7
Sep 13

OASIS – “Don’t Look Back In Anger”

Popular165 comments • 12,652 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. 121
    hardtogethits on 16 Sep 2013 #

    #117. True, Adele’s 21 sold more in a single calendar year than any other release. No 2 in the list? Why it’s James Blunt of course!

    http://www.musicweek.com/news/read/from-21-to-3-million-adele-crunches-the-numbers/046688

  2. 122
    Ed on 17 Sep 2013 #

    @110, 113, 115: Thanks! So ‘White Lines’ is not actually blatantly obvious at all…. At least, not obvious enough for me to get it. I guess, given Melle Mel’s reputation, I should have suspected there would be at least a sniff of ambiguity about his views on cocaine.

    Next you’re going to tell me that ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ was written in support of the Federation of Conservative Students….

  3. 123
    Ed on 17 Sep 2013 #

    @116: Yes, that’s certainly how I remember it, for what my own subjective sliver of memory is worth. Who was it had that line about “we will never agree on anything again the way we agreed on The Beatles”? Oasis came pretty close, in my experience.

    Even David Stubbs, veteran Arsequake hard-liner, is here very even-handed about the “occasionally sublime” ‘What’s The Story’:

    http://archivedmusicpress.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/david-stubbs-reviews-whats-the-story-morning-glory-30th-september-1995/

  4. 124
    Mark G on 17 Sep 2013 #

    I dunno, we all agreed on Sigue Sigue Sputnik

  5. 125
    Mark G on 17 Sep 2013 #

    Yeah, I think the David Stubbs’ review pretty much matches my own view. “Don’t believe the truth” I think is their second best album, but that’s to be debated later, so…

  6. 126
    Auntie Beryl on 18 Sep 2013 #

    #116 to claim everyone liked Oasis in 1996 is a stretch.

    I was in both the BlurPulp and dance camps myself at the time, but in the record shop I worked in half my customers were slagging Oasis off for the bloated dullards they’d become.

    They weren’t *that* popular.

  7. 127
    Ed on 18 Sep 2013 #

    @124 We all loved them, you mean? I know I did. “Would you pay 4 million for this crap?” was the day the NME died for me.

  8. 128
    Mark M on 18 Sep 2013 #

    Re 123: Really? I can think of one or two people I know who loved Oasis, a lot who didn’t mind their presence on our radios, a few who probably barely knew who they were, and a number who had little or no time for them. It’s a strange day when a man who made his living working for the mainstream-alternative music press as long as David Stubbs is taken as the epitome of cultural snobbery.

  9. 129
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Sep 2013 #

    If #116 means a *lot* more people liked them at first than carried on doing so, I think this is probably very true: I suspect a signif proportion of their present-day h8ahs are angry exes

  10. 130
    Steve Mannion on 18 Sep 2013 #

    Yeah I can’t think of another band I experienced a bigger ‘from love to hate’ drop with (not as swift a process as it could’ve been either – finally saw them live in 2000 and quite enjoyed it but no time for them after that really) and I think I’ve ended up hating them more than I ever loved them at that. Still OK with this song tho – 6 for me but Noel’s best appearance on a #1 yet to come.

  11. 131
    Tim Byron on 18 Sep 2013 #

    Tom at @117, not sure about the UK, but I was curious about the stats, and went looking…

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/FC492ED6D9225A39CA2577C00013BCB2?OpenDocument suggest that about 25% of Australians over the age of 15 attended a ‘popular music concert’ in a 12 month period between 2005-2006 (which included 40% of 18-24 year olds). And I suspect the amount of potential buyers of recorded music has to be at least 25% of the population, I suspect, considering that recordings are probably cheaper, more convenient, and usable than live concerts?

    There’s about 22 million people in Australia, and so 25% of Australians is about 5.5 million people; Adele’s sold its millionth copy in Australia earlier this year: http://www.remotecontrolrecords.com.au/2013/adele-21-1-million-copies-sold-in-australia/

    It depends on how much crossover there is between the people who buy CDs/downloads and the people who go to concerts, but I reckon Adele has probably sold a CD to somewhere between 1/5th and 1/10th of potential buyers.

  12. 132
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Sep 2013 #

    What was it again about something everyone in the country was queuing up to buy from HMV, but some criticised for being too boorish, too misogynistic and maybe even too long?

  13. 133
    Pink champale on 19 Sep 2013 #

    Speaking of which anyone who hasn’t seen the YouTube video of a very young pete docherty being vox popped while queuing for Be Here Now should search it immediately (if I wasn’t the type of cretin who doesn’t know how to do blue writing I’d link obviously but it’s easy to find). PD absolutely adorable – fast forward a few years and you could almost make a case that heroin and crack are a bad idea.

  14. 134
    Ed on 20 Sep 2013 #

    @129, 130 – Thought experiment: what if Oasis had split up the day they released this?

    The Stone Roses – who released a couple of albums of similar quality to Oasis’s first two – suggest it’s a lot easier to retain the public’s love if you don’t crop up at regular intervals reminding them that you still exist.

    @128 – A fair point. But I don’t think we ever found out what Roger Scruton or Ben Watson thought of Oasis….

  15. 135
    Tom on 20 Sep 2013 #

    Dunno if the Stone Roses example quite fits – whatever the merits of Second Coming, its reception was rocky and the time away did them few favours – their rep now is definitely stronger for not having released more, though. With Oasis I think the determination to prove they could make something like WTSMG again kept them going. But if and when they reform I think there will still be a fuss.

  16. 136
    Izzy on 20 Sep 2013 #

    ”something like WTSMG’ is the problem though. If The Stone Roses had plodded on trying to remake the debut – not out of the question if Squire had had his hands on the wheel – then most likely they’d’ve been on a diminishing returns course like Oasis. But Brown and Mani haven’t been rehashing old ground at all since the split, so it’s not impossible that they could’ve headed into strange new places and become an acclaimed cult act instead.

    The strange thing is that Second Coming was Squire’s baby and sounds like a conscious attempt to do something different. It seems to have completely worn him out though. We’ll never know how things might’ve worked if they had simply gone on jamming together à la Daybreak or some of their b-sides; it’s conceivable they could’ve gone on to build a catalogue somewhere between, say, Can and Funkadelic (though probably not likely that they’d’ve been troubling Popular much).

  17. 137
    Cumbrian on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I’m not even that convinced Oasis/Noel really did seek to make something like WTSMG for the remainder of their career – more that they couldn’t help but sound like that was what they were doing – and that what drove them afterwards was something more like lifestyle maintenance.

    Noel went on record saying that he’d already been a phenomenom once and didn’t want to do it again – so they weren’t shooting for the same level of success (or at least Noel wasn’t) – but they doubtless had bills to pay and families to avoid by going on tour for months on end. And I don’t think any of their subsequent albums sound much like WTSMG either (with the exception of Heathen Chemistry, which I think is the nadir of their catalogue). It’s just that Oasis sound like Oasis, even when they’re not doing stuff that is obviously Beatles or Glam influenced, like the more motorik or psychedelia influenced parts of Dig Out Your Soul*

    I’ve brought up counterfactuals on Oasis before elsewhere. I maintain that if they had only been as big as Gene or Shed Seven, then they would have been looked on as a bit of an outlier to the big art school bands that would have dominated otherwise (Blur, Pulp, Suede). If they’d been as big as they were and Noel really had called it a day when he walked off the US tour in 1996 and got a flight back to the UK, he’d probably have carried on solo – and likely not been as good, given what came after from Oasis – and people might well say that Oasis had a weird alchemy about them that they couldn’t capture alone (maybe not that different from those who claim that they had a weird alchemy before bunnies start sprouting up in 1997/1998). The best thing for their critical standing probably would have been a Lynyrd Skynyrd incident.

    I think Izzy is right about the Roses – it would have depended on who got creative control. This is not the case for Oasis though, as Noel was always “The Guvnor”.

    *I realise that I am marking myself out here as someone who has listened to latter day Oasis more than most. I don’t know how many people here have listened to those albums much, so I could be talking codswallop once someone who know more of what they’re talking about musically actually wraps their ears around them.

  18. 138
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I’ve actually listened to Dig Out Your Soul 100% more than any earlier Oasis LP (ie I’ve never listened to an earlier LP fully through). But I’m an extreme outlier, I was pretty much hors de combat rockmusic-wise in the mid-90s: completely burnt out by my Wire-gig, and if I was listening to anything it was many decades old. I didn’t begin to regain my interest in chart-pop till [enter the longlegged spicebunny, running with scissors]. I actually think DOYS is an odd and interesting record. But I entirely lack routine 90s context (or not entirely, obviously I can read: but it doesn’t come from my own responses in the moment, because I had none).

  19. 139
    Mark G on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I have that “artist vanity format” of Dig Out, it’s a big box with double LP, double extra LP set, and 2 CDs and a DVD and a book and all that. It wasn’t massive expensive, and it’s just as well they were in Fopp for £20 not so long ago.

    Even then, it’s not as bloated as Be Here Now.

    Yeah, “Heathen Chem” was the ‘dull’ one. ‘Standing on the ‘ etc kicks off the best of all the albums, but past track three it dives and never recovers.

  20. 140
    Cumbrian on 20 Sep 2013 #

    Re: Latter day Oasis. I think there are 4 or 5 good tracks on Standing, let down by what surrounds them. Dig is decent but let down by the final 4 tracks, which I have less time for than the opening. Don’t Believe The Truth is genuinely good I reckon. Be Here Now – well, a couple of bunnies there, but bloat is not inaccurate.

    I guess, we can probably dig into each of these in more depth at the time should we choose – though no bunnies for Dig Out Your Soul. At least I won’t be talking to myself. That said, I am interested in Mark S’s opinion of Dig as he’s managed to listen to it isolated from the (totality of the)rest of Oasis’ output.

  21. 141
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I have a half-written idea for a post about it, Cumbrian: which these discussions have reminded me of. I will try and complete it one of these days (<– tho this promise is a sukrat challops if anything is, abt half tyhe comments threads on the site contain a version of it, never redeemed…)

  22. 142
    Rory on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I can see I’m going to have to listen to Dig Out Your Soul again, as it got kind of lost for me – one of those albums I bought because I figured I was collecting the whole set, but then never sat down and properly listened to. (I really must break this collecting-the-whole-set habit. At least I’ve broken the buy-on-day-of-release habit.)

    Collecting the whole set hasn’t extended to Beady Eye, mind.

  23. 143
    James BC on 20 Sep 2013 #

    I’m another big supporter of Dig Out Your Soul. I suppose it does sag a bit in the second half but Soldier On, the last track, is a great album closer. A real old-fashioned end-of-album track. Reminds me of the 22-20s, if anyone else remembers them.

  24. 144
    Mark G on 20 Sep 2013 #

    #143 I have to note that that is probably the one major factor in why Beady Eye haven’t managed a number one album whereas Oasis always did: Brand Loyalty. I daresay many people own a pristine DigOut / Believe / Heathen, maybe played once each.

    Me? Different Gear/Still speeding was generally alright (a couple of clunkers), whereas the new one, um, the other way around.

  25. 145
    tm on 20 Sep 2013 #

    Every album since Be Here Now, Noel would give an interview slagging off everything they’d done since WTSMG and talking up the lead single from the new album and every time, I’d hear it and thing Is that it?

    I’ll post more in context but throughout the Noughties it felt like Oasis were blurring into the dreary mope rock they’d unwittingly helped bring to prominence.

  26. 146
    Ed on 19 Oct 2013 #

    I am late to it, I know, but this – with ‘What’s the Story’ in first place – is pure gold:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/10358000/Dave-Berry-the-10-albums-every-man-should-own.html

    Best Telegraph article ever.

  27. 147
    flahr on 19 Oct 2013 #

    For a list with Oasis in first place that was actually a lot better written than I thought it was going to be.

  28. 148
    Mark G on 19 Oct 2013 #

    Mr Low Expectations…

  29. 149
    Ed on 20 Oct 2013 #

    Also better than you might have thought it would be, this response from the Mirror is nicely done: http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/going-out/music/move-over-dave-berry-tell-2458656

  30. 150
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Oct 2013 #

    Far better than either list — since it hasn’t been linked here yet — is Hazel‘s, of course

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