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The Boston Phoenix Copy Cats

Oasis continue to mine the past

By Gary Susman

MARCH 6, 2000:  Okay, it's patently obvious, not especially original, and blatantly unfair, when listening to Oasis, to compare the biggest British rock band of the '90s to the Beatles and other '60s forebears. But it sure is fun. Besides, those wankers all but ask for it, especially since they've titled their fourth album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (Epic).

So, let's see, if the band's previous album -- 1997's Be Here Now, with its epic psychedelia and its panglobal "All You Need Is Love"/"Hey Jude" sing-alongs -- was Oasis's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour (both 1967) rolled into one, then it follows that their next release should be their equivalent of the 1968 Beatles album commonly known as "The White Album." And indeed, Shoulder evokes that album's post-psychedelic comedown into sonic chaos and personal obsession. In fact, all 48 minutes of music on Shoulder can trace itself back to the four-bar bridge of "Helter Skelter." Production by Mark "Spike" Stent (U2, Massive Attack) doesn't update Oasis's sound so much as make it louder, noisier, and even denser. Don't forget the liquid, McCartney-esque bass-guitar lines, Alan White's Ringo-fied snare pounding, or the Lennon-like inflections of Liam's trademark Manchester keen. Meanwhile, both Noel Gallagher (Oasis's guitarist/composer) and brother Liam (the singer) have settled into marriage and fatherhood (as John Lennon and Paul McCartney were on the verge of doing in 1968), a sobering up from their years of well-documented boozing and drugging. (To twist an earlier Oasis lyric, where were you while we were getting straight?) And that change is reflected in both Noel's lyrics and Liam's -- that's right, Liam has a composition for the first time, just as "The White Album" was the first Beatles set to showcase songs composed by each of its four members.

To be fair, I should acknowledge that Oasis don't just emulate the Beatles. They're famous for emulating the Kinks, too, since the band's heart is the most notorious pair of battling brothers since Ray and Dave Davies. Adding to the analogy is the fact that long-time members Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs and Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan left during the recording of Shoulder; they've since been replaced by rhythm guitarist Gem Archer and bassist Andy Bell. So, like the Kinks, Oasis are essentially a two-man show. You could also compare them to the Who (tensions between the brilliant, Pete Townshend-like guitarist/composer and the charismatic, Roger Daltrey-ish frontman who interprets his vision). And for the sake of variety, let's throw in an American band, the Doors, whose "Roadhouse Blues" Noel brazenly cops for the melody and lyric of Shoulder's "Put Your Money Where Yer Mouth Is."

As if that weren't enough, the opening instrumental, "Fuckin' in the Bushes," samples dialogue recorded at 1970's notorious Isle of Wight rock festival (where one observer complained about all the hippies engaging in the title activity). Peace and love and flower power rear their dazed heads again on "Go Let It Out!" and "Who Feels Love?" Liam's song, a lullaby for his son called "Little James," builds from a simple, acoustic beginning to a rousing, unlullaby-like "Hey Jude"-type climax. Continue through some sitar, flute, and mellotron music, much slashing guitar squall by Noel, and a majestic closer, "Roll Me Over," and you have Oasis's latest slab of retrofitted '60s rock candy.

Shoulder's title is a mangled version of the Isaac Newton quotation engraved on the British two-pound coin, a line in which the physicist ascribed his success to having built on the achievements of his predecessors. Oasis have certainly learned a lesson from him about false modesty, since the Gallaghers have always acted like the grandest rock stars on the planet, even before they were. Not just on disc but in public: getting thrown off airplanes, marrying starlets, feuding with other rockers (Noel calls Robbie Williams a "fat dancer"), taking every available drug in England, getting clean, and representing themselves with the same showmanship in public as they do on stage or on CD.

That kind of showmanship is a value most rockers scorned during the earnest '90s, and it's why Oasis are the first band of Beatles emulators since, oh, Cheap Trick who don't sound like a complete joke. It's why we can forgive the Gallaghers their arrogance -- it's justified. One more unfair comparison: the Beatles released about a dozen albums in seven years, the Brothers Davies have managed to keep the Kinks alive for nearly 40 years, and even the Who can't stop getting back together. Oasis have released just four albums in nine years, so they may have many years yet to keep shamelessly entertaining us.

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