Would Oasis make it today, when pop music has been colonised by the posh and the pathetic?
Man, I miss Oasis. On Wednesday the Mancunian rockers, formerly both the kings and the scourge of the 1990s Britpop scene, got the media's pulse racing by posting a cryptic hint on their Facebook page about a possible reunion. But it turns out they won't be reuniting, probably because there isn't a patch of land on Earth big enough for the Gallagher brothers, Noel and Liam, to bury their legion hatchets. Instead, the big announcement from the Oasis camp was that a remastered version of their first album, the goosebump-coaxing Definitely Maybe, will be released on 19 May, to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. That was nice enough news for old fans like me, for whom the sounds of that album are a glorious reminder of being 19 years old and off one's nut.
Listening to Definitely Maybe now – as I did last night, following the media frenzy about Oasis's announcement – it is striking how foreign it feels, how different it is from what passes for pop or rock or indie music in the 21st century. The album is gloriously unironic and free of twee. It's totally blokey, which is of course anathema in 2014, when Facebook offers no fewer than 58 gender options (none of which is lad) and every man is supposed to be in touch with his inner feminine spirit. The lyrics – most of which are rubbish – speak to aspiration, including of the materialistic variety, which is also a big no-no today, when academics warn us of the dangers of "affluenza" and it's the in thing to be a recessionista: someone's who eco-thrifty and resistant to the charms of bling. On Rock'n'Roll Star, Liam bellows: "I live my life for the stars that shine / People say it's a waste of time / When they said I should feed my head / That to me was just a day in bed." Rough translation: these guys want glory, not education; they want material wealth, not mental stimulation.
There's another reason Oasis now look and sound like creatures not just from another millennium but from another planet: their rise to stardom was really the last time a working-class band made it big, storming to the top of the pops through swagger and self-belief rather than with the aid of high-up connections and nepotistic favours. These days, as Michael Gove pointed out a couple of years ago, the sharp-elbowed sons and daughters of Britain's public schools have thoroughly colonised every corner of public and cultural life, including popular music. "2010's Mercury Music Prize was a battle between privately educated Laura Marling and privately educated Marcus Mumford", said Gove. "And from Chris Martin of Coldplay to Tom Chaplin of Keane, popular music is populated by public school boys." (Noel Gallagher, you won't be surprised to hear, has been far more stinging about Keane: "I feel sorry for them. No matter how hard they try, they'll always be squares. Even if one of them started injecting heroin into his own c–––, people would go: 'Yeah, but your dad was a vicar, good night.'") Oasis are a reminder of what now seems, quite sadly, to be a very bygone era, a time when a combination of confidence within working-class communities and the existence of a public space for the rise of working-class entertainment and art meant that rough men with guitars could take on the world.
This means that, 20 years on, Definitely Maybe strikes an unwittingly melancholic note. It feels like a relic, a blistering cry from a time when politics had not yet been totally taken over by foppish men from Bullingdon or the sons of academics from Hampstead and pop music wasn’t yet the preserve of the skinny, oh-so-knowing offspring of professors and millionaires who wear Bruce Springsteen T-shirts for a JOKE. Would a Definitely Maybe be possible today? I’m not sure. Who today would venture into inner-city Manchester and offer a record deal to two foul-mouthed sons of Irish immigrants who wanted to sing songs about cigarettes and alcohol and living forever? Not many, I would wager. Modern record producers would likely be bamboozled by the earnestness of these young northern men – “I need to be myself / I can’t be no one else”, Liam sings on Supersonic – and would ask where the lolz were. The twentieth anniversary of Definitely Maybe is an occasion not only for tapping one’s toes once again to those gorgeous songs, but also wracking one’s brains as to what happened to the phenomenon of the working-class band and creative inner-city attitude.
Oasis were the last great rebels of rock. They are, as you would expect any decent rock rebel to be, agitated by the mainstream morals and pieties of our time. So Noel lambasts environmentalists as “hippies with no place in the world”, asking, quite sensibly, “How do you suggest we get millions of Chinese not to have a fridge?” He rails against worthy, charity, green-minded, ishoo-led pop. Of the Live 8 concert that accompanied the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005 he said: “Are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing ‘Sweet Dreams’ and thinks, ‘F––– me, she might have a point’?” He laments the disappearance of a “work ethic” among Britain’s youth, who now, he says, prefer to tweet than make art. All of this has made Oasis somewhat unpopular in the music press and among young bands, which is further proof of the extent to which those worlds have been conquered by middle-class mores, so that even an undisputed rock god like Noel Gallagher can now appear to them as little more than a terribly rough and ill-spoken man with outrageously outré views.
By Brendan O'Neill Arts and entertainment / telegraph.co.uk
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