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Mar 14

OASIS – “D’You Know What I Mean?”

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#771, 19th July 1997

dkwim “Call me naive but I felt something – I’m not quite sure what it was, but I felt it all the same.” – Noel Gallagher on New Labour.

When Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher shook hands in Downing Street that Autumn, they were men facing similar problems: what do you do after you’ve won? Accounts of the first Blair term stress that New Labour never realised, deep down, they were as powerful as they were – Blair stuck to plans which assumed his party would be working with only a modest majority.

Gallagher, on the other hand, believed absolutely that Oasis would be the biggest band in the country. He’d said it would happen by right, and it had. But that didn’t make him any more prepared. If Blair didn’t believe he could tear up his plan, Noel hadn’t seen much need to make one. What do you do after Morning Glory? You do it again – bigger, better, louder, longer, even if the band hate each other and the songs aren’t there. Be Here Now is known as a cocaine album, but just as pertinently it’s a success album. It’s an avalanche of half-worked, muddy, adequate ideas that exist because nobody said they couldn’t and momentum said they had to. Landslide indie: as 1997 as it gets.

The question is whether “D’You Know What I Mean?” is the victory, the hangover, or both at once. As a comeback single, it’s doing two things – reintroducing Oasis’ attitude, lensed as ever through Liam’s vocals, and trying to haul in that massive, nation-spanning Knebworth audience with a big-tent chorus. “All my people, right here right now, d’you know what I mean?” translates simply as “Vote Oasis”. They’re pitching for re-election as the People’s Band.

The Morning Glory follow-up was always going to be a news event, and “D’You Know What I Mean” leans right into that: it’s nothing but event, and away from its context it feels bloated and beached. It’s the 1990s equivalent of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” – a guaranteed, massive, empty smash built out of a band doing everything they did before but louder and stupider. Oasis (unhappily for them) do not have Nile Rodgers on hand to pull things into glossy shape. But they have the same total, barefaced confidence – tell them it’s nonsense, and aren’t you the idiot for caring? This is an alpha record, built to emasculate criticism – with this big a dick, the Emperor hardly needs clothes.

And critics, notoriously, fell into line. Q’s 5-star review of Be Here Now has been scrubbed from the Internet, but Select’s effort did the rounds a few months ago. “All of rock history has been leading up to this point”, it proclaimed, in one of several moments where ignoring the mark (also five starts) makes the praise slightly less straightforward. Even so, this sort of review has gone down in critical history as a hideous misstep – as fans and even the band backed off from Be Here Now, the adulation tanked reviewers’ credibility. This may be what artist Jeremy Deller meant in his savage summary of Oasis: “they ruined British music, and they ruined British music journalism”.

(Is that fair? Paul Gorman’s In Their Own Write, an oral history of the music press, is silent on the Be Here Now incident, which is odd because it gives a detailed account of its prelude, the set of mostly average write-ups for (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. The press’ change of mind wasn’t just a result of nervous triangulation to placate readers, it was partly down to strongarm tactics from Oasis’ marketing team, backed by the band themselves, who suggested they might refuse access on the basis of the Morning Glory pans. Oasis’ presence meant tens of thousands in sales: the threat worked.)

So had all of rock history been leading here? Not history, maybe, but “D’You Know What I Mean?” is at least a prowl through rock’s wax museum. It subs out meaning for rapid cuts through a haul of reference points – “Blood on the tracks and they must be mine / Fool on the Hill and I Feel Fine” and plenty more. The record benefits enormously from having an engaged-sounding Liam – which means a Liam radiating contempt for his brother’s idolatory: all those old fragments of rock are just bits of gum for him to chew and spit out.

If all there was to it was that confidence, its behemoth production, a snarling verse or two, and a couple of rounds of the chorus, “D’You Know What I Mean” would do its comeback job. It swaps their energy for bludgeoning aggro, and it doesn’t have the bite or tenderness or angry hope of better Oasis songs, but it might have reminded you that the band could do those things. Instead, the song makes that point then simply refuses to stop. From one listen to Be Here Now it was obvious that Noel Gallagher had made an album of long songs with no good idea how to make a song long beyond hammering the bits he liked best into inertia. “D’You Know What I Mean” has no reason to get anywhere near seven minutes.

Any coherence this has as a song comes down to two things: Liam’s sullen vocal, and the drums, where a slowed-down NWA sample creates a mid-paced stomper of a rhythm, simple and arrogant, and evokes Liam’s slouched swagger anyway. Everything else is a confused, colossal swirl – helicopters, morse code, and every guitar effect Noel Gallagher could overdub on. It sounds nothing like The Beatles. It reaches back deeper, not into the collective past, but into Oasis’ own background. This is a song where those years Noel spent as an Inspiral Carpets roadie suddenly come into focus, the years when British guitar music was all mess and throb. In the soup between the drums and the singer, there are snatches of noise that call to mind Madchester, shoegaze, grunge, warmed-over punk and psychedelia; each effects-pedal soar or swell is another ghost of early 90s indie, crowded around Oasis’ shoulders for their victory lap.

And maybe that’s the best way to enjoy this confused, bullying, almost-exciting sprawl – as a party loyalist, someone just happy to see British rock on top of the charts. But Oasis had mined that particular goodwill for a long time, and Knebworth – two and a half million chasing 250,000 tickets – had been the peak of it. Factions as big as theirs take a while to fade away, but the disappointment of Be Here Now was the end of their country-wide enormity. At their meeting, Gallagher and Blair had success in common, but nothing else: the politician was already planning for re-election; the pop star had just blown it.

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Comments

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  1. 121
    Conrad on 26 Mar 2014 #

    It has a good bridge this, and the drum sample gives some space to the rhythm section for once. and the tune is suitably anthemic. I don’t even like oasis but this one is quite good – a 7 if it faded around 4.30

  2. 122
    xyzzzz__ on 19 Apr 2014 #

    I remember the NME review of 7/10 I think, reading and just laughing at it. Stopped it round Morning Glory, gave it a couple of spins, only liked the title track (and still do). My tastes were severely shifting in ’97.

    Reading about the bullying of reviewers etc. makes me think of Freikorps of all things. This is Freikorp pop.

  3. 123
    ciaran on 19 Apr 2014 #
  4. 124
    Mostro on 15 Apr 2015 #

    Would it have made any difference if Noel *had* made a plan?

    Oasis’ problem wasn’t that they squandered any early promise or potential after the first two albums. It was that they’d already delivered it all.

    At the time of Be Here Now everyone was expecting Oasis to take the next step, for it to be (predictably) their “Sgt. Pepper”. With hindsight, it’s far more obvious that Oasis never really had that in them in the first place, something Noel- or was it Liam- as much as admitted.

    They didn’t even get as far as recording the slavish Pepper-alike pastiche one might have expected (which itself would hardly have been as impressive as coming up with the original).

    Be Here Now might have been a better album with less drug-induced bloat and arrogance, but Oasis were never going to be much more than they were with those first couple of albums.

    I’d also argue that they were also a case of “right place, right time” for a generation not quite old enough to have had their own back to basics rock band, for that to seem new. That novelty, combined with the early hunger, energy and attitude of their early stuff probably contributed to its success.

    If you can’t move on artistically, the best you can hope for is to recover the band’s early vitality but even so, it’s always going to be a bit more predictable. Short of getting outsiders to write their songs and provide creative input- and I really can’t see Oasis being puppets in that sense- the band’s slide into being the establishment “Quoasis” was inevitable.

  5. 125
    Cumbrian on 6 Oct 2016 #

    It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times:

    https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/06/flattened-by-the-cocaine-panzers-the-toxic-legacy-of-oasiss-be-here-now

  6. 126
    Ed on 11 Oct 2016 #

    Good piece!

    It’s entertaining to see a journalistic style more often applied to the Iraq War or Brexit being used for the third Oasis album.

    I couldn’t really say it’s undeserved, though.

  7. 127
    Cumbrian on 11 Oct 2016 #

    Yes, I quite enjoyed it. My comment was more on Monty Burns’ 1000 monkeys at a 1000 typewriters* and imagining them coming up with reviews of Be Here Now but the propaganda war being fought around Britpop is obviously the main thrust of the piece.

    *Also allowed me to shoehorn in Blur for pun points.

  8. 128
    Cumbrian on 14 Oct 2016 #

    Addendum:

    These stories, such as the one above, obviously came around because Be Here Now’s repackaging has come out. Bits have dribbled out over Spotify over the last couple of months that I have given a listen to and I’ve had a quick scan of the tracklist from which I’d make a couple of observations.

    The B-Sides disc excises both the covers from the era – Heroes and Street Fighting Man – which is a piece of good sense in my view; both are terrible. It can’t be anything to do with not wanting to hand royalties out to people either, as there is a live cover of Help stashed away on the same disc.

    Of the tracks that have hit Spotify thus far, the “big one” is the stripped back version of this #1. I like it more than the original, I think – taking bits off the mix revealed things I’d not been able to hear in the 1997 version, like the string section that’s in there, and the guitars are generally less painful – though it’s no real length shorter than the original, which is what I advocated for back up thread. There’s a line of thinking – advocated by Noel – that the point of Be Here Now is the excess of all of it and that this is in some way a virtue of the record. I guess that might be true in some sense, but I’d have liked to have heard a pared down version of the LP, if this version of D’You Know What I Mean? is any indication of what might have resulted. I’d almost certainly prefer it.

    The Mustique demos that have come out (and seem to comprise the whole of the 3rd disc) make it apparent that Liam was absolutely critical to any success that some of these songs have (also Angel Child, put here instead of on the B-Sides disc, is I find still, after all these years, utterly tedious). If Noel had stayed away after blowing out of the US tour post Morning Glory and these demos would have been the model for his first solo album, his vocals would have hamstrung a good proportion of it; you really need some cocksure vocalist to sell the weaker songs and Noel is not it.

  9. 129
    Girl with Curious Hair on 19 Nov 2016 #

    I don’t think Oasis ever did sound much like The Beatles – the spirit was willing, but the union jack Epiphones were weak. They were the New Buzzcocks, man.

    That said, I think there’s a parallel with Be Here Now and the White Album, in form if not music – they’re both albums made by bands at an Olympian peak of success and as such there’s absolutely no filter there. And at that scale you can see the fundamental difference between the scousers and the mancs laid bare: given free reign The Beatles were a lot more playful and generous to the listener (mostly anyway). Oasis ultimately just didn’t have the same imagination. Everything is just bigger.

    (Though I suppose if there’s a purely musical Beatley antecedent for D’You What I Mean and the rest of BHN’s bigness for the sake of it, it’s the ridiculous 3-hour coda to I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road…)

    Anyway, I kinda like this kind of thing, the rare moment when an artist is at such a level she can happily go too far in every direction at once and expose her id. The Heaven’s Gate situation.

  10. 130
    Mostro on 20 Nov 2016 #

    #129 Girl with Curious Hair;
    Oasis’ approach to the Beatles- well, to too many things- could be summed up with two words- “cargo cult”.

    They did things because the Beatles- or some other heroes- had done it before. They didn’t seem to really *get* why something did or didn’t work in the first place. All uncreative and uncomprehending mimickry of the superficial aspects.

    That stupid cover for “Be Here Now”, for example. All the clutter that was supposed to be full of clever references (Sgt. Pepper style) was so obviously contrived and meaningless that no-one could care about it- and no-one did. Attempting to manufacture cultish intrigue without getting that being so open and explanatory about it was self-defeating.

    Think you were a bit harsh on the Buzzcocks in that comparison, BTW.

  11. 131
    Girl with Curious Hair on 21 Nov 2016 #

    Ah, if I came across as being snide towards the Buzzcocks I withdraw it as that definitely wasn’t my intention – but I do think there’s a pretty strong through-line there.

    Totally agree with you about the cult cargo thing btw – and if I’m feeling generously disposed towards Oasis, I’d say there’s something kinda endearing about how guileless it is. There’s no irony involved or anything that that. On the other hand, a lot of the time it’s pretty bloody lazy – one of their biggest hits literally begins with the same chords as Imagine for seemingly no reason at all…

  12. 132
    Izzy on 21 Nov 2016 #

    The example I hate most is on this very song. “Blood on the tracks and it must be mine …” – right okay, that’s quite menacing, let’s see where he goes from here – “… the fool on the hill and I feel fine” – oh ffs.

  13. 133
    Girl with Curious Hair on 21 Nov 2016 #

    It’s a lot like the Alan Partridge method of seduction: “It’s good this, isn’t it? Even though we’re basically just listing song names.”

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