Standing on the Shoulder of Giants
Advance hype for the fourth Oasis album (not counting 1998's rarities and singles collection) suggested that the disc would be less about Britpop and more about psychedelia and dance/trip-hop. That certainly raised a few eyebrows (and when you're talking the brothers Gallagher, you're talking some serious eyebrows). But as we've all been warned ad nauseam, don't believe the hype.
Sure, there are samples here and there throughout the album -- the first two tracks even open with the scratches and pops of old vinyl, as though bandleader Noel Gallagher (and producer Mark Stent) wanted to make perfectly obvious the band's intention to crib from the past. The best example of what they were trying to do is the opening cut, "Fuckin' in the Bushes" -- oh, those boys -- an extremely cool hodgepodge of drum loops (sounds like Led Zep to these ears), sound bites from a film documentary about the Isle of Wight music festival of 1970 (the title comes from an adult, featured in the film, complaining about the lewd behavior of those damn hippies), and a riff-heavy, terrific rock band that calls itself Oasis. Gallagher again proves himself to be one of the most underrated rock guitarists of the last decade on this mostly instrumental track.
But make no mistake about it: This is an Oasis album, and the Gallaghers remain pure rockists of the highest order (or lowest, depending on your world view). Ever since they put a photo of Burt Bacharach on their debut album -- and opened it with a track titled "Rock 'n' Roll Star" -- they've made no bones as to what they're all about (and probably always wanted to be all about). Borrowing from such classic rock sources as the Beatles, T. Rex, and the Sex Pistols, the band has always done "sampling" of another sort, sometimes almost shamelessly so. This is a band, after all, whose lead singer seamlessly replaced the lyrics of one of its songs with those from a Coca-Cola commercial ("I'd like to teach the world to sing ") at the Whisky five years ago, suggesting that he knew exactly where the melody of its "original" originated. Early in its career, Oasis ended up sharing royalties with Stevie Wonder after admitting that of course the band plagiarized the Motown wizard's "Uptight (Everything Is Alright)" for yet another of its songs. Then again John Lennon once said that the Beatles were "brilliant thieves," and "borrowing" has always been a big part of rock tradition.
Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is once again absolutely shameless in places. The aforementioned "Fuckin' in the Bushes" cops an organ riff from the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm a Man" that's as obvious as it is appropriate. "Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is" mixes a slightly reworked Deep Purple riff with a line -- both musically and lyrically -- from the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" ("your hands upon the wheel "). In fact this latter "sample" may be just a tad too obvious. On the other hand, "Who Feels Love?" -- the one true psychedelic opus here -- takes the guitar riff from "Dear Prudence" and transforms it into something quite beautiful and quite different from the Fab Four's original. By the same token, "Go Let It Out!," the first single and a current MTV/VH1 staple, begins sounding like a classic by the third or fourth time you hear it -- as though it would fit right in alongside tracks by Spencer Davis, the Doors, and others.
"Little James," singer Liam's first original song ever recorded by the band, is surprisingly not bad. The chorus almost sounds like something from Her Satanic Majesty's Request. But brother Noel remains the true mind behind the Oasis hits. "Gas Panic!" -- another nod to psychedelia (and perhaps Joy Division) -- may be the best song about a panic attack ever recorded (not that there are a lot). It's certainly one of the most interesting. Alas Noel's vocals on "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" render the song too much like a Chili Peppers ballad. As a result the album hits a lull toward the end, from which it never fully recovers; there's no "It's Gettin' Better Man" here to bring things up, as there was on the last LP. Likewise there's nothing here that sounds as immediately classic as the best material on the band's first two discs.
Nevertheless Oasis remains one of the only modern rock bands that long-time fans of the form can safely listen to without hating, proving once again that the big beat still lives here even if it's often hit-or-miss these days.