It’s safe to say that Oasis have become the stuff of legend ever since their breakup in the summer of 2009. A lot of people always like to say that those first two albums will always be two of the best ever recorded, that the Gallaghers are two of the best frontmen to ever take the stage, and that you could only be there at those concerts like Knebworth and Wembley to truly appreciate the spectacle. It does make me wish I was born ten years earlier but here I am instead stuck in an era where Dance Monkey and Shape of You have been all the rage. Never mind.
But it’s interesting because the way they are talked about now you would never have guessed that there was at least two periods of time where Oasis, to the general public, sucked. Don’t get me wrong, everything that goes on for a long time has to go through that phase (Lord knows Doctor Who has), but go back to that final tour they were doing for Dig Out Your Soul and watch some vids of some of their performances. That was a band that was washed up and was fraying at the edges. Breaking up was the best thing they could do to preserve their legacy. That was one period though. To some, that other period was the turn of the millennium, after the release of their fourth album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.
SOTSOG is a step in a different direction for Oasis, something the critics had been wanting after the overblown noise of Be Here Now (Which is an album I’m still flip-flopping on, I’ll get to it one day), as they began experimenting with psychedelic rock. It was also a period of change for the band as founding members Bonehead and Guigsy both left, briefly leaving Oasis as a three piece, a newly sobered up Noel was no longer the sole songwriter, and the band’s label Creation Records had folded. In some ways, after the long night of partying with noise and cocaine during Be Here Now, SOTSOG is very much the morning after, the come down, the regret, and we see a band built on bluster and having a whale of a time show a slightly more gentle and humble side. They’re still trying to party on and put on a brave face, but they are shaken and knackered.
And that is why I love this album. It may have a few stinkers on it, which I’m going to talk about track by track, but it has never gotten the recognition it deserves and that is a damned shame.
The Album Cover:
I am very conflicted about this cover. On the one hand, it is a gorgeous picture of the New York skyline (Albeit that one aged very quickly unfortunately), I love a bit of colourful sky and it does tap in to the psychedelic feel of the album. However, there’s nothing about this that really screams ‘Oasis’, save for the massive new logo at the top. Which is generic crap by the way, why they changed to that I will never know. I suppose it’s an insight into how the band we’re creative beyond words when it came to music, but when it came to design in terms of their covers and their music vids it is only average with occasional flashes of brilliance. Sadly, this is not one of those flashes. It’s nice, let’s just leave it at that.
Track #1 – Fuckin’ in the Bushes
I once described this to someone as the perfect backing track to a Quentin Tarantino-style killing spree. If he had decided to cut Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in half and just have Leonardo DiCaprio rock up to the Manson compound, flamethrower in hand, this tune would have been the cream on the cake. It’s a brilliant tune that gets you pumped up for the album ahead, and gets you set up for that morning after feel. The hangover hasn’t quite kicked in yet, you’re still in a party mood and no words need to be said here. It’s pure music, save for the splicings of quotes from Message To Love – Isle of Wight 1970 (And being honest for a sec, when I heard the phrase “Kids running around naked, fuckin’ in the bushes”, I expected that to be from a standard local, not from a pensioner with a pipe in his mouth), and it informs the listener that this is going to be a breath of fresh air compared to last time.
Track #2 – Go Let It Out
Put it simply, if you picked up this single in the weeks before the album’s release, you had just bagged yourself a bargain; before I talk about the actual song, I would like to mention the two b-sides; Let’s All Make Believe, and (As Long As They’ve Got) Cigarettes in Hell. Basically, you just got three great songs for the price of one. Go Let It Out has been described as the most Beatles-esque of Oasis’ catalogue and I would be inclined to agree, with that drum loop and Noel’s lyrics making for an excellent lead single. For a guy who was supposedly really uninspired in terms of songwriting at this point, he blows this one out of the water. Sadly, this is an early peak for the album, and after this it’s time to calm things right down…
Track #3 – Who Feels Love?
Yet another of the singles from this album and easily the weakest of the bunch. Clocking in at just under six minutes, it’s one of the longer songs and it does feel like it. Lyrically, it ain’t the best either, coming across as Oasis-tasting cheese and a reflection on Noel’s burnout. It’s not offensive, it’s just a bit of a drab listen and it brings the pace of the album to a complete standstill. Admittedly this may be because this is where the psychedelia kicks in and it needed a prominent showing, but it really should have been another song instead.
Track #4 – Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is
A small step up but it’s hard to get into this one thanks to that starting noise in your left ear, like a buzzer from a quiz show that broke after a contestant pressed on it too hard. It would have been fine if it just lasted a moment, but it drones on for fifteen agonising seconds and feels like a knuckle being dragged against your eardrum until finally a decent guitar riff drowns it out. The lyrics are rather repetitive but Liam does a fine job with them. In fact give the quality of the song, he is kind of wasted on this one. It strikes me as the kind of song a boxer who’s looking to make it to the big leagues would use for his entrance before he has a hard fought match with an opponent with a shit track record. Bad start, average rest. But I honestly think I’d rather listen to this over Who Feels Love?
Track #5 – Little James
After writing the songs that had propelled Oasis to the top, Noel takes a well-earned backseat for this one and let’s Liam take the pen with this song.
…Admirable, I think is the best way to describe this.
It’s not as if Liam is Poet Laureate or something like that, after all Noel was brought into the band in the early 90s on the condition that he would write their songs. But then again, he’s not as crap as say, Fred Durst or Corey Feldman. In fact nowhere near that crap. He put his heart into this one, this being a song to the son of his then-wife, and is another example of the more gentle and humble nature Oasis were exhibiting in this album.
Better was to come from Liam but for now for his first try, let’s grade it with a C and move on, because we’ve got a good bunch of songs ahead of us.
Track #6 – Gas Panic!
When you mention SOTSOG to an Oasis fan, there’s a good chance that this will be the first song that they think of, and with good reason. Frankly, this should have been a single in the place of Who Feels Love?, as it perfectly encapsulates the new sound of Oasis and combines it with some of Liam’s best vocals, Noel’s best lyrics and guitarwork, and some eerily trippy soundwork to create possibly the darkest song the band have ever produced. Plus, to those who do suffer from anxiety like myself, this is a song that really resonates with you – “You better get on your knees and pray/Panic is on the way”. Translation: “Panicking is your best hope here, son. Pray it’s nothing more”. Good God, that is spooky. If it weren’t for Go Let It Out, this would easily be the best song on the album, but it has to settle for a close second.
Track #7 – Where Did It All Go Wrong?
And here’s that regret that I mentioned at the beginning. Noel finally steps up to the mic on this album, and in what must have been a real self-inflicted kick to his ego’s balls, lays himself bare as he reflects on where it all went wrong. The highs of Oasis dwell on him and the band here, and yet again he fails to prove that he was only writing lyrics for the sake of it at this point with “Do you keep the receipts/For the friends you buy?” being a shining example. Hell, even his guitarwork sounds regretful. Of course, this being Oasis, it’s addressed to someone else but I can’t help but picture a newly-sobered up Noel looking at himself in the mirror as he wrote that song.
Track #8 – Sunday Morning Call
Noel hates this one and can’t seem to stand it. For a man who once claimed “I don’t write shit songs”, he does seem to think of this as the nadir of his efforts, at least going by his reaction to it on the Time Flies commentary he did.
Well I think he is wrong, that this is one of the most underrated tunes from Oasis, and the third best song on the album overall.
I’ll admit that perhaps the lyrics aren’t as airtight as they can be and that tonally it does seem a bit too depressing, having to take the feeling of hopelessness and sadness on the nose, and the only reassurance you get is a mere “It’s alright”. But they’re heartfelt, and while a lot of Oasis’ lyrics are like that, they have always come across as a bit high and mighty, playing into their ‘Gods of rock-and-roll’ image they had going on during the 90s. Here, they are on the same level as the person they address, and that is so refreshing. One more thing; the criticisms of this one sounding overblown production-wise? I don’t see it. That solo before the last iteration of the chorus might sound a little disjointed but I think it works just fine.
Track #9 – I Can See a Liar
Initially this one struck me as one that would get the blood pumping after a slow number at a concert, kind of like what Acquiesce would be after Wonderwall. However, this one feels like it would be better suited as a b-side, with generic lyrics and a tune that, while quite catchy, seems a little half-hearted in some way. Liam’s vocals have also been given some reverb that makes it sound like he’s singing in a tin, and it sounds more like something that should be sang over 80s-style synths rather than rock and roll. It’s a listenable song, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a rush job and didn’t have much thought or care put into it. Like I say, this one does not feel like it belongs among the main tracks of the album and it really should have been a b-side. Makes me sadder that Cigarettes in Hell got bumped off for this.
Track #10 – Roll It Over
Well here we are then. The final stretch, the longest song on the album, and you know you’re in for the long haul with that slow, almost ominous start transitioning into a rare dose of Southern rock. And this is where the album peaks one last time. This is where the morning after feel slowly dissipates, and Oasis get their bluster and their mojo back, hitting back at the detractors (The “plastic people”) of Be Here Now. The backing vocals give the impression that they’re rising back up, the twangs of the guitar sound defiant against the sadness they have been feeling for most of the album, and the crashing of the drums combine with Liam’s vocals to create one hell of a passionate end to SOTSOG. This is one of the best closing tracks of any Oasis album, and my second favourite only behind The Masterplan.
This album is Oasis at their most real and their most likeable. Not the most listenable, but the most likeable. They know they are on the edge during this album and that they have been in a dark place and that they need to climb out. Whether they did by the time of Heathen Chemistry is a question that for now I’m gonna leave unanswered as I have little desire to listen to that one.
Like I say though, I love this album. It’s not perfect, not by a long stretch, and it isn’t quintessential Oasis. But it is such a breath of fresh air and if they had continued in this direction more than just flirting with it again on Dig Out Your Soul, I would have been all for it. My main criticism of it is that there are some songs that don’t really belong on here. If you were to swap I Can See a Liar and Who Feels Love? for the two b-sides from Go Let It Out, I guarantee that this album would have received a lot more praise, and that the only weak links that could really be prodded at would be Little James and Put Yer Money…
But of course, it didn’t please the sour faces of the critics, and it didn’t make enough money which was the aim of the game for Oasis ever since Be Here Now. Twenty years on, it is starting to receive some praise and it does make me wonder, as the long slog of 2020 continues could we see an anniversary re-release of this album?
Probably not, but hey, a guy can dream, right?