I'll tell you what's ailing the rock 'n' roll mainstream, my friends: Lack
of ambition. It's OK, of course, that guitar-based bands from Green Day to
System of a Down get to be #1 for a week here and there, or that Weezer
make the cover of Rolling Stone, although what that says about the
demographics of either is terrifying to consider.
And consider that the only thing blocking Mudvayne from being #1 in the
week of release was the debut of Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi.
Go, Mudvayne! But these acts are preaching to the choir: Reliable brands in
the season of the niche.
Then there are really enjoyable bands like Franz Ferdinand, and surprisingly
durable ones like the Killers, playing the Depeche Mode/New Order card with
skill and verve. This, too, is niche marketing, as likely to change the
world as the automobile commercials that can't digest these sounds quickly
But there isn't anything in rock 'n' roll today that can win converts to the
cause, that can surprise and thrill and, well, blow the minds of the vast
Out There. Which is why I root for Oasis.
Only Oasis have the grandiose vision, the shameless (and blameless) fixation
on fame with the potential to make today's 50 Cent-seduced mall rats and
emo-swooning junior high girls stop and say: Well, it might be ma and pa's
rock 'n' roll, but I like it.
Being an American rock critic and fan of a certain vintage has its
advantages relating to Oasis: I've never had the opportunity to find them
tiresome. If you're from the UK, it's not surprising that a critic as
wise as Barney Hoskyns can tell me, as he did in a recent e-mail, that in
his book, "They're close to being the single most overrated rock group of
In the United States, we haven't had to suffer through the Oasis cult of
success, cult of personality, their singles on the charts or on the
radio, or their faces on TV. We've been spared the antics and brotherly
misadventures of Noel and Liam Gallagher in the tabloids, or any other
aspect of the Oasis phenom. An American like me can still wish them to be
what they so much want to be: The Big New Old Rock Band. They are the last band
on the planet that wants to be The Beatles, in terms of accomplishment, stature
and style, and it would be great if they were.
Do they attain this on Don't Believe the Truth? Well, not quite. It is, in
fact, what almost every other Oasis album has been: Not nearly as bad as
overhyped sufferers might fear, not nearly as good as its enthusiasts want
it to be.
(The one exception in the Oasis repertory is the nicely ironic title The
Masterplan, which as a collection of B-sides and other odds 'n' sods tracks,
is completely brilliant:
Oasis seem to be at their best when it's not pressing so hard.)
The short of it: DBTT is a good listen. The band seems to be having some
fun on the tuneful, flaky Don't Believe the Truth, a collection of
wonderfully rendered classic rock riffs and mock-Beatles songs. No surprise
that the drummer on all but one track is Zak Starkey, spawn of Ringo.
From opener "Turn Up the Sun," they stake out their message: "Loov one
another," a cry echoing from John Lennon's Aquarian dream. It sounds really
good: driven and driving, fresh and snapping, redolent of cumin and pepper.
Oasis have always had the chops to do this Beatle-pop well, but can they roll
their own? They try, and they try, and they try… they try so hard and
play so well that you can forgive them loading up the beautiful single
"Lyla" on petrol distilled from the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man."
(They even appear to have summoned Nicky Hopkins from the grave to play the
piano outro.) And what's not to like about "Mucky Fingers," in which they
grab "Sweet Jane" with their sticky fingers and won't let go?
The Gallaghers wrote a nearly equal amount of material, continuing to
correct an early imbalance in which Noel wrote, Liam sang not a good
formula for brotherly harmony. Gem Archer, guitar and Andy Bell, bass, also
Oasis' great nerve is displayed in the matter-of-fact way they filch classic
rock touchstones, playing with such brio that they seem to be thinking:
"Isn't this great, what we just made up"?
Such an agenda keeps the brazen-hard-charging "The Meaning of Soul" from
being a throwaway, as you admire their ability to create their own strong
drink from the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard."
The smart and pretty "The Importance of Being Lazy" may be the best
performance on the album, beautifully sung and threaded with whimsy,
somewhat like its Revolver doppleganger, "I'm Only Sleeping."
This Beatlephilia takes a startling turn on the last three songs of the
album. Though Andy Bell, Gem Archer and Noel Gallagher are respectively credited
with writing "Keep the Dream Alive," "A Bell Will Ring" and "Let There Be
Love," this could be a grand ruse.
Some fanatical Beatles collectors may recognize these three songs as the
grail: the three surviving tunes from the long-rumored "final" Beatles
sessions, recorded after Let It Be.
The album's working title was "Lettuce Inn," after the bed-and-breakfast in
Shropshire the bickering quartet turned into a studio for an abortive
reunion in 1973. A single tape is said to be stored in a climate-controlled
archive in Buckingham Palace. (Prince Charles is said to have infuriated his
late wife Diana by refusing to let her hear it but playing it repeatedly for
his paramour and current missus, Camilla Parker Bowles.)
It's possible that Zak Starkey found demos or copies among his father's
forgotten memorabilia and brought them to the studio.
In any case, "Keep the Dream Alive," "A Bell Will Ring" (with its refrain "Have
a little faith") and the Plastic Ono Band dead ringer, "Let There Be
Love" are Oasis' most successful, consistent attempt at channeling the final
phase of the Fab Four.
What gives one hope is that Oasis' own material on this album often
surpasses these pro-forma songs of apparently wilted reconciliation. And on
"Guess God Thinks I'm Abel," Liam may have finally exhausted the exhausted
topic of his brotherly rage at Noel. On the same page and on the same team,
they now have the force to get beyond their obsession and symbolically slay
their towering, intimidating musical fathers.
Slightly more than 10 years since their debut, Don't Believe the Truth may
actually be Oasis' first step towards the greatness that has so tantalizingly
eluded them. Right now, Don't Believe the Truth will do, and not at all