comes to Oasis, the brazen view of their own accomplishments…their ever-confident sense of self was on full display at all times, and it was this attitude that would propel the band forward, and conversely drag the band down.
Over time, it began to seem as if Noel couldn’t write a bad song, a skill that has followed him to this day in his solo career. For years on end, Noel Gallagher effortlessly churned out song after song, album after album with seemingly little to no effort, while his brother fronted the band. It was here where the dynamic of the Gallagher brothers would rear its ugly head differently. While Liam may have resented his older brother for taking credit as “sole songwriter and architect” of Oasis, conversely, Noel began to resent Liam for being the band’s mouthpiece and having the privilege of singing all of these songs. At some point, especially when his brother’s voice began to become compromised, Noel began to realize that perhaps he could front his own band, that he simply didn’t need Liam, or Oasis anymore. As the threat of this loomed larger and larger, Oasis drew closer and closer to the end.
An Overreliance On B-Sides: The Masterplan Gone Wrong
At the height of their fame, which was just after the release of their 1997 coke-fueled opus, Be Here Now, Oasis could do no wrong, and were ready to take not just the UK, but the entire world by storm. Noel Gallagher was churning out fantastic songs, and after several high-profile gigs at Maine Road, Knebworth, Wembley Stadium, and G-Mex, Oasis were poised for megastardom the likes of which none of their contemporaries had ever seen. Unfortunately, it was at this point that drugs, ego, and simply bad decisions began to derail the band.
The Gallagher brothers never made it a secret that they were perpetually paying homage to their heroes. Influences from bands such as T-Rex, Slade, The Kinks, and especially The Beatles can be found throughout the band’s music, and imagery. One area where the elder Gallagher took a wrong turn was his steadfast belief in b-sides, which amounted to the practice of saving many of his finest songs for release as singles, as opposed to putting them on an actual album, which was a strategy The Beatles used to great success in the mid to late 60s. While the Gallagher brother’s belief that if it was, “Good enough for The Beatles, it’s good enough for Oasis,” was nice enough, in theory, it was actually highly flawed in practice. I’ll explain.
Simply put, a “b-side” gets its name as it was the very literal flipside to a 45RPM vinyl record. Now, in the 50s and 60s, this was a very popular means to consume music, as not everyone within the record-consuming public was interested in full-length releases. So, a band such as The Beatles, for example, could garner a substantial hit by holding back songs as b-sides, examples being “Revolution,” and “Hey Jude.” Again, this was a wonderful strategy in the 1960s, but in the late 90s, fans were no longer buying records, let alone 45s. Moreso, this was the age before streaming, so consumers effectively had no real means to come by a b-side/single release, as most were buying full-length CDs. Noel Gallaghers decision to hold back hit-worthy songs such as “The Masterplan,” “Stay Young,” and “Acquiesce” was a critical misstep, and kept the band off the charts for extended periods of time, which in turn kept them from taking America as they had hoped. While the band may have won over the European market for good, the American listening public is far more fickle, and Noel’s decision, albeit a cocaine-influenced one, led to legitimate radio silence.
The Gallagher Brothers At Odds: The End Of The Road For Oasis
As the 90s came to a close, and the 2000s dawned we saw a new era for Oasis which included a lot of great music, and four more outstanding albums in Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, Heathen Chemistry, Don’t Believe The Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. While Liam’s star was beginning to fade, and his voice was abandoning him, his older brother, Noel, who was now sober seemed to be experiencing a newfound maturity and depth in his already outstanding songwriting. His guitar playing became sharper, and although 90s stalwarts Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, and Alan White were no longer accompanying the brothers on their journey, newcomers Gem Archer, Andy Bell, Zak Starkey, and later Chris Sharrock, brought a pedigree and sense of musical legitimacy that the band had never had before. It seemed that more than ever, this was truly Noel’s band, and with this becoming clearer by the day, Liam’s anger and resentment toward his brother mounted.
By the time the band had finished touring for their 2005 record, Don’t Believe The Truth, Liam’s voice had gotten so bad, that Noel laid down the proverbial gauntlet and publically told his brother to, “Sort your voice out,” less he would not be accompanying Oasis on their next tour, and perhaps wouldn’t even sing on their next record. As if by some miracle, Liam did manage to bring his voice back, but not all the way back, but as he was approaching his late 30s, some wear and tear were to be expected, and by all accounts, Liam sounded great. Still, it seems that years of verbal and physical abuse had taken their toll, and the damage between the once inseparable brothers was now perhaps irreparable. As Oasis departed for their world tour in support of their 2008 record, Dig Out Your Soul, it seemed that they were on a collision course, which ultimately proved to be true.
I ended up seeing Oasis in December of 2008, at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. At the time, I was at the height of my own personal Oasis obsession and was extremely excited to see them perform live. I was very aware of the reports of massive infighting between Noel and Liam and was also aware that regardless of if Oasis was to continue or not, Noel had every intention of launching a solo career at the tour’s end. For the band’s part, the show was fantastic. Musically, they were spot on, and the reports of Liam reclaiming his lost voice were true. What was also true was there was palatable anger between the brothers. It was noticeable, and Noel and Liam would hardly look at one another, let alone talk. Liam would perpetually sneer and stare in the direction of the stage where Noel presumably was standing, and in between songs he would arbitrarily hurl insults out to Noel across the arena, without directly casting the shade his way. And so, in the summer of 2009, when I heard Oasis had broken up in Paris after Liam had smashed Noel’s guitar and physically attacked him, I was saddened, but not surprised. The mighty Oasis had finally come to an end.
Looking Back On Oasis: What Could Have Been
In the twelve long years since Oasis broke up, a lot has happened, with both Noel and Liam each releasing some truly interesting and representative solo output. Noel with his High Flying Birds, and Liam, with Beady Eye, and now as a solo artist. The musical landscape has shifted, but the retrospective love for Oasis and all things 90s has never been stronger. As far as we know, the Gallagher brothers are still not on speaking terms, save for when they verbally assault one another through Twitter, or the media, though it seems Liam has softened, and perhaps finally matured with age as any man in his late 40s should.
As for Noel, now in his early 50s, he seems content to continue to wall off his younger brother, all the while still churning out magnificent music. Year in, and year out there are reports of hundreds of millions of dollars being thrown the Gallagher’s way, asking them to please reunite Oasis for a ravenous fan base, but alas these advances are turned down by one of, if not both of the brothers Gallagher each and every time.
In retrospect, Oasis is a hard band to examine in terms of its potential. While it’s true that they are beloved in the UK and throughout Europe, at the same time, they are at times barely remembered by some here in America, still only recalled as the band who, “Sang “Wonderwall” or something.” Looking back, it’s true, Oasis sold out some of the largest stadiums in the world in the UK, but would only play to half-filled arenas stateside.
At the end of the day, a band with the talent, swagger, and songs that Oasis possessed should have conquered the entire world, not just half of it, but we can’t go back and for now, at least, Noel and Liam aren’t interested in writing another chapter, as such, the legacy of Oasis will always be defined by duality. While perhaps the final chapter of Oasis is not fully written, for now, they will remain band only within striking distance of true universal greatness. A band that was stronger together, but chose to be apart. A band who until they step out of their own shadow will forever remain in the overarching silhouette of their influences.