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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. 101
    Tom on 17 Mar 2014 #

    Belated sense from Don.

  2. 102
    Mark G on 17 Mar 2014 #

    But, come the ninety first minute…

  3. 103
    wichitalineman on 17 Mar 2014 #

    …he played Crying.

  4. 104
    Steve Mannion on 17 Mar 2014 #

    My sources tell me this song has actually been played on 6Music TODAY. Make of this what you will.

    Nice outro shame about the rest.

  5. 105
    punctum on 17 Mar 2014 #

    #98: “Throw Down A Line” is on 40 Golden Greats. Not sure whether “The Joy Of Living” is at all available on CD so it’s ancient 7-inch 45 ahoy.

    #103: It could have been worse. He could have encored with “Killing Me Softly With My Song.”

  6. 106
    James BC on 17 Mar 2014 #

    #100 Did he get through all of American Pie?

  7. 107
    wichitalineman on 17 Mar 2014 #

    Re 105: Yes you’re right, but it’s missing from the otherwise complete Singles Collection box set. The Joy Of Living was on the Best Of Vol 2, quite possibly deleted.

    Re 106: He did. I would say “of course he did”, but he didn’t play Vincent, so logic doesn’t really come into it. Now if he’d played Killing Me Softly, that would’ve been something.

  8. 108
    leveret on 17 Mar 2014 #

    @104, it was played on Radcliffe & Maconie’s show as part of a reader-suggested trio of tracks featuring Morse code, the others being ‘London Calling’ and ‘Radioactivity’. With the possible exception of Steve ‘Lammo’ Lamacq, I can’t recall Oasis getting much airtime on 6Music, although Beady Eye and NG’s High Flying Birds have been known to pop up, at least on daytime shows.

  9. 109
    mapman132 on 18 Mar 2014 #

    All right, since we’re talking about #1 hits left off of greatest hits compilations, let’s see who knows this piece of trivia: Despite the fact that the Beatles 1 compilation was supposed to include every one of their US/UK #1′s, one song actually got left off. It is so obscure that I was unaware of it until recently and a close friend who’s a much bigger Beatles fan than I had never heard of the song. It was, however, listed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and even supposedly got played in the number one position of the second ever American Top 40 radio show.

    Anyone know what I’m talking about (preferably without resorting to Wikipedia ;) )?

  10. 110
    Mark G on 18 Mar 2014 #

    I’m fairly sure I know what it’s called but I’m having difficulty searching for its reference…

  11. 111
    Tommy Mack on 18 Mar 2014 #

    I’m stumped despite a quick google. Besame Mucho? My Bonnie? Surely not?

  12. 112
    Ed on 18 Mar 2014 #

    I’m ineligible because I Wiki’ed it. I looked it up because that album always annoyed me by excluding ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’, although neither of those are the one you mean, I think.

    Apparently there is a logic behind it, although the strategy of slicing and dicing the catalogue feels like the most compelling motivation.

  13. 113
    Andy M on 18 Mar 2014 #

    Wasn’t it a case of Billboard mistakenly listing it as a double A-side, when it was intended as a B-side? (if you do indeed mean this one: http://tinyurl.com/nnsptk8)

  14. 114
    Rory on 18 Mar 2014 #

    Yeah, I was reading the entry on 1 on Wikipedia yesterday to see if I could offer it as a counter-example for James BC @92, so I know which. But for me, as an Australian, the obvious missing Beatles number one is “Roll Over Beethoven”. (I know that wasn’t the remit of 1, or else “Strawberry Fields” would be there as well – number one in Canada!)

    [Also number one in Oz were "I Saw Her Standing There", "All My Loving", "I Should Have Known Better", "If I Fell" and "Nowhere Man" - blimey.]

  15. 115
    Rory on 18 Mar 2014 #

    And speaking of compilations with missing number ones, this compilation of the Beatles’ Australian number ones, the first Beatles album I ever bought, was missing quite a few.

  16. 116
    mapman132 on 18 Mar 2014 #

    #113 We have a winner! It was in fact “For You Blue” which Billboard listed as a double-A side despite the fact it was not intended as such. Double A-sides had been charted separately until a policy change less than a year earlier. In fact the first number one under the new policy was “Come Together”/”Something” which had been listed as separate singles just one week prior. I think airplay generally was supposed to determine whether or not a B-side got listed. “You Know My Name” (B-side to “Let It Be”) apparently didn’t get enough, but “For You Blue” apparently did.

    The policy wrt B-sides and double-A sides changed multiple times over the next three decades until 1998 when the introduction of airplay-only songs without single release ended the appearance of double-sided singles on the Hot 100 for good. I suspect the introduction of MP3′s and Youtube hits cements this further. Coincidentally, the probable last ever officially double-sided Hot 100 #1 is about to be discussed on this forum.

  17. 117
    mapman132 on 18 Mar 2014 #

    #112 BTW, I was mostly joking about the Wiki thing. You’re certainly welcome to claim victory too if you want ;)

  18. 118
    Kit Mackay on 19 Mar 2014 #

    ‘Joy for Living’ was available on a Cliff Richard compilation called ‘The Hits In Between’ which does a great job of doing exactly what it says on the tin whilst still providing a pun on one of the song’s titles.

  19. 119
    Kit Mackay on 19 Mar 2014 #

    Sorry, I meant ‘Joy of Living’.

  20. 120
    Tom on 25 Mar 2014 #

    Mark’s Oasis piece, for the use of future Popular-readin’ generations: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2014/03/the-shock-of-the-library-oasis-versus-all-of-art-and-culture/

  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 123
    ciaran on 19 Apr 2014 #
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