[6 October 2008]
Anyone with a passing familiarity to the all-too-often publicised opinions of Oasis linchpin Noel Gallagher probably won’t need reminding that the human Soundbite Generator’s words are never going to be jostling with Immanuel Kant’s for the attention of students of aesthetics. From his (admittedly overblown) remarks about Jay-Z’s Glastonbury headline slot earlier this year (“it’s just not right”), to the frankly baffling denigration of Kylie Minogue as a “demonic little idiot”, it’s easy to think that it’s the guitarist’s inclination to spout tabloid-friendly mild controversy, as much as the band’s music, that keeps the Mancunians in the public consciousness.
And while the blustering braggadocio that accompanies every new Oasis album can be filtered out as free PR, the band’s consistently held (and repeatedly stated) stance that music should be easy, rather than interesting, is harder to stomach. Nonetheless, it will have come as a relief to no small number of people that Noel and younger brother Liam—the only two ever-presents now in the band’s ranks—have frequently suggested that their seventh offering will be a return to the energised electricity that made them their initial name. The band’s following have remained remarkably loyal given the mediocre triptych that preceded Dig Out Your Soul, but you can better there’s not a single fan who wouldn’t love a straightforward duplicate of Definitely, Maybe or Morning Glory.
Unfortunately for them, this isn’t it. Fortunately for them, it by no means expands that triptych to a foursome. Dig Out is more charismatic and better crafted than anything Oasis have done in a long while. Ironically, however, it’s when the band step away from their staple sound and try something a little more interesting that they fire on all (or at least most) cylinders.
It’s perhaps through sheer virtue of the fact that these tracks sound the least like Oasis that they succeed. To expand, single “The Shock of the Lightning” makes a concerted attempt to revive some of the band’s youthful vigour, and ends up sounding a little like a rehash of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, serving as a reminder not just of the impossibility of Oasis fabricating the context in which their debut was such as smash, but also that even that debut had its sub-par moments. By contrast, the fuzzy blues stomp of “Get Off Your High Horse Lady”, an album high-point, sounds authentic and insouciant, as if it came about from boozy full-bad jam session (though, almost certainly, it didn’t). Likewise, “Falling Down” is pleasantly understated—by the Gallaghers’ standards at least—with its hazy electronics and Noel’s restrained vocals. But attempts at experimentation by way of free-flowing digression from are taken to an unfortunate destination with “To Be Where There’s Life”—Gem Archer’s sole writing credit—which sticks the completely unwarranted twang of sitar to a smoky bass line and a Liam Gallagher vocal that sounds strained and desperately devoid of inspiration. It sounds a little like Liam fronting the Stone Roses, which wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea even in the ‘90s.
Of course, any use of the word ‘experimental’ should be taken in the context of Oasis’s careers as a whole: Dig Out was never going to be some free-form acid-jazz concept album, and the album has many of the Mancunians’ traditional hallmarks, not to mention flaws. One or two tracks, “The Turning” and “Ain’t Got Nothing” the worst culprits, rekindle the stodginess of Don’t Believe the Truth. Lyrically, it’s all as hackneyed as ever, too, all meaningless rhymes and clumsy metaphors (“C’mon, shake your reptile baby”, anyone?). The lads aren’t doing themselves any favours regarding the Beatles-copyist accusations, either: “Waiting for the Rapture”‘s opening riff echoes that of “Sgt. Pepper”; “I’m Outta Time” samples John Lennon’s final interview; and “The Shock of the Lightning” has a chorus that sings of love as a “magical mystery”.
And so it is that while Dig Out could be much, much worse—it is, by nobody’s standards, at disaster—it is let down by the same flaws that have blighted Oasis before. Simply, it is all too often dreary, trite and unexceptional. The fact that some areas of the press will no doubt trumpet their seventh album as a triumphant return to form is example enough of just how far Oasis’s standards have fallen on the previous four. For those who have happily stuck around this long already Dig Out certainly won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back—by all means, it lightens the load quite considerably. But it does so with the dawning realisation that, 17 years and seven albums in, this is a high point in a career deficient in high points.