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Apr 14

OASIS – “All Around The World”

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#781, 24th January 1998

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.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Garry on 18 Apr 2014 #

    #61 I might be wrong, but a generally settling down and maturing into solid songcraft not necessarily aimed for commercial success*. At least this is what I’ve always felt about Supergrass going forward from here.

    * Others may unfairly call it MOR banality. In some cases it may not be so unfair.

  2. 62
    swanstep on 18 Apr 2014 #

    @Ed, 60. I like your phrase ‘phony bonhomie’. It gets for me one reason why AATW doesn’t work: who wants a hug or ‘positivity’ from Liam? or really thinks he’s capable of bonhomie? Hence the phoniness. McCartney’s a big softie sentimentalist so we could buy broad affirmative gestures from him (even without Lennon’s tartness to take the edge off), and Ashcroft really did think of himself as an urban shaman so his cosmic affirmations and natterings, while not everyone’s cup of tea, did at least make sense. Liam, however, like Axl, is only really believable as a snarling, brawling, groupie-shagging, Rock-Star-wish-fulfillment figure for his audience. Hence the intended Hey-Jude-ish spirit of AATW never gets off the ground and curdles into self-satisfaction or worse. Liam’s absolutely the wrong guy to put the song’s supposed message across: Bono the maniac really does want to throw his arms around the world, whereas we *know* Liam doesn’t have any word to spread, etc..

    I like Tadow@34’s comparison of Be Here Now with the Use Your Illusions, but it occurs to me that November Rain’s nine minute wallow is the track most akin to AATW. If you make something that long and release it as a single you’re really asking for a lot of attention, you’re saying that *this thing is important*. But AATW is a musical failure because its backing track is so very undistinguished (what sounds was Noel trying to explore beyond his usual? what dynamics?). While NR doesn’t work overall in my view for reasons I already alluded to (ultimately we know that Axl is a vicious little snake and can’t accept him as a (grieving?) loverman or whatever his exact pose was), I think Axl can at least answer basic *musical* questions about why NR had to be 9 mins long: it’s got everything but the kitchen sink in it, etc.. And at the level of lyrics and vocal performance what did Noel and Liam have to say or performance type to explore beyond their ordinary metier? Once again, despite NR’s failings, I think Axl can answer these sorts of questions – NR was a very different kind of vocal performance for him than all the stuff that had made him famous; he got to be Elton at the piano, and so on.

    In sum, NR’s gigantism feels well-motivated (and the relevant opportunities well-taken) even if one doesn’t (as I don’t) think it’s a good fit for Axl or his band. AATW has all of NR’s (band-/career-destroying really) problems of overall fit, *plus* AATW’s gigantism is unmotivated (and it misses all its giga-scale musical and lyrical and performance opportunities).

    I’ve actually revised my score for AATW to a 2 – my earlier 1 now strikes me as overexcited/hyperbolic – but AATW’s still in my view a dismal record (note that I’d probably give NR a 6 as an impressive failure).

  3. 63
    tm on 18 Apr 2014 #

    Liam had a word to spread. Sadly that word is ‘Nah’. This is around a 4 or 5 for me: I find it oddly endearing that this is Oasis’ idea of a grand statement record but not enough to listen through 7 or 9 or 11 minutes of it. I’m not convinced by those who think there are better tracks on BHN either. It’s a wearying plod of an album whose most coked out moments are by far it’s highlights.

    November Rain’s parallel is surely Stand By Me. This is more akin to Civil War, a self-conscious important statement record. In this case the statement was Nah.

    I buy Axle the wounded loverman

  4. 64
    tm on 18 Apr 2014 #

    …as a character in song anyway: it’s not something he is, it’s something he aspires to, like John Lennon singing Imagine or Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror. I don’t know if Axl has the self awareness to realise this, his take on it might well be ‘see I told you I was sensitive’.

  5. 65
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Apr 2014 #

    all of axl is wounded axl

  6. 66
    Garry on 18 Apr 2014 #

    My school year loved Axl, therefore I hated Axl. Nirvana never touched my school year, even though we were exactly the right age for Nirvana.

    Nirvana never touched my school because everyone was too busy with Axl.

    Except me.

    I just didn’t like Nirvana.

    (I do remember everyone excited about the new GnR song, Live and Let Die. At that moment I realised I was the only one who watched Bond films. Also one of our younger female teachers sang Welcome to the Jungle at school performance assembly. This was all kinds of wrong.)

  7. 67
    tm on 18 Apr 2014 #

    All of Axl is wounded Axl but it’s a terrible excuse: “I only do the terrible things I do because of my emotional pain, man”. He gets to behave attraciously and attract sympathy for his public confession. The price of Axl empathizing in song with our pain is that we’re indulging his sins.

  8. 68
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    @62 et al: “All of axl is wounded axl”

    Too true. I’ve plugged it here once already, but John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead has a superb piece on Axl. It’s worth checking out even if you think you’re not interested in him.

    I agree that ‘November Rain’ is vastly preferable to AATW, if only because it has some structure to it. It also has that fantastic video, which I still have to watch to the end every time I stumble across it as I am channel-surfing, which seems to be pretty often. I am still trying to work out what’s going on. Is Slash so angry at the wedding because he’s in love with Axl? Does Axl’s wife die of lung cancer because they’ve all been smoking so much? It’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

    As for ‘Civil War’, if pop or rock have ever produced a better commentary on liberal interventionism, I’ve not heard it. Recorded in 1990, its prescience is actually quite unsettling.

  9. 69

    I still feel — if we’re serious abt triangulating for the quality of the gallagher approach to long-form minimalism — we shd be compare-contrasting them to eg Band of Susans as much as GnR

    (I think BoS are much better of course but getting at WHY they are possibly uncovers more abt why Wasis aren’t merely self-indulgent oafish losers in over their heads on songs like this — not least bcz no one in their senses listens to BoS primarily for the vocals or the words) (or at all really)

  10. 70
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    @69 It’s partly the sound of surprise, isn’t it? You listen to that Band of Susans track, and an unexpected riff, or sudden dissonance, or drum fill hits you, and you think: “What just happened there? I need to hear it again.”

    Whereas with AATW, you’re constantly thinking: “I’ve heard this before, mostly on the Blue album but sometimes for variety on Let It Be, so I know what’s coming next.” And then when your expectations are confirmed, it’s like the punchline to a joke that you already know.

    If it isn’t fresh the first time, it’s even less appealing on the nth repetition.

  11. 71
    tm on 18 Apr 2014 #

    AATW would make a great S Cl*b song: cut it to three minutes, ditch the guitars (which are so dense as to become invisible background noise anyway), keep the horns and the descending pre-chorus string motif (my favourite bit of the song: a silly nod to The Beatles that actually works) and do the Na Na Nas in the fade out. A sure fire Eurovision winner.

    Similarly I reckon DYKWIM would have made a great Chem Bros follow up to Setting Sun.

  12. 72
    Lazarus on 18 Apr 2014 #

    I don’t mind this – in shortened versions anyway – a big goofy singalong and I’ve always thought it was Noel G having a bit of a joke/dig at the music press – “if we really wanted to sound like the Beatles, we’d do something like this.” The video is quite fun to watch too, and doesn’t seem like seven minutes to me. So 5 it is. I reckon the people giving it ones and zeroes are taking it more seriously than it was ever meant to be. It’s no ‘Cheese & Onions’ though.

  13. 73
    swanstep on 18 Apr 2014 #

    That Band of Susans track reminds me of Tenacious D’s One Note Song.

  14. 74
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    Oasis at their most Band of Susans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx9SD6-a_GY

  15. 75
    Ed on 18 Apr 2014 #

    @52 Why do Oasis inspire so much over-the-top hatred? Because they make us feel stupid for ever having liked them. That’s how I feel, anyway.

    I was never their number one fan – I never saw them live – but I did have both the first two albums and most of the early singles. The first time I heard them – ‘Supersonic’ coming on Radio 1 just as we were pulling into a service station on the A1 – is still a vivid memory. And although I didn’t join the queue to get my certificate from HMV, I am pretty sure I picked up BHN in its first week. In that position, thinking “this is disappointing” pretty quickly modulates into “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

    Like David Lodge’s joke about studying T.S. Eliot’s influence on Shakespeare, ‘Be Here Now’ naturally affects how you perceive the earlier music. And that in turn affects how you feel about your younger self – and not that much younger! – who was foolish enough to be taken in by all that empty bluster.

    When people hate Oasis, they are really hating themselves.

    (By “people”, I mean me, of course.)

  16. 76
    PurpleKylie on 18 Apr 2014 #

    I had heard of Oasis at that point purely because of “Wonderwall”. 1995 in music for me was defined by how much I liked that song (I was a 7 year-old still living in NZ in 95 and from my memory Britpop hadn’t permeated the airwaves over there other than “Wonderwall” and “Girls and Boys”).

    Fast forward to 1998 where I was now settled in Wales and thus had more exposure to Britpop just as it was dying on its arse, I kinda remember when AATW came out I was kinda like “this isn’t as good as “Wonderwall”.

    Adult me believes that Oasis and by extension Noel Gallagher haven’t released anything worth listening to since “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, Be Here Now being the obvious tipping point. By my reckoning this only hit #1 out of momentum of Oasis being the biggest rock band at that point. It just drags on and on and nothing about the song makes me give a monkeys about it.

  17. 77
    Tom on 18 Apr 2014 #

    As an inverse reflection to Ed, I vehemently and deliberately detested Oasis at the time and have so far liked every single record more than I imagined I would. I assumed this would be a 1 when I started Popular, for instance. That’s only once been enough to push them into 6+ territory but they were unlucky in which of their early singles got to #1. I have to admit I will miss them a bit (there’s a big old stretch before the next one).

  18. 78
    thefatgit on 18 Apr 2014 #

    The Band Of Susans’ track reminded me of “Mogwai Fear Satan”, but quick date checking suggests Mogwai would have been listening to BoS quite a bit, around the time they were recording “Young Team” I reckon.

  19. 79
    Mark G on 18 Apr 2014 #

    I think everyone assumed it’d get a 1, and I am sort-of glad it diddn’t as it may be wrong but it’s a long way from being the worst number one…

    Funny, we are in Gran Canaria at the mo, and I Just heard a cover of Cliff’s ‘I love you’, possibly the number one with the least conviction. This one certainly does not lack conviction anyway.

    Scuse me, got a plane to catch..

  20. 80
    tm on 18 Apr 2014 #

    #77 I think it’s easier to appreciate them on their merits now they’re unduly maligned rather than unduly exhaulted. And yes you’re right about the wrong singles getting to #1 (and for that matter, the wrong songs being chosen for singles quite often) I thought you were rather harsh on Don’t Look Back In Anger but then I heard it on Brit pop at the BBC and it’s a bloody boring song for the most part. Sukrat is right about the hidden details in Oasis songs: the delicate intro and coda are by far the best bits. (Of course when I’m drunk I’ll still be roaring along)

  21. 81
    ciaran on 19 Apr 2014 #

    Dreadful record. The wheels came off the time of the earlier BHN singles but even still this was terrible.The worse thing they ever did as far as I’m concerned. The sense of excitement and thrill gone. A horrendous video and something that lasts an eternity. For me it’s not far off ‘Belfast Child’ as a momentum destroyer.

    2.

  22. 82
    Ed on 19 Apr 2014 #

    I have got this bloody song stuck in my head now, and another reference point struck me, in the endlessly repeated “gonna make a better day”. Nicking stuff from the Beatles, Bowie and Stevie Wonder is one thing, but you really know you’ve got a problem when you find yourself stealing from USA For Africa.

  23. 83
    ace inhibitor on 20 Apr 2014 #

    Garry@22, perhaps the obvious reference point for the sheer length of this thing is Fools Gold (16 seconds longer at 9.54) – a thought that struck me watching the Made of Stone documentary on tv last night, when the Heaton Park version of FG also went pointlessly on and on and on and on….

  24. 84
    tm on 20 Apr 2014 #

    Sukrat @ 69: I agree to an extent: you could read Oasis’ failure as a folly of over ambition: trying to reconcile the textural noises-as-hooks of post rock (not that I imagine Oasis listening to much post rock but they did share a common, distant ancestor in shoe gaze) with grandiose Beatlesque pop symphonies in the Mr Blue Sky vein. They seldom had the chops or the vision to pull it off but in some ways you can admire them for chasing the sun. As little love as I’ve got for BHN, it’s tragically overwrought singles have more character than most of the stodgy bildge Oasis would retreat into. Unfortunately it’s a character who’s alternately bellowing that your his best mate and threatening to kick your head in as he spills his pint on your shoes. That said l, I do quite like the way, by the end of the song, Liam makes ‘Nah’ sound like a threat and an insult, much as he did with ‘Jupa Jupa’ on their cover of …Walrus.

  25. 85
    xyzzzz__ on 21 Apr 2014 #

    There is a bit on BoS’ “Tilt” that has Robert Poss doing something v similar to Liam’s “sheey-ine”. So much for not listening to BoS for vocals. Although as far as music with guitars goes there are v few bands you’d listen for the singer and mostly that although some had that personality or tics that would come through.

    I don’t think Mogwai have ever acknowledged BoS as inspiration — all MBV and Slint, but I haven’t paid any attention in nearly 10 years (nor will I ever again)

  26. 86
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Apr 2014 #

    mine is not of course an argument about “inspiration”, still less “influence”: i do not believe these are useful critical categories — it is of no consequence whether Oasis had even heard of BoS, let alone secretly listened to them and admired them. It’s much more an argument about the in-built potential of the relevant instruments (as contained and released by the relevant equipment at a given time): this is a shared heritage whether or not the various groups are mutually conscious of one another.

    I don’t believe Robert Poss is any more interested in exploring “the voice” (ie as an “instrument”) than Liam Gallagher is. However Poss possibly does use words as an exogenous structuring constraint — and so probably does Noel: a non-fancy way of rephrasing this would after all be song-writing, tho I don’t really think Poss is writing “songs” per se.

    Except the point is, I don’t really think Noel is either, with cuts like this — and the Roses too are creating a groove, something dance music had presumably (re)created* a taste for in their audiences. I think NG has not-bad ears for variety of device, but he thinks very bittily, which is probably unfortunate for someone who’s essentially a focused mannerist miniaturist (but not really a minimalist) given the scale of platform the brothers for a season commanded.

    So I guess there are two questions Oasis raise: (a) what can you do to make songlength (“worklength”) a structure that justifies itself (given various possible modes of justification)? and (b) what happens when you achieve unanticipated scale of audience? what can you do with THAT that delivers something otherwise unavailable? (and given that Oasis didn’t, who has?)

    *The “freak-out”, which is the pre-punk equivalent in rock music, is not so far at root from being a white britrock recreation of the need for black 50s/60s R&B bands to function as music for/in danceclubs: except that the social context is really very different (including the kind of concert setting). The Roses were playing for audiences that had got used to spending more time dancing than “appreciating”. So, does long-form require a greater degree of self-critical memory/self-awareness than the three-minute symphony? I guess not actually: no form longer than Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and “self-critical memory” was not exactly his strong suit. But Adorno regarded the “leitmotif” — Wagner’s story-led exogenous structuring constraint — as essentially a cheat, musically: a way of tricking the not very musical listener into thinking they were appreciating sophisticated musical structure (when actually all they were doing was recognising splinters of melody).

  27. 87
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Apr 2014 #

    ^^^apologies if combination argumentative and cryptic btw, this is me thinking out loud as a way of avoiding getting down to the rather urgent work i’m meant to be doing —

  28. 88
    Tom on 21 Apr 2014 #

    A tangent: “Unanticipated scale of audience” – one problem for Oasis or the expectations around them is that unanticipated scale in pop music terms isn’t necessarily all that big in terms of other bits of popular culture (movies and TV in particular), which in Popular terms is why the good ship of popular music keeps getting boarded by other-media invaders (and why in a British context Top Of The Pops was so vital for giving a sense of storyline and shared experience).

  29. 89
    Ciaran (the other one) on 22 Apr 2014 #

    In 1985 Tears For Fears reviewed The Dukes Of Stratosphear’s ‘Mole From The Ministry’ for Smash Hits and gave it Single Of The Fortnight. Then they disappeared for four years and came back with their I Am The Walrus pastiche. A coincidence?

  30. 90
    Mark G on 22 Apr 2014 #

    I say no.

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