So you think Oasis are a bunch of lads with their tonsils sticking out, singing the kind of songs that other lads only use to ogle women with.
I should first declare a lack of interest. I’m not defending Oasis because they are my guys. For my generation, Lennon and McCartney and Holland-Dozier-Holland were the songwriters of choice, the singer was Mick Jagger; Jack Bruce (Cream), Andy Fraser (Free) and James Jamerson (Tamla Motown house band) were the bass players, and on lead guitar…opinion was divided between Eric ‘God’ Clapton and the divine Jimi Hendrix. This is my team and none of the above has ever played in Oasis.
I am defending Oasis because (a) the sound they made is much better than some people make it out to be, and (b) putting them down is part of a bad habit of downgrading white working class blokes (after all that happened in 2016 you might have thought Lord and Lady Snooty would have learned not to dismiss such people so readily).
Of course the boys in the band were by no means immune from laddish behaviour. Focussing, inevitably, on the Gallagher brothers rather than the changeable line-up in the backline, there is the question of Liam and the ladies. Who knows how many? Also, the matter of Liam’s thousand-yard-stare – no one in their right mind would ever think they were hard enough. So far we have fucking and fighting, and that’s before we get to slightly less aggressive attributes such as Noel’s irredeemably Mancunian accent: not just a way of talking but a way of saying, you think we’re deplorable and we don’t care.
Then there’s the timing. Oasis were up and coming just as Loaded magazine (‘for men who should know better’) was launched in 1994; and its well merited success let loose a raft of increasingly unintelligent imitations – the lads’ magz of deservedly ill repute. Meanwhile for the hard sell, Oasis were ranged against Blur (even though both bands had musical origins in the same ‘baggie’ style of the early 1990s). Given that for publicity purposes Blur could not be anything other than effete Southern boys from an arty-farty background, that only left the hard man role for our friends in the North. In such circumstances, acting lad-like was only going with the hyper-flow.
But then there’s the music. In particular, a song like ‘Wonderwall’ (1995) which defines laddish expectations and then defies them.
The track begins with an acoustic guitar strumalong – four chords, nothing special; but some of these are minor (melancholy) chords, and on an acoustic guitar – how laddish is that? Enter the voice. On first hearing, Liam’s voice sounds like it’s a shout – the loudest in the football crowd. Then you listen again – in fact you don’t have to listen again, it’s there all the time for anyone who isn’t hearing-impaired, and it turns out he is holding pure notes at the same time. The shout, in other words, is a prophylactic with tenderness half-hidden inside.
OK, the Gallaghers won’t let us get away with Ancient Greek words such as ‘prophylactic’; so let’s just call it a condom. Is that laddish enough? But that’s exactly my point – ‘the lad’ is a cover, a protective sheath, for another part – of the sound, the singer and the songwriter, which is far more vulnerable.
Ditto the lyrics: from ‘throw it back to you’ (sung with a barely suppressed snarl) to ‘maybe…you’re gonna be the one that saves me’ (trying a little tenderness). Funny kind of ‘lad’ that knows he needs saving; should only want to drown in lager, having it large, allegedly.
No, these two aspects don’t add up; yes, they are inconsistent. Once again, the duality’s the thing.
And we haven’t even got to the arrangement and how literate it is – musically, that is. The cellos that wouldn’t be there without George Martin and the Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’; the bassline, and the position of the bass in the mix, that couldn’t be where it is without the Happy Mondays and Madchester; the bit of Johnny Marr in the ringing guitar; and the shuffling drums that take us back to New Orleans via Dr John and Professor Longhair.
Of course the mainstream audience is not going to pick up on all this, but Noel G clearly knows how to cherry pick the best source material and make it into something else. Loads more literate than a mere lad is meant to be.
All this should be enough to prompt re-consideration of Liam’s famously aggressive look. Is he testosterone on a stick? Is it a simple matter of biological urges, or possibly more like putting yourself to the test all the time? In which case, for the existentialists among us, this might not be so far removed from the acte gratuit – choosing to test your existence by performing an unnecessary act – as discussed by Andre Gide and Jean-Paul Sartre.
It’s not for me to tell whether the Left Bank of Paris is echoing through Liam Gallagher’s head. But I tell you this much: those who dismiss Oasis are as erroneous in their musical judgement as the middle class pundits who keep calling it wrong on the politics of working class men.