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Oasis
Time Flies 1994-2009 Ben Hewitt , June 18th, 2010 08:54

As the sleeve for this Oasis hits package comes peppered with personal recollections, I thought I'd take the liberty of including one myself. When I was still a rural youth, rambling around the pleasant green pastures of Cornwall in my Wellington boots with a piece of straw hanging out of my mouth, Oasis were the only guitar band it was safe to admit a devotion to without receiving accusations of pretension - or, if everyone was jacked up on cider at the time, a swift kicking. I'd have been battered if I'd professed my love for Pulp and PJ Harvey, or The Smiths and Joy Division; none of them extreme exemplars of the avant-garde, but all with enough emphasis on intelligence and theatricality to be treated with suspicion by my leaden-headed classmates who hailed the Red Hot Chilli Peppers as bastions of rock & roll and Linkin Park as tortured spokespeople of a disillusioned youth. Even liking fucking Radiohead was viewed with mistrust, and it's hard to think of a less provocative front man than Thom Yorke in his posh tramp get up.

Oasis, though: they were safe. They were big and bold and laddy, and their songs had this knack of being about everything and nothing at the same time. And Liam and Noel swore a lot (at each other; at the rest of their band; at all other bands) and they fought a lot (with each other; with the rest of their band; with all other bands). From a young age, then - and I was only 9 or 10 when What's The Story (Morning Glory) came out - I knew I'd probably be OK with Oasis. So like millions of others I sang along to 'Wonderwall' and 'Don't Look Back In Anger' even though they didn't really make any sense and the latter track ripped off The Beatles; and then I heard that Definitely Maybe was the better album so I bought that, too, and sang along to 'Supersonic' and 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' even though they didn't really make any sense, either, and the latter track ripped off T. Rex. As Nick Hornby once said, liking Oasis might not have made you the coolest kid in class, but it was nothing to be ashamed of either.

Eventually, I grew out of that embarrassed phase, and arrived at those mid teenage years where you realise that part of the thrill of liking certain bands is that everyone else hates them. But Oasis still stuck with me, and I always gave them a chance, even when they were dull and overblown (Be Here Now), plodding out turgid pub-rock (Heathen Chemistry) or just simply half-arsed (Don't Believe The Truth) - until, eventually, I stopped caring (Dig Out Your Soul).

So for me, listening to Time Flies, a double CD compilation of their hit singles, is an odd experience. Criticising Oasis's later output isn't as much shooting fish in a barrel as it is firing a nuclear warhead at a dozing mackerel, but Definitely Maybe is still a corking album - a snapshot from an almost forgotten period when there was something aspirational about Oasis, with anthems of starry-eyed escapism ('Rock 'n' Roll Star') and blissful hedonism ('Cigarettes & Alcohol). It's no surprise, then, that the strongest cuts from Time Flies are those culled from their first album: 'Supersonic', which kicks off proceedings, still boasts a sky scraping guitar hook that makes the hairs on your arm stand up, as well as a sneering Liam Gallagher vocal that's a far cry from the ravaged howl it would later become. And as much as 'Live Forever' might have become sullied with all the worst associations of Britpop, its power as a balls-out anthem for living life to the fullest remains undimmed - it may seem cliché now, but it's easy to forget it was written at a time when the self-loathing rage of Nirvana had captured the zeitgeist.

What's really interesting about Time Flies, though, is that it allows you to pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong for Oasis. Quietus ed John Doran has already put forward the excellent argument that things went downhill when Noel Gallagher relinquished control of the band. I'd concur, but also suggest that they lost their appeal when they became so utterly joyless. Once you zip past the stadium highlights of What's The Story…, you have to wade through the hollow posturing of 'Be Here Now' and 'Stand By Me', or the dreary waffle 'Hindu Times' and 'Lyla'. There's nothing enjoyable about these songs, really - they're the sound of a half-arsed band going through the motions, devoid of inspiration once their dreams of becoming rock & roll stars had been realised and they'd bought massive fuck-off cars and swimming pools despite not being able to drive or master the basics of the doggy-paddle. And that's without even touching upon Oasis's weakness for the odd sentimental ballad. One of the constant criticisms levelled at them is that their songs are largely gibberish, but on a track like 'Supersonic', it's irrelevant - no-one cares that 'She done it with a doctor/ On a helicopter' doesn't actually make any sense, because it still sounds great. If you're hoping to tug at the heart strings, though, it helps to have some substance, something which the likes of 'Songbird' and 'Let There Be Love' are sorely lacking in. The only tears that lines such as "A man can never dream these kinds of things/ Especially when she came and spread her wings" should be of laughter or despair.

Ultimately, Time Flies reminds me of when I went to see Oasis live. They weren't exciting anymore, but it was still thrilling to hear their early material. As the set wore on, though, and my feet grew sore, and they started plodding through 'The Importance Of Being Idle', I could only think one thing: it had all gone on for far too long. Wouldn't it be much better if Oasis had left us with 'Champagne Supernova' as their parting shot rather than 'I'm Outta Time' or 'Falling Down'? Towards the end of their set, a man called Tony - someone I'd reluctantly befriended and had spent the evening telling me how his grandfather was a national hero because he'd spent the Second World War drowning cats for the government - pushed his face right next to mine and mimed a terrifying air guitar solo to their cover of 'My Generation', while I tightly clutched my can of Strongbow, as if it was a teleportation device that could whisk me away. I felt about Oasis then as I do when listening to this compilation: Time really doesn't fly when you're not having fun.

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