When “All Around The World” came out, it wasn’t yet quite clear that Oasis had peaked. Yes, the album was a folly, but they were still colossal, with no sign they wouldn’t come back stronger next time. This record felt belligerent: the pointless length, the Pepperland video – a band being deliberately, grandly lazy. Think what you like about us, it said, we’re going nowhere.
Which turned out to be true. And with hindsight, I can hear a different, far less triumphant record hidden in this one’s rolls and folds of overdubbed flab. To get to it, though, I have to ask: how on Earth did this thing get so big, anyway? What were they feeding it?
Back on “D’You Know What I Mean”, I said that Noel Gallagher seemed in love with the idea of long songs, but with no clear ideas of how to make them. That might go double here, except he does have one clear idea: do something like “Hey Jude”. “Hey Jude” still isn’t my favourite Beatles song, but it’s past time I publically admitted that I got that review wrong. I accused “Hey Jude” of exactly the same thing I saw in “All Around The World” – a bludgeoning, manipulative, Bigness for its own sake. But “Hey Jude” is, more than anything, a generous song – the Beatles invent the monster coda not just to make something epic but because it fits with the song’s story: OK Jude, we’ve tried telling you it’s alright, now we’re just going to have to show you.
“Hey Jude” put the ‘hug’ in ‘huge’, and it never left: when British rock bands got big, the temptation was to get inclusive too, throw their arms around the audience. The Britpop backwash wasn’t immune – the Manics did it well, on “A Design For Life”, but more characteristic of the times was Embrace’s “All You Good Good People”. It was praised as the next step on from Oasis, a single which matched cyclopean string arrangements with vocals that were aggressively flat, singing a typically expansive hug rock lyric.
That’s the sort of territory “All Around The World” seems to be in, after the feint of the opening two minutes which are Oasis by-the-yard: vague threats, cut-up lyrics, a canny hook or two, and even Liam’s “sheey-ine”. Beyond that point – with as long to go as the entire of “D’You Know What I Mean” – niceties like ‘verses’ are done away with. Instead “All Around The World” becomes nothing but build upon build, supporting a chorus which is pure hug: welcoming but empty.
Except the density of the arrangements means that instead of soaring, each key change here feels like a collapse, the song’s structure giving way like a weak old floor and the entire record plunging even as it struggles to rise. And Noel Gallagher’s lyrics – and Liam’s yelling of them – get more desperate. “Well, I know what I know, and I know what I know, and I know what I know… it’s gonna be OK” – this isn’t reaching out any more, it’s a man clutching at himself and rocking as his track caves in around him. The song ends with Liam’s increasingly frantic pleas of “
Please don’t cry! Pigs don’t fly! Never say die!”. He sounds bereft. But who’s he singing to?
The fairest interpretation of “All Around The World” is probably the obvious one – it’s a bombastic, tedious drug-fuelled fiasco that shows only how out of control Noel Gallagher and his band were becoming. But the band’s later history of single-minded irrelevance allows us a slightly kinder read, one where this song is still too big and clumsy to be good, but at least has an accidental poignancy. This is the sound of Oasis and their fans becoming the sect they ended up as, shouting reassurance to one another, wrapping themselves in a cocoon of enormousness in order to retreat from the world.