BLAST FROM THE PAST #2: Be Here Now
I probably own the wrong Oasis album.
As far as I can tell the general consensus surrounding the Gallagher brothers and company is that they peaked early in their career. Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? are remembered as classics of the mid-‘90s Britpop explosion. Many of the band’s most memorable songs – “Live Forever,” “Supersonic,” “Wonderwall,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and so on – can be found on those two albums. And while Oasis had to deal with the “Beatles rip-offs” criticism for much of their career, those two albums made them international superstars.
I have neither of those albums.
No, I have the album whose name has since become synonymous with artistic excess. I have the album that is now a case study in a band expanding their sound too far. I have the album where Oasis basically took everything they could get their hands on – including the kitchen sink – and squeezed all of it onto a single disc without anyone saying, “You know, maybe we should cut some of this stuff out.” I have the album that, despite selling eight million copies worldwide and being the fastest-selling album in U.K. history at the time and all the praise it garnered upon release, is now often remembered as the point where Oasis more or less jumped the shark. I have a copy of Be Here Now.
Be Here Now brought about Oasis’ downfall almost as rapidly as they’d ascended – or at least on this side of the Atlantic. Don’t believe me? Be Here Now has gone platinum here in the States (though even upon its release the American sales were underwhelming). Oasis’ next album, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, sold more copies in its first week in the U.K. than it has in ten years over here. They haven’t had one album even come close to going gold in the U.S.A. ever since. And they were never able to recapture the critical acclaim their first two albums had earned.
We’re talking about an album that Noel Gallagher, the man who wrote and co-produced every song on it, has publicly trashed on multiple occasions. (For the record, and true to the Gallagher brothers’ often hostile relationship, Liam has said he’s still proud of it.) This is an album that critics have blamed for the downfall of the Britpop movement. And when you have a record that pretty much singlehandedly killed off its own genre, you must be looking at a musical disaster to end all musical disasters… right?
THE ALBUM REVISITED
Let’s just bring out the big gun right off the bat. The biggest problem with Be Here Now is that it’s way, way, way, way, way too damn long. Only three of its 12 tracks are shorter than five minutes in length, and one of those is the album-closing two-minute reprise of “All Around The World,” a song that already overstays its welcome by about two or three minutes. Four tracks surpass the seven-minute mark, and if you count that reprise as part of “All Around The World,” then that song is over eleven minutes. In total, Be Here Now is about 71-and-a-half minutes in length; there are full-length feature films you could watch in the time it takes to listen to this album and still have a little time to make some popcorn.
The album kicks off with its lead single, “D’You Know What I Mean,” which clocks in at around eight minutes. And I know I’m beating you over the head with the whole “THIS ALBUM IS TOO GODDAMN LONG” thing, and I will continue to do so, but if there’s one song I’ll give a pass for being really long it’s this one. Part of this is because it’s track 1 on Be Here Now – if it was stuck in the middle after a few other lengthy tunes that overstayed their welcome, I might be less forgiving. Of course, the other part is that “D’You Know What I Mean” is actually a four or five-minute song bookended by a few minutes of guitar feedback, helicopter sounds, vocal samples, and other assorted bits of noise and effects. And you know what? I think it actually sounds pretty cool.
Frankly, the more I think about it, the more I realize just how perfect a choice this song was as the first taste anyone got of this album. For better or for worse, “D’You Know What I Mean” is Be Here Now in a nutshell. It’s a swaggering single with a soaring Noel Gallagher guitar solo, plenty of well-written vocal hooks, and a drum pattern that almost sounds ripped from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” It’s also stretched out to eight minutes with lots of weird noises that can be pretty off-putting for listeners who just want to hear more songs like “Live Forever” and “Wonderwall.” They even tease you a bit with the latter because the two songs have a similar guitar pattern.
And the lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense; for instance, the first verse contains references to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” but I’m not really sure what any of it is supposed to signify. Then later Liam Gallagher tells someone, “I don’t really care for what you believe,” but then tells the same person to “open up your fists or you won’t receive/The thoughts and the words of every man you’ll need.” So you don’t care what this person thinks, but you think he should be more open to everyone else? Okay then. By the time they get to the chorus and Liam asks if I know what he means, I feel compelled to reply, “NO, Liam, I have no idea what you mean.”
Basically, “D’You Know What I Mean” is the Be Here Now litmus test. If you like this song, then feel free to proceed. If you want more songs like this… man, have the Gallaghers got the album for you! And if you don’t like it, you might as well abandon ship now. This song is the rule, not the exception.
Next up is “My Big Mouth,” which is actually one of my favorites on this album. It sounds more in line with your typical Oasis song – no helicopters to be found here, sorry. There is, however, a plane. Admit it – it’s kind of hilarious to hear a line like “Into my big mouth you could fly a plane” coming from someone as, um, outspoken as the Gallagher brothers.
And while we’re on the subject of lyrics, while they make a little more sense here, there are still some awkward phrases here and there. Like the line about Liam being unable to walk home because “I got something in my shoes.” Or “It’s only then you realize/With whose life you have been messing,” which is actually grammatically correct (it avoids ending the sentence with a preposition) but still manages to feel like a forced rhyme. And that line about the plane? Totally a forced rhyme.
The one thing that stands out the most about “My Big Mouth” is just how massive that guitar riff is. I mean, they might as well have called the song “My Big Riff.” There’s a lot of overdubbing and layering going on here, making for an incredibly dense sound. It’s like there’s an army of the same guitars all playing the same riff at exactly the same time; supposedly there are about 30 guitar tracks on this song. This song doesn’t just aim for the nosebleed section; it aims for the nosebleed section at the football game being played on the other end of the parking lot.
Now it’s on to track 3 and a song called “Magic Pie.” Wait, let me say that again – “Magic Pie.” Obviously, the enchanted baked good in question is a metaphor for… um… well, something. Look, the guys in Oasis were on a lot of drugs when they made this album, and it shows.
“Magic Pie” is notable for being the only song on Be Here Now where Noel gets lead vocal duties. I mention this because I actually prefer his voice to Liam’s nasal snarl. It sort of reminds me of how Blink-182 let the high-pitched whine of Tom DeLonge and the deeper, smoother, and arguably more listenable Mark Hoppus alternate as their lead singers. Except the bands don’t sound anything alike and the Liam/Noel ratio is more heavily skewed in Liam’s favor than Tom/Mark, which is usually split pretty evenly. So I’m not really sure where I was going with that.
This is one of those songs that, at over seven minutes, just got drawn out way too long and might have been better with a little editing here, some re-written lyrics there. “Champagne Supernova” is a pretty great song, but not every song needs to be “Champagne Supernova,” you know? Also, I keep expecting Mott The Hoople to interrupt with a rousing rendition of “All The Young Dudes.”
Batting cleanup in the album’s running order is “Stand By Me,” which I was surprised to learn was a single because I don’t remember it very well. I remember “D’You Know What I Mean,” “Don’t Go Away,” and “All Around The World.” Of course, with “All Around The World” I mainly remember listening to it on the record and wondering when the hell the damn thing would just end already, but I’ll get to that later.
“Stand By Me” is one of those patented Oasis ballads in the vein of “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” only not quite as good as either of those songs. This is a decent song in its own right, though. It’s six minutes long, but I don’t really mind that much because it doesn’t require as much trimming as some other tracks here. The chorus is twice as long as it really needs to be and the outro goes on a little too long, a common flaw on Be Here Now.
Come to think of it, the way “Stand By Me” is structured makes it a bit confusing at first as to what the chorus actually is. Is it the part that goes “So what’s the matter with you?/Sing me something new” or the part that mentions the song’s title? It turns out the latter choice is correct and the former is the pre-chorus. So the structure is intro-verse-PC-verse-PC-chorus-verse-PC-chorus-bridge/PC-chorus. All they really had to do was cut the first two choruses in half and take out the second pre-chorus altogether. As it is, it’s one of the songs that exemplify the problem with this album – Oasis had forgotten when to let an otherwise good song end.
What’s this? A song on Be Here Now that knows exactly how long it needs to be? Yes indeed. “I Hope, I Think, I Know” is pretty much a vintage Oasis rocker, only with their newfound addiction to guitar overdubs. There isn’t really anything wrong with this song itself. It gets overshadowed by stronger or more ambitious material on this album, but it still provides a good jolt of energy after 13 minutes of slow rockers/mid-tempo ballads. All in all, it’s a fun deep cut that’s at least worth a listen.
Coming up at #6 is “The Girl In The Dirty Shirt,” a slow-burning barroom rocker with keyboards and maybe a hint of slide guitar. And what do you know… it’s another enjoyable deep cut. It sports a surprisingly catchy chorus and a pre-chorus that briefly made me think of “The Universal” by Blur, Oasis’s chief Britpop rival (mainly due to the “just let them/you go” line). My only real criticisms here are that the outro goes a little too long and the song overall would have benefited from a faster tempo.
Lucky number 7 is “Fade In-Out,” a song that I only remember because it featured slide guitar work by Johnny Depp. Yeah, that Johnny Depp. Not that I can think of any other Johnny Depps. Why is he featured on this song? Because why the hell not. It turns out he’s also recorded a solo album; formed a short-lived band that featured Flea, the guitarist from the Sex Pistols, and the singer from Butthole Surfers; and worked with Oasis on this song and a B-side from the “Don’t Go Away” single. Is there anything Johnny Depp can’t do?
Anyway, on to “Fade In-Out” itself. Honestly, if you were to replace Liam with someone like Toby Keith or Brad Paisley on lead vocals this song wouldn’t sound too out of place on CMT. Or at least it wouldn’t if CMT still played music videos. And I actually like the slow buildup of the first three minutes, which consist mainly of Liam’s voice, acoustic guitar, the lead and slide guitars ad-libbing between the lyrics, and bongo drums softly tapping away in the background. Then at about 3:15 somebody screams bloody murder and the band finally comes alive, launching into a jam session where Captain Jack Sparrow shows off his slide guitar skills.
But once again, the song goes on for too long. “Fade In-Out” is just a few ticks under seven minutes, and they probably could have chopped about two minutes off. For instance, the repetition of the first verse at around the 4:30 mark didn’t really need to be there. Unless you absolutely needed to hear these lyrics again: “Get on the rollercoaster/The fair’s in town today/You gotta be bad enough to beat the brave/So get on the helter skelter/Bowl into the fray/You gotta be bad enough to beat the brave.”
Next up is “Don’t Go Away,” which was released as the last of Be Here Now’s four singles. Not a whole lot to say about this one; it’s another ballad and also the album’s biggest hit. It was also their last hit in the States until “The Shock Of The Lightning” came out in 2008.
The issue with “Don’t Go Away” is probably the lyrics (you thought I was going to say the length, didn’t you? Well, you thought WRONG). Every other line in the verses is something about “all the things caught in my mind” and then the first half of the chorus just feels like one cliché after another (“Don’t go away/Say what you say/Say that you’ll stay/Forever and a day”). Supposedly it was written about the mother of one of the guys in the band and her struggles with cancer, but it sounds more like a typical breakup song. I like the lyrics in the bridge, though: “Me and you, what’s going on?/All we seem to know is how to show/The feelings that are wrong.”
Number 9… number 9… number 9… number 9… number 9… number 9…
Oh, and speaking of Beatles references, there’s another one in “Be Here Now.” So let’s see… there was the “Fool On The Hill” name-check in “D’You Know What I Mean,” then the phrase “Helter Skelter” popped up in “Fade In-Out,” and now Liam Gallagher wants you to sing him something from Let It Be. In case you didn’t know, the guys in Oasis kind of liked the Beatles.
And while we’re on the subject of references, the line “Your shit jokes remind me of Digsy’s” is, I guess, a reference to a song from Definitely Maybe called “Digsy’s Dinner.” Unless the Gallaghers know a guy named Digsy who happens to tell really bad jokes, which I won’t rule out. Oh, and the chorus riff reminds me of “Supersonic.”
I never really liked this song much when I first heard it and, hearing it again, my opinion hasn’t changed much. The lyrics don’t really mean anything, the slow pace makes the song feel longer than it is, the lead guitar’s too low in the mix, and it’s over five minutes long when it probably didn’t really need to be.
And here it is, lurking at track 10. “All Around The World,” the largest hulking behemoth on an album full of hulking behemoths. You might know this one from the five seconds of it they played in those AT&T commercials a few years back. I hope you liked those five seconds, because there are five hundred and fifty-five more where those came from! And that’s not an exaggeration!
Remember all those Beatles references I listed just now? Well, in this song we find Oasis trying to write their own “Hey Jude.” The “everything-will-be-OK” sentiment? Check. Lengthy outro filled with na-na-nas inviting you to sing along? Check. They even added strings, pianos, and horns to the mix for good measure! But there is a big difference – the Beatles knew when to let “Hey Jude” end, and at seven minutes they knew they were already pushing it. “All Around The World,” on the other hand, is the musical equivalent of the Energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going and going and going and going and going…
And you know what the worst part is? IT’S A GOOD SONG.
“All Around The World” is Be Here Now at its best and worst all at once. No other song on Be Here Now suffers from excessive padding as much as “All Around The World.” No other song exemplifies the frustrating experience that Be Here Now can be quite like “All Around The World.” It’s a good song, and yet at some point you just start waiting for it to finally end. There is no need for this song to be nine and a half minutes long. There sure as hell isn’t any reason to tack on another two minutes with the pointless reprise that shows up two tracks later to close out the album.
Seriously, why is that reprise even there? It’s like they wanted to end the album with this song, but they also wanted to include “It’s Gettin’ Better (Man!!),” but they didn’t think that song would fit anywhere except after “All Around The World,” so they added two minutes to an already overlong song and gave that addition its own track so they could have their cake and eat it too.
This could have been the best song on Be Here Now if it didn’t overstay its welcome so damn much. And even with such a fatal flaw, it nearly takes the crown anyway.
Talk about finishing strong – first “All Around The World,” now this. “It’s Gettin’ Better (Man!!)” is a rocking good time and easily the most upbeat song since “I Hope, I Think, I Know” ended about three weeks ago. You know, that’s another problem with Be Here Now – there aren’t enough songs on it with this kind of energy. There’s “My Big Mouth,” “I Hope, I Think, I Know,” and this, and that’s it.
But there’s just one problem with this song. And guess what it is. Just guess. You’ll get it right. I’m sure you recognized the pattern a long time ago. In fact, I guarantee it. I’ll even bet money on what you think I’m going to say. Why? Because you know exactly what I’m going to say.
IT’S TOO… DAMN… LONG.
And this song almost knows how long it needs to be, too. But it just can’t help itself. After all, it’s a song on Be Here Now. Excess is practically a prerequisite for being included on this freaking album. So naturally the last two minutes and fifteen seconds – and YES, I counted – consist of Liam singing “We’re getting better, man!” over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over! WHY? WHY WAS THIS NECESSARY? Why couldn’t this have just faded out, like, two minutes earlier?
God, I feel like a broken record. I keep repeating the same complaint over and over again: It’s too long. It’s too damn long. Where was the editor? Was anything left on the cutting room floor? It’s too long. Why didn’t the producer say anything? Why didn’t the label say anything? Why did I decide to review this, of all albums, with a track-by-track approach? IT’S… TOO… LONG!
And it’s frustrating as hell because somewhere, buried beneath the heaping mound of excess, there is a good album to be found in Be Here Now, or at least a decent one, but you can’t listen to it without the excess, and yet the excess kind of gives it a unique character all its own, except that character is the guest who just won’t leave and eats all your food and hogs the remote and does a lot of cocaine and refuses to take the hint that you want him to get the hell out of your house already!
High Points: “D’You Know What I Mean;” “My Big Mouth;” “Stand By Me;” “I Hope, I Think, I Know;” “The Girl In The Dirty Shirt;” “All Around The World;” “It’s Getting Better (Man!!)”
Low Points: That moment in nearly every song on this album where you start getting bored and realize that even a little bit of trimming could have made everything better. Also, “Magic Pie” and “Be Here Now” just don’t really do it for me.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Prior to the release of Be Here Now, Oasis was on top of the world. After the release of Be Here Now, they were knocked off the pedestal. They would never again reach the commercial or critical heights of their first two albums – and even this one got a lot of love upon its release. Over the next ten years they released four more albums – Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, Heathen Chemistry, Don’t Believe The Truth, and finally Dig Out Your Soul – with a revolving door of musicians not named Liam or Noel Gallagher. And somewhere along that line some crazy guy in the audience thought it would be a good idea to rush onstage during a show and try to shove Noel off the stage.
“The Shock Of The Lightning,” the lead single from Dig Out Your Soul, brought the band their biggest success in the United States since the late ‘90s… just in time for the band to split up in 2009. Well, okay, it wasn’t a breakup in the traditional sense of the word. A heated fight between the Gallaghers backstage before a show led to Liam breaking Noel’s guitar and Noel leaving the band for what would turn out to be the last time. The rest of the band planned to soldier on without the man who had written so many of their songs over the years, ultimately deciding to adopt the name Beady Eye. Noel has embarked on a solo career.
Beady Eye, “Four Letter Word”
While the “album that killed Britpop” distinction may not be entirely fair, Be Here Now does come complete with too much fat to trim. On their own most of the songs are fine, but I wouldn’t recommend listening to the whole album in one sitting; it’s just too much. Ultimately, Be Here Now is an album that demands more attention from you than it probably deserves. But that doesn’t mean it should be avoided altogether. It’s a risky album from a band that thought they could do whatever the hell they wanted… and learned the hard way that sometimes you actually can have too much freedom.