Many people view 1995’s Battle of Britpop as one of the most important pop music events of the modern era, wherein the two biggest bands of this rising English-centric movement, Blur and Oasis, pitted their highly-anticipated new singles “Country House” and “Roll With It” (respectively) against each other in a bid for UK chart dominance, the art-damaged whimsy of Blur’s character studies running in direct opposition to Oasis’ lads-and-lager brand of unabashed rock and roll. Many say that Blur won the battle but lost the war, with “Country House” topping the chart but Oasis’ sophomore album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, going on to break them to a worldwide audience and go down in some books as one of the greatest rock albums ever made.
Yet what no one talks about is that during this highly-publicized event, it actually didn’t matter who won the top spot: the No. 1 single the week prior belonged to that of Take That, and before that the penthouse belonged to The Outhere Brothers with a song called “Boom Boom Boom“. Whoever “won” this media event was arbitrary: England just wanted to rock again.
After all, in the bleak pop landscape that was UK pop music in the early ’90s, Oasis’ record-shattering debut felt like a breath of fresh air, this group of Manchester lads having constructed an album that would turn them into Rock ‘N’ Roll Stars, which, amazingly, is exactly what it did. Although the album was fairly dry in its production, Noel Gallagher’s songs were sturdy enough to withstand most criticism against them, and as the writing sessions for Morning Glory proved, Definitely Maybe‘s success gave him a newfound confidence, as even the B-sides he wound up penning turned out to have a more lasting legacy than most bands’ greatest hits comps, as “Acquiesce”, the brilliant flip to their first-ever No. 1 hit “Some Might Say”, eventually got a single release of its own three years after the fact.
So following the deluxe re-release of Definitely Maybe earlier this year, Big Brother Records didn’t waste much time getting the (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? deluxe set out to market, featuring one whole disc of B-sides and another disc made of demos, live cuts, and rarities. What’s absolutely astonishing about this set is that for one of the most storied modern rock albums in UK history, there are surprisingly few revelations to be found in this ephemera, largely due to the fact that most Oasis fans already have a lot of what’s on here, the whole package coming off more as a cash grab than it does a historical artifact.
Although nearly two decades removed from its original release, the good news is that the original Morning Glory album still holds up, something which can be attributed to the fact that albums with this level of cultural clout and collective popularity tend to help define the sounds of their era instead of feeling like the product of them (which, of course, can’t be said for later efforts like Standing on the Shoulders of Giants). Having accomplished what they wanted to with the swaggering braggadocio of their debut, Noel Gallagher lightens his touch a bit, creating songs that aren’t exactly introspective but have an emotional undercurrent to give the illusion of vulnerability. He never reveals the inner-workings of his wounded soul (although “Don’t Look Back in Anger” might give away more than he intended), but he really didn’t need to: as Definitely Maybe‘s “Live Forever” proved, he could achieve catharsis through universal sentiment, which is why although Definitely Maybe is loaded with anthems intended to be blasted from pub jukeboxes, Morning Glory has just as many sing-along moments but carries much more of an everyman touch, softening the edges of their sound without losing an ounce of propulsion.
Of course, the magic of Oasis is that when you get right down to it, some of Gallagher’s lyrics are downright terrible, and yet most listeners simply don’t care. “Champagne Supernova” contains that truly immortal couplet that defies all logic (“Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannonball”), but when delivered with Liam’s lucid intentionality over a surprisingly spare arrangement, it absolutely works, bordering on dorm-room profundity before that rallying cry of “Where were you while we were getting high?” distracts you from Noel’s numerous logistical faults. Some may argue that Noel’s lyrics sometimes border on childish (i.e. “She’s Electric”, a smiling strummer with the most basic of rhyme schemes), but his knack for clever, shifting arrangements is what ultimately gives his words an air of sophistication, as if the raucous drunkard of Definitely Maybe is coming down off his buzz and starts dolling out life advice that may or may not make sense when you wake up the following morning.
“Wonderwall”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, “Cast No Shadow”, “Champagne Supernova” — these are the songs that legacies are built upon, and although the excerpts from “The Swamp Song” do tarnish the album’s consistency a bit (simply due to the fact that they tease one of their lesser B-sides from this era), Morning Glory still holds up all these years later. Yet what really has cemented Oasis’ legacy amongst casual fans and hardcore acolytes alike has been the incredible range and diversity of said B-sides that the group released during this era, which is why this Deluxe Edition’s disc of nothing but B-sides is … remarkably pointless.
This is due to the fact that after both the band and the label sensed an opportunity given the incredible fan feedback to the band’s flip-sides, they consolidated a lot of these notable non-album tracks into 1998’s excellent compilation The Masterplan, which some fans have argued is the last truly great Oasis album (Don’t Believe the Truth excepting, it’s hard to prove this notion wrong). Since most collectors already have that album, a large chunk of the Deluxe Edition’s B-sides disc are already well-known: the incredible pop surge of “Acquiesce”, the churning punk-ish vibe of “Headshrinker” (which actually rocks harder than anything on Morning Glory), the absolutely heartfelt “Talk Tonight”, the Beatles-esque “The Masterplan”, which, incidentally, has a chorus that sounds almost exactly like a Blur song, etc. There’s nothing wrong with including these masterful numbers – they just aren’t as big of “grabs” as the label no doubt thinks they are.
Of the non-Masterplan material here, “It’s Better People” may be the best uptempo acoustic song the band ever laid to tape, while the goofy lark of “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday” shows a humorous side of the band that most casual fans rarely see, making these very worthwhile grabs for collectors. The rest of the material here, however, isn’t “bad” so much as it is just boring: a personality-free cover of the Fab Four’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, the disappointing and too-flat Brendan Lynch mix of “Champagne Supernova”, the blandly-mixed fuzz workout that is a cover of “Cum On Feel the Noise”, the outright forgettable “Step Out”, and so on. Again, with the absolute best songs having made their way onto The Masterplan, this disc feels more like a way for completists to flesh out their collections instead of truly discovering something new about the band.
Which, then, leads us to the disc of live cuts and demos, all of which are damn near pointless to include. The problem with Oasis as a live act is that they rarely, if ever, do anything notable to change up their songs in a live context: everything sounds like a complete and total recreation of the studio version of their songs without any notable pop or flourish. They have an unmistakable energy, but the live cuts of “Some Might Say” at Roskilde or even “Round Are Way” at MTV Unplugged feel by-the-numbers, the only notable thing to happen in any of these is a smart harmonica-driven outro to “The Masterplan” when played at Knebworth Park. The solo acoustic demos of “Rockin’ Chair” and “She’s Electric” feature a little bit of insight into Noel’s songwriting process, while hearing him to a straight-ahead take on “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday” without the amusing studio chatter is a strange delight in and of itself. Yet, for an album as iconic as Morning Glory is, all of these rarities feel pretty paltry, as very little is learned about this album’s genesis (case in point: of the five acoustic demos included, two of them are for B-sides).
In truth, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is a landmark album that needs little introduction, as its legacy has been self-perpetuating as the years have gone by, often cited as a critical favorite while also proving to be the Oasis album the most Americans own as well as being the fifth biggest-selling album in the history of the UK. Some of the disc’s influence and adoration can be attributed solely to the band’s popularity, but, in truth, the reason they got popular was due to the fact that their own brand of self-aggrandizing Beatles worship proved to be as relatable as it was artistically potent. This Deluxe Edition does a great job of rounding up the group’s excellent B-sides (including a few that didn’t make it on to The Masterplan), but given how few insights are truly gained through all of these bonuses and rarities, only the most devoted of Oasis fans need apply, as Morning Glory‘s legacy is the same as it ever was, this Deluxe Edition doing shockingly little to alter it in any notable way.