When Oasis split up last year, they left in their choppy wake a vast catalog of derivative songs which ripped off everyone from the Beatles to T. Rex to Neil Innes to Stevie Wonder. The Brothers Gallagher and their confederates were loud, brash, and obnoxious; they were unapologetic about their lousy lyrics and lousy knack for riff-pilferage. And goddammit if they weren’t absolutely phenomenal. They did all this presumably terrible shit, caught the ire of countless uppity hipsters, and still filled Madison Square Garden on their final U.S. tour.
Oasis super-sized everything, including their music, which backed up the central theme of kicking ass (give or take) with choruses guaranteed to sound massive even when sung by thousands of drunken louts as much buzzed on euphoria as crates of warm ale. Despite the tense brilliance of their debut (Definitely Maybe), the clumsy romance of their sophomore effort (What’s the Story Morning Glory), the gaudy cocaine excess of their third album (Be Here Now), and the children’s aspirin psychedelic experimentation of their final full length (Dig Out Your Soul), Oasis were always a singles band. They proved it on the other three albums hardly worth even listing, but they also proved it during their exhilarating early run by releasing singles that were even better than their vaunted b-sides and album cuts.
That singles-based strength is honored on Oasis’s third official compilation of studio material (not counting a pair of early singles box sets), as Time Flies… 1994-2009 collects all 26 UK a-sides in its worldwide format, tacking on “Champagne Supernova” for the US release.
Noel Gallagher, the band’s chief songwriter, guitarist, and hilarious interviewee, has made a mess of the band’s back catalogue through pair of prior collections, with the first (The Masterplan) ignoring some of their best b-sides, and the second (Stop the Clocks) a fairly clumsy attempt at a career retrospective that was really sort of all over the map. On Time Flies, Gallagher found himself unable to cast out unflattering chunks of his former band’s career by being tied to the actual singles they’d released, but he still retains total chaotic control over the order in which they appear.
Time Flies begins, appropriately enough, with the first ever Oasis single, “Supersonic”, a filthy slab of rock escapism that still sounds fantastic 16 years after it first blew your speakers apart. The compilation also ends, at least officially, with the band’s final, presciently-titled single, “Falling Down”. But while bookended chronologically, Time Flies jumps hither and yon from year-to-year in a sometimes stylistically discordant manner that may only make sense to Noel Gallagher. For example, the crunching id-anthem “Cigarettes and Alcohol” is sandwiched between “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” and “Songbird,” two fine ballads which drown the meat in their sandwich in a weepy torrent of tears.
Still, we live in an advanced technological age, and one can arrange the songs of Oasis in whichever order one deems appropriate. You can cut out altogether underwhelming fare like “Roll With It” or “Little by Little”, or open with the two singles not previously included on any album or compilation, the early-era majesty of “Whatever” and the later boogie shuffle of “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down”. Any fan of any artist is bound to have their favorite era, and in spite of their tending to stick to a basic formula, Oasis is certainly not immune to this phenomenon. But even with a number of hiccups in the assembly, what Time Flies does incredibly well is show how strong Oasis always was. Even when their album quality sagged a bit in the middle, their singles were top notch.
Time Flies has been released in a number of formats, with the odd regional variance here and there. The best version, whether you’re a neophyte or enthusiast, is the 4-disc UK box set, featuring the compilation, an audio disc of an excellent, somewhat incomplete performance in London last year, and a DVD featuring all the band’s videos.
Oasis was never really much of a video band, though there are a few exceptions: “Cigarettes and Alcohol” conveys the message (decadence above all else) rather well, and the animated “The Masterplan” is an understated tribute to Yellow Submarine in a way that the garish “All Around the World” is not. What makes the DVD worth the price of admission is the commentary track featuring Noel Gallagher. The guitarist has never been much of a wallflower, and his hilarious recollections make even the dullest video fun to watch.
Sure, singer Liam Gallagher barely moved on stage, and the musicians backing he and his brother completely changed over the years. But Time Flies is a triumph, one which proves excess and explosiveness aren’t mutually exclusive in rock ‘n’ roll.