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Entries in Oasis (3)

Saturday
May302009

Remembering the Roses

As the song goes, it was twenty years ago today, that Sgt Pepper taught the band - oh hang on, wrong album. Sorry. It was twenty years ago this month that The Stone Roses released their self-titled debut; and about thirteen years ago since I heard it for the first time. I was wandering fairly aimlessly around Clontarf in Dublin (worked up, if I recall correctly, about a girl who wasn't paying me sufficient attention) and I had a copy of the album, on cassette, in my cheapo walkman.

Despite the poor quality of my headphones (big fluorescent orange foam objects that I'd bought from a pound shop), as soon as I hit play, I knew the record was going to become the perfect soundtrack to that moment - and to that time in my life in general. Apologies for waxing lyrical here, but listening to it was like being let out of school early on a blisteringly hot summer's day; a first kiss; sagging off for a cheeky pint when you know you should be doing something officious. (See, I told you I was about to wax lyrical).

More simply put, it was a beautiful record. When it came out in 1989, its stunning melodies, jangly guitars, backwards tracks and close vocal harmonies must have represented an oasis (no pun intended) in the desert that was 1980s music. It was a return to decent record-making, and marked the advent of a 90s music scene - Britpop - which, whilst having a silly name, nonetheless brought with it better songs and hairdos than had been seen in a very long time.

And speaking of an oasis, The Stone Roses really set the tone for the 90s. The band that went on to dominate the decade, Oasis, were frequently likened to the Beatles - but any Stone Roses fan knew that in many respects, it was actually the Roses that were being ripped off - their look and Ian Brown's performance style in particular.

Oasis went on to outsell the Roses and become something of a national institution that the Roses never really were; but one thing Oasis never had, in my view, was the sense of mythology that surrounded the Roses. A lot of the great albums / bands are draped in this sense of mythology - to think of the classic Beatles, Pink Floyd or Velvet Underground albums is to immediately call to mind a tapestry of images, characters and stories that becomes interwoven and infused with the music itself and adds a sense of magic to it. It's a mythology that I think Oasis have strived for and tried to manufacture - watch that DVD about the making of their last album for a prime example of this - but have never been completely successful with. In contrast, The Stone Roses were a band that had this mystique / mythology in spades: Ian Brown's sullen stage act and almost whispered vocals; John Squire's Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork; lyrics that made dark and mysterious references to Christian myths.

"The Stone Roses" was the perfect name for the band and their first album; the juxtaposition of the hard and the soft in the title summed up the music perfectly. Their debut album was full of sunny music but also dark and enigmatic themes: when you pause to consider the lyrics of Made of Stone, for example, you realise that lurking underneath its gorgeous melody is a fantasy of killing off a lover.

20 years on, The Stone Roses is a record which still stands the test of time; it's regularly voted one of the top albums of all time in those polls that music magazines seem to feel the need to do every six months. It continues to inspire bands like Kasabian, Doves and Elbow. My own songwriting still references them a bit too (although not as much as when I was a teenager - you should have heard how ridiculous my efforts to copy Ian Brown's vocal style sounded).

It's a beautifully sunny day today, and I think I'm going to try to find the time to find a contraption, without big orange foam headphones, that will let me walk around the place listening to this album. Different city this time, but, for 40 minutes or so, probably the same feelings.

If you've got memories of the first time you heard The Stone Roses, I'd love to hear them - so do leave a comment. Cheers!


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Thursday
Dec112008

Oasis

I've always been a bit ambivalent about Oasis. One the one hand they bring back good memories. Memories of being in my late teens in the nineties...which entailed, as you might expect, stripey turtle-necks, being drunk, chasing girls, playing the guitar badly, Trainspotting (the film, honest), talking shite...and learning how to be a tree (I studied Drama at university). All to the musical backdrop of tracks like Wonderwall and Don't Look Back in Anger. Those songs always remind me of fun, innocent times - times when Oasis' Roll with it was up against Blur's Country House for the number one spot, there were no responsibilities to worry about, no fear about the future and no agonising about a career in music - or any other career for that matter. We were invincible and, so it seemed, were Oasis.

On the other hand, I've always been deeply unimpressed by them - for two reasons. One: the vast majority of their songs sound like a cover version of the Beatles' classic Rain (and in fact, that was Oasis' original name). Two (and a related reason this): their unrelenting obsession with the Beatles.

Now don't get me wrong: I love the Beatles. They inspired me to learn how to play the guitar and embark on an incredibly foolish musical journey. I have ripped them off mercilessly in my own music. But Oasis take their admiration to a level far beyond that of most admirers. Their haircuts, their lyrics, their guitars, their videos, their choice of recording studio...everything about them has always seemed to say less about their own identity than that of the Beatles. Although Oasis write their own material, they often seem to resemble a sort of weird Beatles tribute band.

Maybe that's highly intentional, and part of the marketing plan - after all, the Beatles are rock icons that are deeply loved. You can go a long way by trading on associations. But to believe that is to do Oasis a disservice: their love for the Fab Four has always come across as genuine, and has certainly been long-lasting.

I guess it's the 'long-lasting' aspect of this love which I find irritating. In the nineties, when the Beatles were doing their Anthology TV series, and we had the whole 'Britpop' thing going on, the Oasis-Beatles-60s revival stuff seemed novel and interesting - and in tune with the times. Thirteen years on, encountering Beatles-infused lyrics like "Love is...a magical mystery", Beatles-infused song titles like "Bag it up", or Beatles-infused videos that look like the Yellow Submarine film is not hugely inspiring. And a lot of the new material still sounds like Rain.

But I'm going to forgive Oasis all that. Because I love their new single, I'm Outta Time. I think it's a fantastic song, even if the lyrics make no sense at all and it's a complete Lennon rip-off (though I can't talk: I'm completely guilty of bad lyric writing and ripping Lennon off). I would go so far as to say, controversially, that it's the greatest track they've put out; the production is engaging (that irritating Day in the Life piano reference aside), the melody is a treat, and well, it's just a great song.

To my mind, Noel has written three or four very good songs - Don't Look Back in Anger, Wonderwall, Live Forever and Roll With It...and the rest sound like Rain. I think this new single is better than all of those songs (with the exception of Rain of course) - and it was written by Liam. I've got a sneaking feeling that Noel knows this.

Normally at this point in a blog I try to write something witty and come to some sort of conclusion. I'm afraid I can't here. Basically I sometimes like Oasis; sometimes I don't; I like their new single. Did you need to know this? Probably not.

I think all the above says something about blogging.

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Monday
Oct062008

Girls Aloud get me thinking

Just when you're getting over an incredibly funny quote from a rock star (see my earlier post on Noel Gallagher's Irishness), along comes another, from none other than Chris Martin:

"I love Girls Aloud. I'm obsessed with Girls Aloud. I've been trying to write them a song and I can't come up with anything good enough. They're amazing. It's the combination of extreme physical attraction and fantastic music. I think they might be the ultimate form of life."

Well I don't know what Chris Martin's missus has to say about that (if I said that I'd be in trouble with mine), and I'd stop short at calling them the ultimate form of life, but - shock! horror! - I think he actually might be onto something. The people who put that band together have been very, very, very clever: combining some of the best-looking provincial girls going with some of the best pop writers and producers around. Throw in some videos which just stop short of being soft porn and you've got a recipe for success. Actually now that I read over that, maybe that isn't that clever at all; it's bloody obvious. But it's very effective.

At this point I am sure you think I'm off my rocker regarding the pop/production bit (I'd say most red-blooded males agree with the first bit though). But let's look a little bit closer at the music. It's bloody good. Okay, so the lyrics are pretty trite ("I'm just a love machine, feeding my fantasy" anyone?) but the tunes are excellent, and the production is cutting edge. Take their track Biology, for example - it starts off as glam rock, goes a bit pop, then disco, then back to glam rock...you don't hear that kind of thing very often. It's not as good as Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, but it employs the same kind of genre-bending tactics, and it's really refreshing to hear that kind of music in the charts. It's pop, but not as we know it Jim.

The guy who writes most of their stuff is a chap called Brian Higgins, who runs a production house called Xenomania. It's not just me that admires his writing - the Guardian's Alexis Petridis has this to say about his work:

"Listening to [Girls Aloud's second studio album] What Will The Neighbours Say?, you constantly get the impression that Higgins and Xenomania are enraptured by the possibilities of pop music..."

I don't always agree with Mr Petridis, and I'm still peeved that he didn't review my last record, but I'm with him on this one - he's spot on. On the best Girls Aloud records, you hear Higgins not playing music, but playing with it. At this point in pop/rock history there are just so many things you can pick and choose from when you're making a record...but most big-selling 'credible' acts just don't. Take Chris Martin's band for example - you don't hear any genre-bending there at all really. Or The Editors. Or Oasis. Or Damien Rice. Or, sadly these days, Radiohead. It's the same old sound, tweaked a little bit for each record, but wheeled out pretty much without fail on every occasion. Higgins, on the other hand, makes the most of the vast sonic possibilities that we now have at our disposal. Albeit sometimes in a casual and trite way - but it's always fun, and at times brilliant.

So that's why I'm enjoying Girls Aloud records. They plunder from the past. They use the latest production toys. They switch styles on a whim. The only thing is, of course, that the girls themselves don't have much to do with it; you get the feeling that Higgins really could have got any girls with decent voices to do the singing. They do a competent job, but I know plenty of female singers who can perform just as well as them.

But when pop looks and sounds this good, it seems churlish to complain.

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