Counterbalance No. 87: Oasis' '(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?'
Don't put your life in the hands of a rock 'n' roll band -- even if it did record the 87th Most Acclaimed Album of All Time. Oasis' Britpop colossus is next on Counterbalance.
Klinger: Mendelsohn, I can't help noticing you tipped your hand last week when you were professing your unconditional love for Radiohead's The Bends. You essentially positioned Oasis as the evil Antiradiohead, whose laddish swaggering and hit singles made you throw up in your mouth—a vivid image to be sure. So while I await your spirited evisceration of the Gallaghers, their bandmates, songwriting, and possibly their ancestry, I would like to take a brief moment to point out that this is the fourth album in a row that owes its place on the Great List almost entirely to the European (and especially UK) music press. Were it not for the impassioned advocacy of the NME and their ilk, we could have gotten to Bitches Brew a good month sooner. But here we are on Week 4 of this British leg of our tour, and I'm beginning to say "Bob's your uncle" in regular conversation.
Not only that, but these last four LPs end up presenting a makeshift continuum of sorts as UK indie music went from scruffy noiseniks in thrall to pop's detritus to classicists with a decidedly more reverent eye toward the past. By the time (What's the Story) Morning Glory? came out, the outré sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain had given way to the fully groomed Britpop heard here. So there's a bit of context for you there, albeit an accident of mathematics. But without further ado, I'll let you get to your bile-spewing. Mendelsohn, to what extent do you loathe this album?
Mendelsohn: Geez, Klinger, sometimes you take all the fun out of hating a band. I don't loathe this album. Loathe would be too kind. I absolutely detest this album. Well, not really this album. Just Oasis. And not really all of Oasis, just the Gallaghers. And not really both of the Gallaghers, just the one who always acts like an absolute tool.
This album came out in the heart of my teen years and it was everywhere. Being the rebel without a clue that I was, and Oasis representing the dumbed down pop that seemed almost inescapable at the time, I took up the position of opposition. Also, as well-written as "Wonderwall" is, having to hear it multiple times a day and then listening to your friends play it on guitar because that was the only song they knew was enough to drive me off anything related to Oasis. And then there was all that tabloid crap because the Gallaghers fought like Irish brothers, plus one of them said something about being better than the Beatles, which I personally find more sacrilegious than John Lennon claiming the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but only because at the time the Beatles were bigger than Jesus and Oasis couldn't possibly hope to match the Beatles in the talent department. Oasis did sell a ton of records but that just serves to reaffirm my belief that if you play something on the radio long enough, people will buy it.
As for the accidental math that has led us through the underpinnings of the Britpop and UK indie scene, I think it's kind of fitting to be ending with Oasis. They were the tipping point that pushed the second British Invasion (or third? or fourth?) over the edge leaving only Radiohead, the one band not full of wankers, to carry on alone. That might be unfair to Primal Scream. They probably aren't wankers.
Klinger: We're all wankers in God's eyes, Mendelsohn. But I can understand your disdain for Oasis based on your '90s experiences. I remember when this album broke here—like a lot of Beatles fans, I viewed the Gallagher brothers as something more like a social problem than a band. Like venereal disease or the rise of the National Front. So I was fully prepared to come into this album with both guns blazing. Then a funny thing happened. Maybe I've mellowed, maybe Liam and Noel have mellowed, or maybe it's just the natural flattening out that comes with nostalgia, but I’ll be darned if this isn't one catchy album.
Is this a silly album in places? You bet it is—dragging "Champagne Supernova" out to a seven-minute epic places a weight on the song that it was clearly not designed to bear. Is that silliness compounded by the fact that it seems completely unaware of its own silliness? Indeed. But still, once it really gets going with "Roll With It", (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is pretty well chockablock with big choruses and chord changes that remind me of the heyday of non-Bowie glam.
And while I'm on the subject, I don't think they sound that much like the Beatles after all.
Mendelsohn: A little piece of me is going to die inside when I say this, but you are right, this record ain't half bad. And it's not that I don't want to agree with you, I just never thought I'd ever admit to anything close to admiration of Oasis. I still can't listen to "Champagne Supernova" or "Wonderwall" or "Don't Look Back in Anger"—the memories that open up around those songs are like a giant sinkhole swallowing a tiny jungle village. Everything else on this record is so nondescript, so bland, and so overtly catchy that I really can't find fault with it. It’s great, dumb-downed pop music for the masses. But that might be this record's only problem; it may be too dumb.
I do disagree with you about the comparison to the Beatles. Oasis's music is pretty much the simple bits that made the Beatles music connect with the masses, distilled down to the most common denominator and rounded out with big guitars and feedback that forged the sound of the ’90s. Liam even sounds a little like John Lennon, but that might just be the accent.
Klinger: But when you strip away the complicated bits of Beatle songs and boil it all down to its anthemic essence, you end up with something that sounds an awful lot like the Sweet. One of the few times that their Beatle-worship becomes overt is on "She's Electric", which apes all manner of Fabbery, right down to the "With a Little Help from My Friends" tag that closes the song. Of course, Lennon and McCartney would have a done better job with the lyrics than Noel, who writes of a "family full of eccentrics" and then describes a bunch of people who aren't especially eccentric at all. (I don't want to live in a world where simply failing to get along with the Gallagher brothers qualifies you as an eccentric.)
(What's the Story) Morning Glory? has so many songs that are for whatever reason burned into my consciousness that I eventually just started playing a game in my head. I tried to imagine that Oasis were not in fact a bunch of belligerent jerks who had risen to fame on big chords and braggadocio, but were instead a bunch of nobodies whose album was being released on Big Deal or one of those other cool little power-pop labels from the '90s. That's sort of how I came to realize that I had mended my fences with the album. I even imagined that they were a bunch of nobodies and still belligerent jerks, and it didn't make much difference. The songs somehow still came through. They're called hooks for a reason, and this album has them to spare. Still, I can't help wondering if you've taken issue with the album's placement. What got Oasis here in the top 100, Mendelsohn, and is it justified?
Mendelsohn: What album haven't I taken issue with over placement? This one though, I'd leave alone (but only because Radiohead's The Bends beat it out by one spot—it'd be a completely different story if we had to talk about Oasis first). It's really hard to argue with one of the biggest records on the 1990s. On top of that, whether or not you and I agree, Oasis does sound a lot like the Beatles and nobody had played that shtick up so well since, well, the Beatles, and the critics lap that stuff up. What does that leave us with? A really silly, sort of stupid, undeniably catchy album that dominated the musical landscape from late-1995 through most of 1996 and carried enough critical cache from the rock and roll touchstone of the Fab Four to allow the critics to look past the dumber parts of this record. Can you find a reason this album shouldn't be where it is? I'd love to hear it and I would most certainly agree with you simply out of principle.
Klinger: Well, I can't help thinking that it's odd to see this album, which seemed so minor over here in the US, ranked so highly. But then, over the years I've certainly come to understand just how revered this group is across the pond. While we mostly quit worrying about the group after this initial wave of success, every heated back-and-forth between Liam and Noel garners the kind of breathless coverage that we Yanks typically reserve for Kardashians.
So maybe I'm not surprised by it, and I’m pretty sure I understand it, but that doesn't mean I can necessarily embrace it. Come to think of it, that's pretty much how I feel about (What's the Story) Morning Glory?