Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

How much should we demand of our stars? In the 90s, the answer tended to be ‘enough’. Bands would rise up with something to offer, become famous, and then just…continue, offering minor variations on their initial product, often just producing the same record, but a bit longer or with more hired string sections. Suede and Oasis, for example, arrived fully-formed – there was no room to refine their offer and no need to change it: they simply got bigger as the 90s dragged on. It wasn’t a matter of churning material out (for one thing, that would imply a degree of initial inspiration beyond most of the decade’s big acts), it was only that the slow creep of predictability overtook these bands when they’d barely released an album.

For all my reservations about bands suddenly coming over all eclectic, there’s a position only a very privileged few attain which almost demands it. Take Noel Gallagher: in the Summer of 1996 he could have released anything with his name on it and it would have been on every radio, hit number one no problem. Few take advantage, for the same reason that no Prime Minister has ever said ‘fuck’ in the House of Commons. But the thing was, Noel G did. I don’t think it was perversity that made him put his melody, voice, and name to “Setting Sun” , maybe just the dull itch somewhere in his mind that told him he could match the Beatles’ speed, but never their acceleration, not on his own. Or maybe, shrewd commercial operator that he is, he saw an idea whose time had come. The result is the noisiest No.1 of the 90s and the best record of his career.

“Tomorrow Never Knows”, uncoincidentally the best track the Beatles ever put out, is about transcending your temporal concerns the better to achieve enlightenment. “Setting Sun” , a conscious imitation, is about the same thing, i.e. getting out of your head. But while “Tomorrow”‘s draggy, high-gravity drums are there to back up the heavyweight message (man), with “Setting Sun” the point is made simply by the scouring, chaotic music, and Gallagher’s lyrics are just flotsam to be sucked under by the raging spume of drum crash, siren and divebomb electro-howl the Brothers conjure up. Expanded consciousness be damned, consciousness itself is a puny thing next to this pummelling hedonistic roar.

And yet – dammit – without Gallagher’s input, without his weak but unpretentious voice trying to keep pace, the track just doesn’t work. He gives it a sense of occasion, as much as anything, and without him it’s trounced by tens of other beerbeat stompalongs. A year later he was talking up a six-minute plod as a radical single; three years later the Brothers, contended underachievers themselves by now, called him back up for a pleasant, pale retread. No matter: we have this, the five minutes when the man who ended up Britain’s biggest star of the decade produced a record that sounded like he deserved it.