82. Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
In the mid-nineteen-nineties, there was no shortage of music critics who were ready to declare Oasis the next major band, the one that would endure for years and years, delivering one masterpiece after another. This was somewhat driven by the ever-excitable U.K. music press, although authoritative co-signers rushed in from all quarters. Oasis were enormously successful in their homeland, basically from the very beginning (their first single, “Supersonic,” charted in the Top 40 on the British charts, although peaking at a surprisingly modest #31). Songs from their debut album, Definitely Maybe, garnered healthy modern rock radio attention in the United States, and the band even crossed into the Billboard Top 40 with one of those singles, although just barely. Songwriter Noel Gallagher’s obvious skill with tender but fulsome popcraft was fully at odds with the prevailing sounds of the times, which tilted towards bludgeoning obnoxiousness in alternative rock and drippy, barely-there songs on the Top 40 spots on the radio dial. It’s no wonder hungry music aficionados were ready to anoint Oasis as rock gods.
More specifically, Oasis was celebrated as a sort of second coming of the Beatles, not in the manner of deliberate impersonators like E.L.O., but through the vividness and care of the music. (The majestic “Don’t Look Back in Anger” did make the aspirations towards Lennonesque light psychedelia a little more explicit.) Gallagher, not exactly known for humility, didn’t just accept those comparisons. He embraced and cultivated them. That approach was never clearer than when the CD player laser engaged the group’s sophomore release, (What’s the Story, Morning Glory)? More lush and complex than its predecessor, the album smacks of ambition or at least happy indulgence. Released just over a year after Definitely Maybe, the album is spotted with songs that are trying to obscure their half-baked quality with a thick layer of studio frosting (“Hey Now!” and “Cast No Shadow”). Working with producer Owen Morris, Gallagher favored the sonically ornate. While that can be a little trying across the length of the album, I can’t deny that the pinnacles are all the more spectacular because of the intensity of the intricately constructed beauty in which they reside.
As a deejay at a “new rock alternative” station at the time of the album’s release, I was focused on the tedium that came from playlist-mandated repetition of the same handful of songs, but now I can finally start to hear what stirred up so much praise. Even “Wonderwall,” the eminently mockable smash hit single from the album, has shifted for me from overplayed bore to an airtight piece of pop majesty. Obviously, the extended delay in appreciation is entirely on me. Still, the effusiveness of Gallagher’s self-love, as present in the metaphorical grooves of the album as it was in the many interviews that held him as the subject, created its own problems. “Champagne Supernova” practically glows with the delicacy of its smart construction, but it strains its own winsome charm by pushing past seven minutes in length. I almost prefer the relative simplicity of “She’s Electric,” which sounds like it was crafted by a band that believed “Dead Flowers” was as authentic an artifact of classic country music as anything recorded by Hank Williams.
While the U.K. remained faithful, welcoming Oasis to the top of the charts as late as 2005, the predicted enduring global success for the band didn’t exactly pan out. Fairly quickly it felt as if there was more attention paid to Gallagher’s constant feuding with Liam, his brother and bandmate, than to anything Oasis created. Especially in the U.K. press, breathless drama trumps everything. The band officially ended following a fracas between the Gallagher brothers in 2009. The members splintered into other projects, some of which were already in place. Noel Gallagher has a new record coming out later this spring. He also remains highly skilled at picking fights.
Hailing from New York City at a time when labels were far more excited by artists with a West Coast address, Fossil released one album (and an EP) with the mighty Warner Bros. Records. They were probably signed with the expectation of a quick cash-in on the grunge sound that was swamping radio and making record store cash registers ping like pinball machines. Their sound didn’t seem to completely lock in with that vibe, though, tapping into a more exuberant vein. Watching them bounce energetically through a performance of “Moon” on a cable talk show hosted by a chipper up-and-comer is enough evidence of their distance from the Seattle sound. By most accounts, the label did very little to support the record, and Fossil quickly faded into obscurity. There’s scant indication online that band did much at all after Warners lost interest.
While much of the alt rock of the mid-nineties was thudding and ponderous, the questionable taste of commercial radio, with its dependency on grabbing the attention of fickle listeners, meant that music that smacked of novelty could break through. This was especially true if the music in question had the same pushy guitarz and whiny vocals as most of the other things on commercial alternative playlists. Thus we had the success of “Little Bastard” by Ass Ponys. Electric Rock Music was the band’s second album and major label debut. Despite the strong sense of gimmickry around the band’s music, Ass Ponys lasted for a decent amount of time, sticking with it until an official hiatus was announced in 2005. They apparently can still reunite in their hometown of Cincinnati to reasonable levels of excitement.