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Sep 13

OASIS – “Don’t Look Back In Anger”

Popular164 comments • 8,793 views

#734, 2nd March 1996

dontlookback Their title-belt rhetoric, Liam’s snarl, and the brick-wall loudness of Oasis’ radio sound made it easy not to notice how thoughtful Noel Gallagher’s lyrics could be. They weren’t especially clever lyrics, or meaningful, or even coherent, but “Whatever” and “Some Might Say” and “Roll With It” and “Wonderwall” and this one all have a reflective streak – bits and bobs of beermat philosophy giving the lie to the idea that Oasis were only a gang of sneering blusterers. Of course, this is more evidence that Oasis weren’t ever really a Britpop band – that scene had an art-pop appreciation for smart, satirical or formally dense lyrics, and even the unworked songs are very knowing about it (“Woo-hoo!”, indeed)

Noel seemed to prefer offhand sincerity, collages of lines that sound good sung, their emotional payoffs poking through puns, rhymes and boilerplate. According to both brothers, the “So, Sally can wait…” line that rouses “Don’t Look Back In Anger” from its slumberous verses was a happy collaborative accident, Liam pouncing on a phrase Noel had pulled from the air and ordering him to keep it. But the whole song feels like a similar patchwork, really good lines – “Please don’t put your life in the hands / Of a rock and roll band” side by side with fumbling about slipping inside the eye of your mind. The magpie phrase-lifting of the title sets the tone for the whole thing.

It might seem perverse to focus on “Don’t Look Back In Anger”’s lyrics, which are a tiny part of why it got to Number One and why it’s one of the band’s milestone tracks. But the rest of it leaves me almost completely cold, even when I can see what it’s up to. The opening piano, a lift from “Imagine”, is one of the group’s least subtle bits of behavioural priming – this is going to be a Big Song, Noel shooting for the Hall of Fame with a pained, ponderous rock ballad. I rarely like that kind of thing, and no surprise, I don’t really like this. It’s a treacly, high-gravity listen – guitars and drums and strings all jostling for space, dragging each other down. And while Liam’s singing wouldn’t have fitted this song’s rueful tone, Noel’s delivery veers between heartfelt and maudlin – particularly when he lets the song fizzle out at the end. Comparisons to “Wonderwall” – with Liam in total, electrifying command of a much tighter arrangement – are inevitable, and don’t flatter this song.

But something I do appreciate about it is that, in the context of rock tear-jerkers and lighter-wavers, the scrappy lyrics are an asset. There’s a sort of story here* – bye, Sal! – but no message or particular claim of wisdom, nothing you’re expected to agree with. Instead, the song flails about in a sump of self-justification and sentimentality, and is all the better for it. I have been drunk, and I have put big, sentimental rock music on when drunk, and felt the beery swell of nameless emotion just out of reach of my befuddled mind, and while I’d never use this track for it, I can recognise that use in it. That just-out-of-reachness – that catalyst for messy, dredged-up, inchoate feels – is the one way “Don’t Look Back In Anger” does stand comparison with “Wonderwall”.

*Though one particular coherent reading did jump out at me – what if that opening steal isn’t just a signal of the type of song this is going to be, but is an explicit admission: this song is Lennon fanfic, and Lennon is its “you”. It’s a fantasy where Noel gets to be John’s buddy – a Mary Stu. “Take me to the place that you go…” – and there’s Noel hanging out in Strawberry Fields, being there at the bed-in, helping him out – saving him, maybe – with some down-to-Earth Gallagher wisdom, vibing off his presence as “Sally” is left behind – no wonder Liam didn’t get to sing this – and kissed off with a snide cultural reference because that’s the kind of thing John Lennon does for Noel, his best friend forever. And there, walking on by, we shall leave them.

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Comments

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  1. 151
    pink champale on 20 Oct 2013 #

    “I can put this album on and within seconds I’m thinking about cool adverts that have been soundtracked by some of these songs.”
    Very good.

  2. 152
    iconoclast on 20 Oct 2013 #

    Of course, what nobody has dared to say yet is that in musical terms you’re not a proper “man” unless you own everything Zep ever recorded and can quote from any of it without having to think. What is the distaff equivalent?

    @150: yes, this is the stuff.

  3. 153

    Pete Bagge’s mini-comic Testosterone City lists the four relevant manly LPs thus:

    i: Led Zep I
    ii: Led Zep II
    iii: Led Zep III
    iv: Led Zep IV

    My copy is lost somewhere in my house: if I remember where I’ll scan the page in question. Here’s the cover:

  4. 154
    @Patrick_Mexico on 3 Nov 2013 #

    I wrote some pretty awkward things about Oasis and lad culture, but take it as the natural human condition… http://t.co/C37rm1c4dm

  5. 155
    Patrick Mexico on 11 Nov 2013 #

    4/10 is an extremely harsh mark, and if this happens to something Oasis put their heart and soul into (by their, ahem, unique definitions), imagine Tom’s ire when we get to their “GO AWAY! YOU’RE STOPPING THE FUTURE FROM HAPPENING!” years.

    Oasis’ imperial phase (surely their first two albums, I wonder how many bands have had such, er, twin peaks at the beginning?); this can’t push beyond a 7 as it’s too “OH, RETURN OF THE SIXTIES!” The Imagine lift is irrelevance as it’s not exactly East 17′s Around the World; it’s a song of cod-surreal defiance rather than straightforward idealism, knows what it wants.

    However, the desire, execution and timing of Some Might Say, Supersonic, Live Forever, Cigarettes and Alcohol make them bona fide classics in my book, regardless of the personalities involved – it would be a gross understatement to say I’m tied in moral knots with them. Yet, I must say, these songs all grab the bull by the horns in the way a Sit Down or the more caustic Do Re Me So Far So Good couldn’t quite do two years previously, no matter how hard they tried, because of some kind of unwritten rule of any indie band formed in the 1980s post-This Charming Man on TOTP. (The song which made Noel Gallagher want to be Johnny Marr.)

    I have a horrible feeling Oasis and Loaded/the new lad culture with all its beer, sex, chips, gravy, and irresponsible flag-waving (unintentionally, just saying people didn’t question this as they were under medieval delusions that Tony Blair was going to somehow save us all) contributed to some terrible social problems in post-1997 Britain.

    The problem with a band who try to simplify everything into primal human desires are that you’ll eventually end up like primates.

    Their sheer reactionary Page 3-reading, bulldog-tattooed cab driver obviousness eventually put me off by the time they got to Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and though Noel Gallagher comes across these days as a thoroughly alright and decent fella I’d unquestionably go for a pint with, I’m not sure as a band their reputation ever fully recovered with me.

    Oasis were a rock band from an ordinary Manchester suburb of 1930s semi-detached housing. They wanted success and fame; so do millions of people, and to be the defining moment of their generation, so do a good few thousand with both beautiful and toxic minds. One of them was a bit mean, and sexist, to Justine Frischmann. I have no idea if this was ever resolved.

    Another one of them (who later apologised after a ticking off from his own mother!) wished the most terrible illness on a prominent rival, in which even those in love with him found indefensible.. Michael Stipe and Sinead O’ Connor would say to their detractors, in the absence of a way of life, why repeat it again and again? Both brothers apparently boasted that they didn’t read books.

    But then again, Bruce Springsteen sings about that three-minute record they learnt more from than they ever did at school, he’s still a hero to most. Most of the mid nineties’ totemic moments, whether Shaun Ryder’s potty-mouthed TFI Friday or the patriotic hoopla of Euro 96 (more on that soon), would toe the line between raucous everyman good clean fun and the zenith of alpha-male narcotic thuggery. Remind you of anyone?

    But Oasis are not to blame. They did not initiate a situation. They put in place a system to simplify life to its most base elements; “cigarettes and alcohol” and but surely the British public were smart enough not to take this too seriously. Eat, sleep, (medium-pace) rock, repeat. There must be more wonder to life, surely.

    Boasting of AIDS and not reading books (accidentally) probably did earn them a fair handful of bigoted scumbag fans; it’s not their fault, they might have been half-joking, just like Morrissey’s flag-waving at the 1992 Finsbury Park gig (where some might think ‘WHAT IS THIS PC GONE MAD NONSENSE’ or alternately ‘YES HE IS DEREK BEACON’S NUMBER 1 FAN NOW’, nobody ever mentions he admitted it was taking the piss out of Madness fans’ alleged racist skinhead element.) Apparently Springsteen has a significant “Guns, God, Government, and Kill ‘Em All” element, no matter how hard people try to convince them that his most famous single was about the mistreatment and mismanagement of Vietnam vets.

    I don’t know.

    They were just a few average lads from Manchester who wouldn’t hurt a fly, like..

    Just thinking of the terrible events and trends of the following decade?

    Was their desire for fame at all costs to blame for the explosion in celebrity magazines, and the psychotic obsession with reality TV that has cut some young British people off from any engagement with their home town’s heritage or character?

    Was their crude mudslinging at other genres displaying any mild glamour or androgyny a poisonous catalyst for people being senselessly abused in the street beaten up just for having long hair, or being a “goth” or “mosher” (in one tragic case in a small town not far north of Manchester, fatally?)

    Were the empty statements of pride to blame for a shift from depicting “working class” to “underclass” and such things as Jeremy Vile and ‘ChavTowns.co.uk’ (I can recall a time when people laughed at Jerry Springer, thinking “It’ll never happen here.” Unfortunately, Britain, like much of the US and Australia, has developed into a post-industrial ‘it’s your own fault’ laissez-faire I’m All Right Jack-ness, where people can deflect allegations of class snobbery or playing on privilege by dismissing sometimes individuals, sometimes entire towns as, well.. new rednecks.)

    Was the “not reading books” thing to blame for the recent alleged underachievement of white working class boys in British education?

    Were ambiguous statements like “It’s the last time we do any charity gigs for you Romanians” and “In a multi-cultural society, people don’t need much encouragement to be fucking racist” (Noel Gallagher, NME annual, 2006), picked up by the type of people who go to watch Burnley at Cardiff City and sing “I’d rather be a Paki than a Taff”; plus the northern race riots of 2001 and subsequent successes of the BNP and similar groups?

    Well.. not directly, it would be cruel beyond words to suggest a band who tried to blend the Beatles and Pistols and had more success with it than most lead to murder and racial hatred. Then again, calling someone “a closet faggot who wants his nose smacking in” is cruel beyond words.

    But I don’t know in 1998, 99, as late as 2000 even.. someone SHOULD HAVE OFFERED AN ALTERNATIVE to this “all we need are fags and booze and swagger” reductionist attitude that make (what I’d imagine) Modern Romance (to be) look like George Orwell. Instead, we got drowned in retro-disco “Cheese for Cheese’s sake”, the New Acoustic Movement (thanks, Oasis!) and three doe-eyed Irish sisters doing bloodless Fleetwood Mac covers (no, we’re not talking about Haim just now.)

    And that is the story of Oasis.

    Or is it? Two down, six (SIX) to go.

  6. 156
    Cumbrian on 11 Nov 2013 #

    Re: 154: Apparently Springsteen has a significant “Guns, God, Government, and Kill ‘Em All” element, no matter how hard people try to convince them that his most famous single was about the mistreatment and mismanagement of Vietnam vets.

    The dirty little secret about Bruce Springsteen is this: he has basically managed to convince these people he is a liberal and they have stopped buying his records and going to his shows. It is telling that his current tour which started last March (heading to South Africa for the first time and then down under in a few weeks time) has had zero stops at any US venue, that he used to be able to sell out Giants Stadium 10 nights in a row and now struggles to sell out 3, that there are tales of his last US tour where half a venue was curtained off as he couldn’t sell the tickets, that he very rarely performs below the Mason-Dixon line.

    All this started when he headlined the Vote For Change tour in 2004, in an effort to get young people to vote and kick GW Bush out of office. He’s always been a liberal, if you read his lyrics, and has always been someone who embraces racial diversity (the Greetings from Asbury Park/Wild, Innocent version of his band) included two African-Americans and one Hispanic member and his current touring band is more racially diverse than you might expect. It took standing up against Bush, singing What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding and Power to the People every night with REM for people to get the message. As a result, Springsteen is losing audience in the USA (though there’s also the fact that a lot of his original fans are getting old and starting to die off and a further fact that, whilst not as expensive as some of his peers, Springsteen tickets are not necessarily that cheap – so it is not a straightforward explanation).

    The guy’s, if anything, much more successful in the rest of the world now. Scandinavia, Italy and Spain in particular. The number of young people at these shows is remarkable – and they travel (I shared a cab to the Ricoh Arena with a couple in their 20s who were going to miss the local Bruce show and spent money to get tickets and planes to catch a gig in Coventry. Coventry!), so he sells these shows out. I’ve not spent any thought on why this might be though. Needless to say, the above quote may be true – insomuch as “however hard people try to convince” goes. Springsteen is doing it by himself though.

  7. 157
    Izzy on 11 Nov 2013 #

    I clean forgot Bruce was here in the summer and missed him. Nobody would go with me and I held off, and ultimately he slipped my mind; should’ve just went for it, one of these days I’ll learn that life lesson properly.

    Slightly sad if he’s become a prophet without honour. He can live with himself and will be proved right in the end though. One can only imagine how unhappy it must be to have (one of) your biggest moment(s) bellowed back having been turned through 180°; I’m sure cleaving off that part of the audience must feel good, if dispiriting.

  8. 158
    weej on 11 Nov 2013 #

    Does the USA have issues with mainstream musicians getting involved in politics? The scandal with The Dixie Chicks being anti-Bush and the astonishingly condemnatory tone of the media after Kanye West’s “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” seem to indicate that it does. On this side of the Atlantic I feel like we expect our musicians to be actively left-wing – or at least we did, I’ve been out of the country for over a decade and have a feeling that the wind has changed a little.

  9. 159
    fivelongdays on 11 Nov 2013 #

    #154 Oh, there were PLENTY of alternatives to Oasis. Most of them will only be mentioned, at best, in passing. If you just looked at the NME and the charts, you wouldn’t have found them – you had to do a bit of digging (or else, read Kerrang!. Or listen to a certain five-piece from Oxford)

    However, one of the alternatives – and to my mind, the most relevant, the band that helped me break with the ‘shine on down the line like yer feeling so fine’ ‘Eh up, I’m one of the lads’ ‘Reading is gay’ mentality that Oasis were the figureheads for – will be coming up in two-and-a-half years (Popular time). And…you know the rest.

  10. 160
    iconoclast on 11 Nov 2013 #

    @157: Only if they’re perceived as being somewhere to the left of the Republican party, usually.

  11. 161
    tm on 12 Nov 2013 #

    @ 154 – Let’s not forget Noel and Liam’s most oafish behaviour came at a time of savage cocaine addiction if contemporary reports were to be believed. No surprise both are more personable now they’ve kicked (or at least dialled back) the charlie.

  12. 162
    thefatgit on 20 Nov 2013 #

    If this be true, then I feel an immense sense of relief:

    http://www.nme.com/news/oasis/73961?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=oasis

  13. 163
    Patrick Mexico on 21 Nov 2013 #

    Ha. In the Popularverse, though, they’ve only just begun.

    Hopefully if the straw of overexposure to Oasis does break a few camels’ backs, it’ll encourage discussion of the forgotten heroes of nineties British music an ocean away from Ben Sherman shirts and knock-off Lennon glasses. Mind you, rather that look than one I witnessed from horrendous university “lads” in a supermarket this week, which can only be described as Grease a la Mark Wright from TOWIE* and Picture Book-era Mick Hucknall.

    * Disclaimer: I don’t watch that show. I’m just exposed to that kind of thing in newsagents.

  14. 164
    Tommy Mack on 10 Mar 2014 #

    John Robb asked me to write something about Oasis for Louder Than War so I wrote this: http://louderthanwar.com/they-ripped-off-the-beatles-oasis-and-the-strange-currency-of-originality-in-pop/

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