Monday, September 6, 2010

Don’t Believe the Truth by Oasis (2005)

By 2005, Oasis’ glory days were over. In fact, they had been over for almost ten years. A sensational first album, a single-filled “classic” second album and a giant concert at Knebworth in 1996 had fuelled the Gallagher brothers’ braggadocio into the realms of parody. Truckloads of Columbia’s finest hadn’t helped their creativity or artistic subtlety either, culminating in the hotly anticipated Be Here Now (1997). Around that time, Blur, Radiohead and The Verve were on the last chopper out of Britpop, their albums of that year showing creative development, maturity and a peek at the new millennium (Blur, OK Computer and Urban Hymns, respectively). Oasis on the other hand, rehashed their traditional gigantic sound, filled an entire CD with overlong songs, threw in an orchestral arrangement or two, and basically stamped out every melody with a sneer here and a guitar lick there. By the time Standing on the Shoulder of Giants [sic] came around (2000), half the band had left amid inflated egos, some very public and chronic fraternal infighting and creative drought.

Heathen Chemistry (2002) had gone some way to testing new musical ground. Gem Archer (guitar) and Andy Bell (bass) made their recording debut with the group, bringing in fresh blood and much-needed stability to the flailing band. The Liam Gallagher-penned “Songbird” showed some looseness in the band’s sound that had largely been absent since (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995). “The Hindu Times” took Oasis’ psychedelic tendencies from Standing to extremes, playing up its 1960s influences. “Born On A Different Cloud” is epic in a good way, incorporating many musical elements without drowning the mixing board in guitar parts, as had been the case on Be Here Now. Overall, Heathen Chemistry felt like treading water, a transitional album at best. Don’t Believe The Truth takes the line-up of its predecessor, and sets out for its make-or-break challenge. Blur had called it quits two years before, Oasis grimly soldiered on in the post-Britpop 21st century.

Track one, side one. "Turn up the Sun" is a fantastic opener.

Right from the first track, it’s obvious that this is an Oasis album that breaks new ground. “Turn Up The Sun” is the first (and thus-far only) time a non-Noel Gallager track has opened an album, showing the validity of contributions from the rest of the band. Bassist Andy Bell’s stomping track is the perfect opener, ending with a beautiful jangly instrumental passage. Then its business as usual, with a twist. Noel Gallagher sings “Mucky Fingers”, ambiguously addressing Tony Blair and New Labour. The riff shamelessly references The Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man”, but its energy is much appreciated at this point in the band’s career. The song fulfils a similar role to Heathen Chemistry’s “Force of Nature”, being a simple Noel-sung rocker as the all-important “second track”. “Lyla” is the non-remarkable, archetypically Oasis sing-along lead single, in this case channelling the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man”. Next, it’s Liam Gallagher’s “Love Like a Bomb”, an acoustic waltz with some vintage electric licks occasionally played over the top. The piano takes the song to a new level in the dreamy choruses.

Absolute highlight of the album is “The Importance of Being Idle”. Noel explains the give-and-take in the band’s internal politics as him allowing the band to contribute more writing, but expecting to sing more in return. It’s this track that exemplifies his new direction. The song is the most important track on the album, and possibly their most important post-Morning Glory song. A personal song, with strong Kinksian influences and knees-up piano hammering along, “Idle” showcases the craft of Gallagher’s songwriting at its best. A fantastic, un-Oasislike choreographed, out-of-body video featuring Welsh actor Rhys “Hugh Grant’s Flatmate from Notting Hill” Ifans only adds to the iconic status of the track.

The video to the album's strongest track, equally special in its style and content.

The shortest track on the album, “The Meaning of Soul” is an acoustic punk rock song, a throwaway Liam track that acts as a bridge/interlude halfway through the album. He is also the author of the next track, a pleasantly reflective song with biblical references. “Part of the Queue” is another fantastic Noel Gallagher composition that he also sings on. Its bouncy rhythm is highly reminiscent of The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown”.

Don’t Believe the Truth winds down with three tracks. “Keep the Dream Alive” is another fine Andy Bell track, with a soaring, beautifully sung chorus and great drumming from Zak Starkey. He drums in a constant psychedelic loop, as pioneered by his father on The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows. “A Bell Will Ring” is Gem Archer’s contribution, one of the few moments than can be classified as “filler”. The album ends with “Let There Be Love”, one of the few Gallagher brothers’ duets. Like most of the album, it is strongly piano-driven, accompanied by acoustic piano and distorted string parts. The song has an upbeat, almost funky coda, ending the album on an optimistic note.

At eleven tracks, and running time of a modest 43 minutes, Don’t Believe the Truth is an exercise in brevity. Each song has a purpose, a distinct character, and the arch of the songs is clearly defined. If one forgives the wacky title, and the one or two unremarkable moments, it’s not unreasonable to consider Don’t Believe a solid return to form. The line-up was firming up, the songs were trimmed and new creative directions were unveiled. Oasis is mining British rock’s history as ever, but that’s been their modus operandi since the days when they were still called “The Rain” after a Beatles b-side. On this album, the winks, nods and “borrowing” always gels into something interesting, which is more than can be said for some of their earlier album tracks. There is a new drive, a lightness to the arrangements, and a maturity in the democratic songwriting that sets this album apart from the other 21st century Oasis albums.

Don’t Believe the Truth was well received, gaining much coverage as a “return to form”. Already in 2006, Liam Gallagher was quoted as saying “it’s old news, it’s done, finished, and it wasn’t even that great to begin with. What’s left to say? […] It’s not bad, but it’s not genius, is it?” (Q Magazine, June 2006, Issue 239, p94) The band would follow it up with 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul. This album is decidedly more hit-and-miss than its predecessor, particularly because this time around the non-Noel tracks are subpar. It also seems to revert to the early 2000s, with its over-reliance on psychedelia. Nevertheless, what would prove to be the band’s swansong contained two or three great songs. The maturity of the songwriting on Don’t Believe therefore sets it apart from all of its decade's siblings.