Dried-up Oasis

 

When Paul McCartney had the temerity to publicly criticise Oasis last month, there was the familiar sound of floodgates opening as other elder rock statesmen, previously scared of appearing "unhip", rushed to second his emotion. Now that the first blow had landed, one by one they lined up to floor the undisputed rock champions of the world.

George Harrison weighed in by saying "The music lacks depth and the singer Liam is a pain, the rest of the band don't need him." Keith Richards followed up with a punchy "they're crap", while Mick Jagger hit in with "You can't dance to it, the new album's impossible."

However it was McCartney's remark that came as the real body blow, mainly because Oasis had defied (and been heavily influenced by, to put it mildly) the songs he had written when with the Beatles.

"They're derivative and they think too much of themselves. They mean nothing to me," he said of the band who style themselves as the new Beatles.

It wasn't just the content of the remarks that deeply upset the band, it was their context. The band were sitting in a London hotel suite watching an advance copy of a new hour-long documentary about themselves, produced by an independent company, when in between all the gushing adulation, up cropped two of the Beatles and two of the Stones with their damning remarks.

The reaction was swift: Oasis's manager Marcus Russell saw to it that no UK television channel showed the documentary. Later that night Liam and Noel Gallagher went on BBC Radio 1 in a very excitable state with Liam saying "I will beat the f--king sh-t out of Harrison, Jagger, Richards and that other c-t. If any of them old farts have got a problem with me, then they should leave their Zimmer frames at home and I'll hold them up with a good right hook. They're jealous and they're senile. If they want to fight, I'll beat them up."

Gallagher junior's typically earthy reaction was not just provoked by his childhood musical hero's offering up an assessment of his band's work, but by the "mixed" reviews that had followed the release of Oasis's most recent album, Be Here Now. Critics said its plodding pub rock songs were reminiscent of Bon Jovi and ridiculed the fact that Oasis were still writing "with the same three chords".

If, like the Spice Girls, Oasis are finding that what goes up, must come down, they can only look to a series of self-inflicted wounds over the last six months.

For a nominally "indie" band who were supposed to be opposed to the grasping corporate working methods of the music industry, they tarnished their image by rather heavy-handedly threatening to sue any individuals who set up unofficial Oasis fan club sites on the Internet if any of the pages used unauthorised reproductions of song lyrics or sound samples.

Following that, they threatened to sue a small Scottish radio station when it had the temerity to break the press embargo on the first radio broadcast of the new Oasis single last summer.

Their relationship with the media has deteriorated at the same time, leading Steve Sutherland, the editor of New Musical Ex- press, (the paper that claims it first "discovered" the band), to say: "Oasis know they've got the whip-hand and they're control freaks; they like to control whatever they're doing and they're exerting quite a lot of control over the press. Nothing too terrible - just veiled threats so that you know if you step out of line too hard it's going to be very difficult for you to get back into Oasis's fold. Also, at the newspaper we're beginning to get an awful lot of letters from kids who've bought the new album writing in to say `I wish I hadn't bought it, it's no good. I don't like them anymore.' People are now looking for the next big thing."

If Oasis are running into trouble as all the evidence suggests, then it's largely due to their own hubris - last summer Noel Gallagher claimed they were "bigger than Jesus" - but even that was a pale imitation of John Lennon's original claim about the Beatles in the 1960s.

While Oasis do sell millions of records (they've already sold 20 million of their first three albums) and can attract 250,000 people to see them play an outdoor concert over two days (as they did in Knebworth last year) the music, and particularly the new album, don't match up to their self-appointed status of "the biggest and best band in the world".

Displaying none of the depth and substance of Radiohead and none of the dynamism of the Prodigy, they are also let down by their lyrics (all written by Noel Gallagher) which are at best quixotic, at worst mundane - all my people right here right now/do you know what I mean, being just one example off the new album.

What Oasis are very strong on is melody lines. Songs like Wonderwall and Don't Look Back In Anger are so cleverly constructed in terms of their instantly memorable tunes that they have transcended normal musical boundaries and become instant classics. Unlike other bands of their ilk, who use the idiom of a loud guitar sound to get their point across, you can hum and whistle almost any Oasis melody.

There's also their image, and for most people, their enviable lifestyle. The band came out of a Manchester working class estate, playing their first gig in 1992 and have always been refreshingly up-front about how they embraced the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. "Yes we take drugs, yes we drink, yes we shag, yes we smash up hotel rooms," they shouted as they made their way from local heroes to international stars.

Colourful characters in a music world that has turned monochrome due to the do-good efforts of superstars like Sting, they provided many a front page story with their "we're breaking up" announcements, numerous band member walk outs, getting busted for cocaine and Liam's high profile relationship with actress Patsy Kensit.

The rhythm section of Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan and Alan White and guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs took a back seat to the Gallaghers as the brothers indulged themselves in the working class kids made good dream and provided music magazines with a steady stream of salacious tales of men behaving very badly.

Oasis's timing was perfect - they arrived on the scene just as America's domination of the British charts (mainly through grunge) was waning and a new Britpop sound was restoring some pride to the native music industry. After winning the hyped up Battle of the Bands with Blur, they brought their straightforward rock 'n' roll sound abroad, and while they have enjoyed considerable success around the world, they're still at the stage where they support U2 in the US.

It is highly unlikely that the band's career will go into the sort of tail-spin that is predicted for the Spice Girls - largely because of Noel Gallagher's prodigious song-writing ability - but it is unlikely that they will out-scale the peaks of the last two years. With no chance of a new Oasis album for at least the next two years, there is a feeling in the band that they want to escape the pressure now that they've achieved what they set out to do.

"It's like being in the royal family," Noel Gallagher said in his last interview, "but we can handle it and will continue to do so. I can't see us matching the sort of phenomenal success we've had in the last two years. We really have been a one-off phenomenon."

However, given the make-up of the Gallaghers, who come complete with talent, tantrums and the ever-present possibility of trouble, the shocking, strange and surprising can never be ruled out. Expect the unexpected.

Oasis play three sold out concerts at Dublin's Point Depot on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week.