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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. 1
    Erithian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    We know where Noel was on election night – in his garden at 4am “playing “Revolution” dead loud with the neighbours banging on the walls”. Poignant that the entry marking Blair’s apotheosis was posted almost simultaneously with news of the death of Tony Benn. RIP.

  2. 2
    Izzy on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I did really like this – the power, the backwards touches, the swagger – but there was nevertheless something there that betrayed, loud and clear, that the jig was up. I can’t bear to go back and listen to find out, for now, so this will remain unmarked.

    Suffice to say I own everything Oasis did to this point, and nothing thereafter. I haven’t even heard most of it.

  3. 3
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    The first single I remember as an active disappointment. I was working at my first job in the restaurant kitchen and the radio DJ (Piccadilly Key 103?) announced they were going to have the first playback of the new Oasis single. He kept plugging it all night and when I eventually heard it, I remember thinking ‘this can’t be it’ but it was and it turns out it was the second best song on the album.

    My thoughts on ‘What do you do after you’ve won?’ and other Oasis-related matters:http://louderthanwar.com/they-ripped-off-the-beatles-oasis-and-the-strange-currency-of-originality-in-pop/

  4. 4
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    The most entertaining thing about Be Here Now: in the Live Forever documentary a rapid cut between Noel: ‘you’ve got to be on cocaine to enjoy that album’ and Liam: ‘I still think it rocks!’

  5. 5
    flahr on 14 Mar 2014 #

    “a guaranteed, massive, empty smash built out of a band doing everything they did before but louder and stupider”

    “Everything else is a confused, colossal swirl – helicopters, morse code, and every guitar effect Noel Gallagher could overdub on.”

    I can’t BELIEVE you say these like they’re bad things.

    The ‘failure’ of Be Here Now (the kind of failure that nets you three top-two singles, one a year after the album came out – so much for ‘as soon as people actually heard it they stopped buying it’ – but I digress) only proves that the British public are INSUFFICIENTLY METAL.

    Since I am SUFFICIENTLY METAL* I rate this a seven.

    *observe: \m/

  6. 6
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    It’s pretty slow and sludgy metal: a Mob Rules album track rather than a Heaven and Hell single! I realise I am proving insufficiently metal in reaching for Sabbath as my reference point but it is at least Dio era Sabbath!

  7. 7
    flahr on 14 Mar 2014 #

    “an album of long songs with no good idea how to make a song long beyond hammering the bits he liked best into inertia” <– this is the proof that it is METAL

  8. 8
    Tom on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I like the idea of it as a kind of baggy-metal, actually.

    (I gave the Reflex a 7, so big empty stupid coke-addled nonsense is fine by me if it’s disco. I am indeed insufficiently metal.)

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Select magazine’s claim that “All of rock history has been leading up to this point” is undermined by (amongst other things ) the song sounding like a folky campfire strum along fed through assorted effects pedals. Perhaps that’s the point when one version of rock history has been the virtual erasure of its roots in Black music. There’s precious little sense of syncopation or dynamics to the song. My heart sank when I saw the 7 minute 25 second tag on the video – no single needs to be that long, least of all this one. If you asked Spitting Image to produce an Oasis parody video you couldn’t imagine they’d want to bother after seeing this.

  10. 10

    If it’s METAL (and it possibly is) it’s a near-totally debluesified metal.

  11. 11
    alexcornetto on 14 Mar 2014 #

    (Long time reader, first time poster. Felt like this was the place to start…)

    Oasis were a band I clutched dearly to my heart when I was a kid. I was 8 when this came out and, while I didn’t know enough about rock history to think this was it’s culmination, it struck me as a Very Important Record. Now I realise that’s because it was trying so hard to be one. I can’t think of any other album ever released where you got a certificate from a record shop for buying it on the day it came out (a Thursday – what hubris!). If memory serves, the certificate said “I was there then.” My local HMV were also selling life-size Noel and Liam cardboard cut-outs for about £30. I seem to recall really wanting one at the time, but I have no idea why.

    One thing I always found amusing about this song, especially once Noel G came clean about it, was how it’s based around exactly the same four chords as Wonderwall, strummed in pretty much the rhythm too. I dread to think if he thought it was some kind of improvement at the time. The b-side ‘Stay Young’ (at least, it was the b-side on my cassingle – was this the one where they covered “Heroes”‘ on the CD?) was miles better for having a sense of humour and being a good two minutes shorter. They probably thought it was too fluffy to put on the album.

    I also want to make an obligatory shout out for the second single off BHN, ‘Stand by Me’, which is probably one of the best songs they ever did (regardless of the self-cannibalisation in the verse – try singing ‘Married With Children’ over the top of it…), but only got to #4. The end was (sort of) nigh.

  12. 12
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    In my Louder Than War piece I draw parallels between Oasis’ wall of noise and The Ramones’: “Pure white rock’n’roll with no blues influence”. I’d say Oasis probably went even further in erasing anything non-English, not just non-white from their lineage. Someone said rock music for people who don’t like rock which is probably why I got into it aged 13 and why I started to go off them, aged 16 and getting into punk.

  13. 13
    PJ Miller on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I think this record is QUITE GOOD.

  14. 14
    flahr on 14 Mar 2014 #

    “Stand By Me” was a #2 hit (you had me worried I’d got my stat wrong earlier) – I like it rather a lot, especially the rather unusual clashing sequence at the end of every line of the chorus.

  15. 15
    Lazarus on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Like the other sheep (I was a Q subscriber at this time) I went out and bought the album in the week of release, and haven’t played it in a decade or more. From memory, though, it has its moments – ‘Don’t Go Away’, released as a 45 in other parts, is a decent effort – but I have no wish to listen to this again right now. No, I don’t have any of their subsequent releases either.

    #1 – if Noel was out in the garden, I can’t see how banging on the walls would have had any effect.

  16. 16

    PJ’s mugshot at 13 is stern yet saddened.

  17. 17
    alexcornetto on 14 Mar 2014 #

    #14 – Unusual if you’ve never heard ‘All the Young Dudes’ ;-)

  18. 18
    Tom on 14 Mar 2014 #

    #15 he was in his shed!

  19. 19
    Tom on 14 Mar 2014 #

    And hello Alexcornetto! A certificate – blimey.

  20. 20
    Rory on 14 Mar 2014 #

    “Landslide indie” = genius.

  21. 21
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    The copy I bought from Oxfam still has the certificate inside!

  22. 22
    tm on 14 Mar 2014 #

    A shame we don’t get Stand By Me instead of this: Oasis’ own November Rain, a gloriously overblown ballad from an album of dull, overblown rockers.

  23. 23
    Will on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Not much to add about DYKWIM. It did its job of saying ‘we’re back’ but I suspect Noel wanted the single to be a One Love-style definitive statement from the summit and in that it fails completely.

    As mentioned at 11, Stay Young is quite brilliant and Radio One famously ‘flipped’ it after it dropped from Number One. At the time lines like ‘come what may we’re unstoppable’ seemed just a simple statement of fact. For a few weeks more, at least

  24. 24
    Cumbrian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    The interesting part of DYKWIM is that there is a much shorter song right there in the middle of it all. It’s 7:42 long (!) but the final chord is hit at 6:38 – all the rest is attempts at late 90s psychedelia – and the opening could be handily reduced by 40 seconds (starting when the drums come in and getting rid of all the late 90s psychedelia that NG is trying to start the song with) or, at a pinch, the song could start at 1:03 with the descending guitar line – at which point I have just made this song a touch over 5:30 long. Then, you could just fade the thing down over the final chorus (starting at 5:40 – and you’d have good reason to; declaiming “all my people, right here, right now, d’you know what I mean?” into nothingness has a certain poetry, I think) and you’ve potentially loped another half minute off, giving us something that manages to get under 5 minutes.

    The reason I find this interesting relates to both the review by Tom and Tommy Mack’s write up he linked earlier – i.e. DYKWIM and BHN are records illustrating choices. What do you do when you’ve won indeed? BHN has some ropey old tosh on it but it’s also got some winning stuff on it – some of it better than large swathes of (WTS)MG I reckon – but the choice to embrace the lifestyle and keep the wheels spinning led to some bad choices in the studio itself (not least keeping Owen Morris on to produce – I suspect someone less invested in further emboldening the Oasis sound might have helped them to make choices to salvage the best of the material).

    What would I have done instead? Well, assuming that I’d been presented the finished tapes and had no say in changing the recordings themselves (otherwise, you could probably write a short book on how to salvage BHN), I’d have:

    – Made BHN a 5 track EP, with the cover of it being a snow capped Andean peak;
    – Chosen DYKWIM to lead, Stand By Me 2nd, Fade In-Out 3rd (if we’re going for a statement record about success and what drugs can do to your band, pick the one with Johnny Depp playing on it), Going Nowhere 4th (from the B-Side of SBM) and then finished with the apotheosis of BHN, My Big Mouth, a track so metallic and screechy, so compressed, so big headed about what has been achieved, yet also self flagellating, that it can’t help but draw a line under everything.
    – Saved the better of the remaining songs for the next album, when hopefully they’ll be in a position to make better decisions about what to do with them.
    – Trashed the majority of the rest of the stuff or saved it for the 20 year anniversary re-releases to prove that Oasis had at least some decent thoughts in this period.

    Yes – I have listened to BHN more over the last month than likely anybody has since the century ticked over. I’m due a break I think. I’ve thought about this record entirely too much.

    Back on DYKWIM, it’s better in my imagination than in reality, as I’ve mentally reduced it to 5 minutes long, but I still quite like it. Then again, that’s because I have imposed some thoughts on it, the like of which I think Noel would firmly reject. Namely that the bridge lyrics are not addressed to God but to Noel’s dad, as a slap down to the press attempt to manufacture a reconciliation between them after Morning Glory hit big. Also that it’s interesting how the chorus lyrics vary – first, asking the people whether they know what they mean, then claiming that indeed they do know what they mean second time around, only to return to questioning in the last chorus. He’s still not sure that this mass of people get it. I think under the jokes and the bravado Noel is pretty insecure and that these two points are further clues to this. To an extent, it’s why I can take his bouts of jokey egotism – he’s hiding something, I think, and I suspect it’s a lot of pain. I also think getting your brother to spit your words out with venom is another hiding tactic.

    Musically, the opening is a lot more open and restrained than the popular image of BHN would have you believe. Until the first bridge at 2:04, there is no sheeting guitar noise over this track. It’s slow and cocksure but also atmospheric and slightly threatening, like a walk through a dilapidated town centre just after the pubs chuck out. Problems start with that bridge and the horrendous guitar sound that would come to be the signature of the album – at 3:39 there is an awful set of what sound like hammer ons/pull offs that, due to the compression and the guitar effect chosen, are physically painful. The track needs to build from its atmospheric opening but the chosen avenue is not as effective as it might have been.

    Nevertheless, I like this more than Don’t Look Back In Anger. I also probably like it more than Some Might Say. I may have some sort of Stockholm Syndrome variant. I have wittered on for quite some time on what, in the grand scheme of music, is quite a minor record.

    I genuinely laughed out loud reading Flahr’s comment. It could stand to be more metal to be honest – but it definitely needs to be less metallic. D’you know what I mean?

  25. 25
    alexcornetto on 14 Mar 2014 #

    http://991.com/NewGallery/Oasis-I-Was-There-Then-271975.jpg

    Wow. That’s a lot less impressive than I remember it being.

    Fitting, I suppose.

  26. 26
    Cumbrian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Re: the Thursday release of BHN. That was a stroke of genius I think. A – given the level Oasis were at, they could have released it on a Saturday and it still would have got to number 1, so why not make an event of it, free from any other record release? Less likely to run into a Country House/Roll With It situation too. And B – it was GCSE results day. I know, because I got them then. Essentially everyone got their results, went to Virgin or HMV, bought the record and then sat in their gardens or mates’ gardens, drinking alchopops or cider and drank it in. This may have contributed to why it took a few weeks for the reality of BHN to sink in amongst my peer group.

  27. 27
    alexcornetto on 14 Mar 2014 #

    Didn’t know it was GCSE results day – that is an incredible ploy! The kind of savvy marketing that late-era Creation Records had started to get pretty good at.

    Obligatory link to video of Pete Doherty being interviewed in the queue to buy BHN – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quba72Xli8o

    “I subscribe to the Umberto Eco view that Noel is a poet and Liam is a town crier.”

  28. 28
    23 Daves on 14 Mar 2014 #

    “Stand By Me” is high on my list of favourite Oasis singles, actually, and would have been a more promising track to return on – although crucially, it probably seemed too damn subtle for all concerned. “D’you Know What I Mean”, on the other hand, is a huge, overlong statement of intent, and like most big rock statements, it’s horrendously dull. When I first heard it, I immediately found myself comparing it to The Stone Roses “Breaking Into Heaven” – another overlong, anthemic comeback statement which heralded nothing more than a band who had largely run out of inspiration.

    On the subject of “Be Here Now” and its over-enthusiastic reviews, at this point a friend of mine was the music editor on a regional arts magazine with ideas far above its station (I freelanced for them on occasion, and the editor always told me “We’re the closest thing Britain has to Village Voice in America” – an interesting statement for a publication nobody had heard of when I referenced it on my CV). The CEO of the publishing house responsible was very anxious that Creation hadn’t sent a promotional copy of “Be Here Now” to them in time for the next issue, at a point when nobody had seen or heard it due to the label’s ridiculous and paranoid embargo. He made numerous furious demands that my friend should obtain a copy of the CD “by any means possible – I DO NOT want you to put me in a position where we go out to press without there being a review of this record”. My friend begged and pleaded with Creation, tried various illicit avenues, and inevitably got nowhere.

    In the end, his life was made so difficult that he just pretended he’d heard the album and made the whole review up from thin air, cobbling together pieces of information from live reviews and guesswork. I think the magazine therefore became the first in Britain to give “Be Here Now” a resounding thumbs-up. Whenever I phoned up Creation Records from that point on and told them who I was freelancing for, the person on the other end would always crease up with laughter, as if this was a joke that never got old. Although for all I know, there may have been other instances of this stunt…

  29. 29
    punctum on 14 Mar 2014 #

    We know where Noel was on election night – in his garden at 4am “playing “Revolution” dead loud with the neighbours banging on the walls”.

    Interesting that he should have been playing what is essentially a rich man’s right-wing rant against socialism.

  30. 30
    Cumbrian on 14 Mar 2014 #

    I’m just listening to the rest of this single again. Stay Young was perhaps salvageable in my mythical land where they kept stuff back for the next record so as to record them differently but, aside from its proclamations of greatness in the chorus, is pretty pedestrian fare. There was a lot of “shoulda been the A Side” about it at the time; I don’t agree. Angel Eyes is boring. The cover of Heroes is awful. At this point, it’s the worst thing that they’d every committed to releasing – and further evidence (after the horrible cover of Cum On Feel The Noize on DLBIA) that Noel was running out of songs. He’ll regret having thrown away Acquiesce and the like away on B-Sides in pretty short order.

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