The harder Oasis try, the more disappointing the result. It all started with Be Here Now eight years ago, a bloated album of bombastic rock anthems that quickly became yesterday’s news as Blur’s Blur, The Verve’s Urban Hymns, and Radiohead’s OK Computer took British rock into thrilling new directions that same year, leaving the Brothers Gallagher choking on their peers’ dust. Subsequent attempts to recapture the magic of 1994-95 have sputtered. 2000’s Standing on the Shoulder of Giants showed promise on songs like “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”, “Gas Panic!”, and “Where Did It All Go Wrong?”, but the rest of the record failed to deliver. 2002’s Heathen Chemistry, on the other hand, was a complete lost cause, an empty re-hash of Oasis cliches that even the addle-brained fun of “The Hindu Times” couldn’t rescue. All this time, Noel Gallagher has claimed each new Oasis album would be a huge, radical departure, but each time out, the resulting albums have always retreated inward to the comfy confines of tired Beatles rip-offs, boring rock riffing, and just plain lazy songwriting.
Still, people always hope the band can pull themselves together just one more time. Oasis is far too talented not to, but their extended downward slide makes the prospect of a return to form less and less possible with each passing year. Seriously, how much more crap do we have to put up with before we finally give up on these guys?
So now we have Attempt To Restore Credibility, Version 4.0. After the great disappointment that was Heathen Chemistry, you’d think there would be nowhere to go but up, and indeed, Don’t Believe the Truth is a considerable improvement. At long last, that big overhaul of the Oasis sound has happened: the production has been stripped-down, to the point of sounding tinny at times, the turgid guitar wanking is virtually nonexistent, and the record overall is the band’s most streamlined and focused in many years. Most noticeable is the drum sound; Alan White, while a very talented percussionist, was a big reason behind the band’s more overblown moments, and while his replacement, Zak Starkey (yeah, Ringo’s kid), lacks White’s flair, he brings a simplicity and directness to the music, and the rest of the band seems to follow suit.
Don’t Believe the Truth might be the best Oasis album in eight years, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be shaking your head in incredulity from time to time. Although his role as principal songwriter has been greatly toned down, Oasis is still Noel’s baby, and typically, his five compositions are inconsistent. First single “Lyla” is especially strong, a refreshingly catchy, hard-edged acoustic rocker that has Liam shamelessly copping the vocal phrasing from The Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”. “Mucky Fingers” plays like a ridiculously blatant rip-off of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For the Man”, but is quickly redeemed by Noel’s impassioned lead vocals and Starkey’s thunderous drum fills during the outro. “The Importance of Being Idle” is yet another forgettable foray into the Oasis of recent years, and “Part of the Queue” bears a striking resemblance to the shuffling folk of Badly Drawn Boy, but “Let There Be Love” turns out to be one of Noel’s strongest ballads, as the band actually shows some growth, opting for a more understated tone, instead of the musical excess we’ve come to expect.
While Oasis has always been One Band, Under Noel, the man has been gradually loosening the reins, and the more democratic, collaborative feel of Don’t Believe the Truth turns out to be its greatest asset. Liam is still struggling for consistency in his songwriting, as “The Meaning of Soul” and “Guess God Thinks I’m Abel” are, to be frank, atrocious, but much to everyone’s surprise, he pulls a rabbit of the hat with the superb acoustic number, “Love Like a Bomb”. Many fans have wondered why bassist Andy Bell has never contributed more to the band, but the former member of Ride is responsible for two of the new album’s highlights, first, on the fiery opening track “Turn Up the Sun” (including the plum line sung by Liam, “I carry madness/ Everywhere I go”), and then on the wistful “Keep the Dream Alive”, during which listeners can detect a little bit of Ride’s shoegazer tones creeping subtly into the band’s sound. Gem Archer’s “A Bell Will Ring” is another standout, and while it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s a taut, uptempo song that has the band doing what they do best, simply ripping out a fierce rock tune.
Don’t Believe the Truth is far from a perfect album, but despite the four or five throwaway tracks, the fact that some actual positive energy can be heard in Oasis’s music for the first time in nearly a decade is enough to give fans hope that there may be some life in this band yet. They’re not all the way there yet, as Oasis still have to claw their way back to respectability, but if this album is any indication, they’re definitely up for the challenge.