The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Anniversary

Why Be Here Now Is The Best Oasis Album, By Angus Batey
Angus Batey , October 18th, 2016 20:36

Angus Batey was the reviews editor on Vox when Be Here Now was released; here he lifts the lid on the sense of panic that Oasis' third album caused in the world of music journalism. But in his love for this album is he mad for it, or just mad?

It's odd that there would need to be a near-20-year reassessment of the historical impact and musicological merits of an album where a key overarching theme - and it's by no means a hidden one: it's there in the title - is about seizing life's opportunities and wringing every drop out of them; an emphatic exhortation to live in and relish the moment. Yet Oasis' difficult third LP, Be Here Now, has achieved an uncomfortable yet still mythic status: the musical equivalent of a conjuring trick or a kind of hallucinatory fraud, perpetrated on a vast scale, with those behind it apparently unaware they were doing any such thing.

There are albums that were reasonably well received at the time, only to be downgraded somewhat as years pass; and plenty of records that have seen posterity's verdict shift in the opposite direction. But there's very few where a uniformly laudatory critical reception was followed by huge commercial success, only for hindsight to apparently reveal that all involved were either duped or deluded. It was expected to be the crowning achievement of 90s rock royalty but has become seen as the death knell for an entire era of British music - yet this week, an expanded box-set reissue arrives, shedding new light on a record it would appear, from the unanimously rotten reviews, nobody at all is interested in listening to afresh.

The scale of the turnaround in Be Here Now's fortunes may well be unprecedented, yet very few cogent theories have been advanced to explain it. In a recent Guardian piece, journalist Dorian Lynskey spoke to people who gave the record glowing reviews at the time but who now can barely recognise themselves in their critiques. All concerned seemed to agree on two factors that may have influenced their initial appraisals: one was that the music press, in general, had given fairly lukewarm reviews to Oasis' previous LP, the stratospherically high-selling and roundly era-defining (What's The Story) Morning Glory, and thus were determined not to fall as ruinously out of step with public opinion again; the other was the unusual way in which the new record was presented to the press. While neither goes far enough down the road towards explaining the record's initial lionisation and its eventual fall into ignominy, there is merit to both arguments.

At the time of Be Here Now's release, your correspondent was working as reviews editor at the late and largely unlamented music monthly Vox. While nobody involved in the production of the magazine ever said anything to indicate that we needed to get the review "right", there was definitely far more focus placed on this piece than any other review that ran during the couple or three years I did that job. I ran the section with minimal direction from other staff - the Be Here Now review was the only one I recall where my decision over who would write the review was second-guessed, and where the copy was gone through line-by-line by a superior, who insisted on making changes to it after it had already been readied for publication. It's at best debatable whether those changes represented an improvement - a friend of the reviewer later told them the piece read like it had been written by "a breathless teenager", so probably not - but they did not affect the verdict the review had arrived at.

The precise and bizarre mechanisms Creation used to get the record to reviewers could also have had an influence, though it's difficult to conclude that they were guaranteed to produce positive appraisals. The label delayed giving copies to reviewers until the very last possible moment, a tactic which, for a monthly, did little but put staff's backs up; and the precise manner they used to tamp down on pre-release leaks risked alienating the individual review writers.

As a reviews editor, part of my job was to find the best writer for each review. Most of the time that would obviously be the person most motivated and interested and informed from among the team of staff and contributors available. With a big band who'd been covered extensively, an additional consideration was to avoid repetition: you'd ideally want someone who hadn't already written a great deal about the band to write the piece. With Oasis this narrowed the field down - in my view - to one person. Dele Fadele was - and remains - a class act, as insightful, expert and shrewd a writer on a bewilderingly broad array of music as any who've ever attacked a computer keyboard in anger. He was often tasked with tackling extreme music - you were more likely to see his byline on pieces about Einsturzende Neubauten or Public Enemy than Blur or Suede. As a consequence, Dele had never written about Oasis, but he had been paying plenty of attention and he had stuff to say which by definition our readers would not have read before. He was clearly the right man for the job.

The release date chosen - August 21 - presented a problem for a magazine published at the beginning of a month: run the review in the September issue and you'd look out of date and irrelevant, yet to get it into the edition out at the beginning of August we'd need to have the review written by mid-July. Pages were held open for August in the hope we'd get to hear it in time, with plans being made to fill the space if we didn't. In the end, and only after a series of increasingly desperate pleas had been made that culminated in the faxing to Creation of a badly drawn cartoon showing a reviewer and their editor in a state of impending implosion, Dele was invited to the label's office to pick up a cassette copy of the album. At this point, things began to get really silly.

On arrival at Creation's Camden Town lair, Dele was presented not just with the cassette - manufactured out of blood-red plastic - but also with a contract to sign. This involved him not just having to refrain from playing the record in the presence of anyone else, but promising not to even discuss it with anyone other than those he needed to allow into his circle of trust in order to publish his review. Dele's response to this - characteristically - was simultaneously to find the stipulations ridiculous and offensive, but at the same time to ensure he carried out the implausible demands to the letter. The ensuing few days were intense yet often comical, as Dele would take himself off to quiet corners of various SE1 pubs to listen to the album on his Walkman, turning the music off if anyone got within eight feet of him. (On checking with him while writing this piece, he recalls "meetings/drinking sessions with you and your dad in the Prince William Henry, talk of 'knights', and all of us understanding that there was a sort of semi-class war - working class versus middle class - aspect to the whole shebang," which sounds about right.) It was three days into listening before he even allowed himself to reveal, with a delighted grin, that he loved the album. After the review was submitted he took the cassette and buried it by moonlight in a neighbour's garden, where, to the best of my knowledge, it remains to this day.

Did all this contribute to the generally euphoric tone and content of the reviews? I'm not so sure. Certainly, Creation's tactics succeeded in cementing the idea of the release as An Event in the minds of reviewers and those they worked with in the production process, but this was always going to be the biggest release of the year for the music media, so how much benefit there was to gain by amplifying that is difficult to say. There was at least an even chance it would backfire, and the record be interpreted as unable to carry the increased burden of expectations. And when I think back to Dele's experiences, and the stress the process placed on anyone writing about the record, the more amazed I am at the individual writers' professionalism: many of us would have allowed all that unnecessary pressure to seep in to our responses to what we were hearing, and we may perhaps have ended up taking out our frustrations with the marketing and promotional tactics on the music. It's therefore perhaps all the more surprising that the reviews of the album were so uniformly positive given the ludicrous hoops its reviewers were made to jump through.

Of the charges that began to be levelled against the album in the months that followed its release, one can be dismissed fairly easily. The idea has been advanced that Be Here Now "killed Britpop", a concept that appears, to these eyes, pretty meaningless. For starters, the term was always reductive and unhelpful, a piece of shorthand that implied a movement existed but referred to a narrow range of sonically similar, sometimes socially intertwined, groups and individuals. Viewed globally, the biggest British pop album of 1997 was The Fat Of The Land, but nobody ever tried to lump The Prodigy in with Britpop.

Similarly, there was no iron-clad rule that said if you were an Oasis fan you were also interested in all the other groups that ended up being lumped into the same non-genre. To frame it in Noel's style, you might say that Jarvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me: some of us simply weren't that arsed about Pulp, Blur, Elastica et al. The album your correspondent felt was the most flabby, unnecessarily elongated and disappointing of the year's chart-toppers was Wu-Tang Forever (another record with almost uniformly positive reviews, incidentally). If you were into hip hop, big beat, the emerging French techno stuff (Daft Punk's 'Homework' had been released in the January), or the new wave of Americana; or if Roni Size's New Forms and Freq Nasty's 'Boomin' Back Atcha' were lighting up your life, you may well have been of the opinion that Britpop could probably do with being put out of its misery in any case.

The more robust parts of the case for the prosecution involve charges that the record's arrangements and production are bloated and overblown: the result of egos running out of check and the industrial levels of cocaine consumption apparently undertaken during its making. (And among the witnesses who've taken the stand to confirm this account are several involved in making Be Here Now, including the bloke who wrote the whole thing.) Detractors also argue the songs here aren't up to the task, Noel's lyrics a kind of doggerel comprised of headbangingly obvious lines stolen from pop's back pages, stitched together with some pretty lazy linking passages. As unfashionable as it may be to suggest otherwise, though, neither of these claims stands up to a great deal of scrutiny.

It's become part of the legend of this album that its makers, apparently rendered incapable of telling good from bad, kept piling on guitar overdubs and stretching out too-thin songs way beyond breaking point. Owen Morris, who co-produced the record with Noel, has been at the vanguard of the backlash, lamenting his own work in lacerating terms - yet at least one very well-placed judge (the album's mastering engineer, Mike Marsh), has taken pains to compliment Morris's work on the mixes, and reckons that none of the tracks suffered from the sorts of problems (lack of separation; poor balance; an overburdened, overstuffed sound) many listeners seem to claim they can hear.

Yet Noel's occasional stabs at contrition or abashed apology down the years do seem to back up claims of production incompetence and overblown arrangements. Earlier this year he completed a remix of opening track and first single, 'D'You Know What I Mean?', that was supposed to be the first step on an overhaul of the whole album intended to strip out the extraneous detail and trim the tracks back, to show us the ornate topiary that apparently lies hidden beneath the record's hideously overgrown privet. Yet even revisiting the recording with the benefit of 19 years' hindsight and a clear, sober head, he was only able to shave a mere 29 seconds from the original release's 7'43" running time, and the rest of the project was abandoned. (A reworking of the original video, made by the original directors and using outtake footage from the shoot, applies the scalpel more ruthlessly, and manages to get the track to clock in at under six minutes.)

There are sound reasons for taking notice of what an artist thinks their work is about, but no reason at all why their view should be considered the last word. It's both blessing and curse for creative folks that once they've finished the work and put it out there, it goes on to have a life of its own, interacting with the rest of the world in ways that are impossible to predict or control. Noel's apparent disdain for Be Here Now couldn't therefore be considered the final nail in the coffin of the record's reputation, even if it appears damning. But a listen to the additional material released for the first time as part of the (Noel-sanctioned) reissue makes you wonder whether he ever sincerely held those views at all.

The most fascinating part of listening to the 1996 demos of the BHN songs is not spotting the one or two occasions where they differ from the finished album versions, but realising that, for the most part, they're identical. With the notable exception of 'All Around The World', the demos are all more or less the same length as the finished versions - rather undermining the claim that indulgent sessions fuelled by chemicals and megalomania contrived to distort and distend the raw material. The arrangements, too, are almost all fully formed in demos made some time before the album was recorded. If Be Here Now was the result of a mass suspension of critical faculties brought about by drugs, then it was a binge that lasted at least a year, and involved not just the Gallaghers, but the rest of the band, their producer and engineers, management, record company staff, distributor and (if we're to explain the widespread adulation that greeted the record on release) the vast majority of Britain's music critics and the entire Oasis fan base.

Cocaine can't on its own explain the brutal sound of large parts of this album - a hulking monster of a record that digs its higher frequencies into your ears then pries at your head with its sheer volume. (Try playing this album quietly, and it still feels really bloody loud.) Even if the excess was attenuated with chemical stimulants, that alone can't have provoked it. Rather, the sound here feels like the logical conclusion of Oasis' rise.

In a 1997 Select magazine article quoted in the reissue's sleeve note, Bonehead recalled Noel writing 'All Around The World' before the band had signed to Creation, and telling them they'd hold it for the third LP, when they could afford to hire an orchestra. It was always part of the masterplan to reach a level of success that permitted such apparently reckless and unnecessary excess: indeed, for Oasis to have reached the point they were at in 1997, after the high of Knebworth and having completed their journey from council estate ne'er-do-wells to global superstardom, it would have been a grave disappointment had they not taken suitably ludicrous advantage. But it's not the strings that people tend to moan about.

For all the emphasis that's been placed on the multi-tracked guitars - and, granted, the final mix doesn't leave a great deal of breathing space between the different instruments - a lot of Be Here Now still sounds crisp and clean despite its sheer heavyweight presence. After a debut that succeeded because of the songs and the performances yet despite the bluebottle-in-a-jam-jar way they were captured, (What's the Story) Morning Glory was more fully realised - but Be Here Now gave Oasis the sound you always sensed they were aiming for. Picture Liam on stage, chest out, hands in pockets, head tipped back to open the throat as he sings into the sky, collar of his designer rainwear turned up, and this is the squall of noise that finally means he sounds as well as looks the part. It's less like listening to a band, more like experiencing an elemental force. The few moments of quietude on the record offer some respite - its sonic extremities mean it remains an almost painful album to listen to in the literal rather than metaphorical sense. After the door slams at the end of its 71-and-a-half minutes duration, your first inclination is to book an appointment with a doctor to see what damage you might have done to your inner ears. But even in 'Fade In/Out's relative calm there's a storm ready to rage, and the mid-song howl is perhaps the album's ferocious focal point.

Objections to the songs themselves are more complicated to argue with, but no more convincing. Noel's own dismissals of the lyrics appear damning, but one wonders whether - as with criticisms of the length of the songs and the production, only more so - there is an element of confirmation bias intruding here. So many people have spent so long badmouthing the record, it would be surprising if as evidently affable a chap weren't to have allowed himself to be persuaded in convivial conversation that the record marked a misstep.

Noel often displays a tendency to downplay his achievements and abilities when talking to the media, and is quick to distance himself from anything in his lyric-writing which someone could conceivably suggest had literary merit. In one particularly revealing and perceptive interview, for his book Isle Of Noises, the songwriter Daniel Rachel got both barrels of Noel's self-deprecation. "I'm glad I'm not too clever when it comes to writing music," he said. "I write from the heart, I don't write from the brain." In 'Don't Go Away' Noel writes: "Damn my education - I can't find the words to say/ with all the things caught in my mind." He also told Rachel, speaking of the Be Here Now songs in general: "I listen to those words now and cringe."

The picture painted is of someone who, whatever the bullish nature of his public persona and the indomitability of his earlier songs, is affected significantly by self-doubt. And while you'd never call him a people-pleaser, it's clear Noel will sometimes concede a point to a critic rather than to try to defend something if it would make him seem uncool by dint of implying any poetic intent. Indeed, you start to wonder if his laughing-it-off acceptance (and pre-emptive anticipation) of denigration is the armour he chooses to use against such criticism. By 2008 he'd codified this into a deliberate and very well-constructed spiel about how what he did wasn't art, beautifully rendered in a laugh-out-loud riot of an interview with the journalist Michael Odell. It all feels like it's rooted in Britain's pervasive class-consciousness, and it's tempting to ponder whether Noel would have gone as far out of his way - or to have done so as often - to downplay his own skill if so many of his musical peers weren't university-educated members of the middle class, and if he didn't perceive journalists, with their all-too-easy ways with words, as people he needed to defer to on matters literary. (Perhaps tellingly, he recently told the erudite and empathetic Keith Cameron that he felt at least one of the 'Be Here Now' tracks was a very good song). Or maybe it all goes back to an often unhappy childhood, where he had to hide his musical interests and ambitions for fear of being branded uncool by his mates or belittled (and worse) by his dad.

He may cringe to read the Be Here Now lyrics, then, but this can only be because he is discomfited by their ambition and depth (by their, whisper it, artfulness) - or by the fact that he wrote about personal subjects, something he told Daniel Rachel he feels is generally indulgent, and usually prevents listeners from being able to relate to songs and their writers. For the most part, though, the lyrics are absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, despite the many barbs reflexively lobbed at them over the past 19 years. The record has been interpreted as the band ceasing to be relevant, the songs moving from wide-ranging inclusion to parochial navel-gazing; the everyman aspiration of the debut displaced by cynicism and cocaine-fuelled indulgence. Never mind that this critique could be just as aptly applied to the previous album ("Where were you when we were getting high?"; "All your dreams are made/when you're chained to the mirror and the razor blade") - the lyrics here are, for the most part, far richer and stronger than anything he'd done before. This appears to be at least partly because of, rather than despite, the difficulty surrounding their creation.

Holed up in Mick Jagger's Mustique holiday home, knowing he had a fortnight to write lyrics to a collection of tunes he was broadly happy with, Noel was clearly wrestling with a few demons. What emerged from the process may not have been the first lyrics he'd ever written to betray signs of doubt or uncertainty ('Hey Now's "I took a walk with my fame/ down memory lane/ I never did find my way back" certainly helped pave the way), but the Be Here Now songs represent the first body of work where this is the predominant theme. The result is, by some distance, the strongest and most enthralling set of songs of the band's career.

If we ignore the bizarre and occasionally alarming 'Magic Pie' - which still doggedly resists any and all attempts made to understand it, perhaps deliberately underscoring its one non-opaque sentiment ("They who don't say what they mean/will live or die by their own sword") - the songs on the album fall into three broad categories. There are the love songs, one apparently written to Noel's wife, Meg Matthews ('The Girl In The Dirty Shirt'), another to his and Liam's mum (the brittle, beautiful 'Don't Go Away'), and one a little less precise and thus more universal ('Stand By Me'). There are songs where Oasis confront their detractors and proclaim indifference while robustly arguing their supremacy, often by making a few jokes at their own expense ('My Big Mouth', a Mega City Four soundalike with a claim that the Gallagher gob was so wide you could fly an aeroplane through it; 'I Hope, I Think, I Know''s belligerent broadside against those who "[try] hard to put me in my place"; and 'Be Here Now''s invitation that journalists - presumably - should "flash your pen at the song that I'm singing" over a deliberately ramshackle glam rock stompathon, its whistling motif the kind of thing a schoolboy with ink-stained hands would use in an attempt to look innocent while walking away from a recently defaced portrait of the headmaster). And there's the songs that tell the story of the band and analyse their current place in the world ('D'You Know What I Mean?', 'Fade In/Out', which is about some people who "[come] in out of nowhere, singing rhapsody", who "get on the helter skelter" and "bowl into the fray", who have to "be bad enough to beat the brave"; 'All Around the World' and 'It's Getting Better (Man!!)'). They all have their moments, but it's those in the latter category that are the most absorbing.

The record starts like a classic western, the prodigal son stepping alone from a train at dawn, returning to the hometown that hadn't paid him much mind before he'd moved away to seek fame and fortune and build a name for himself. 'D'You Know What I Mean?' kicks on from there, Noel spinning a very personal narrative out of the same yarn he'd been using for years - deliberately open-to-interpretation framing devices, phrases lifted from The Beatles, Dylan and Sam Cooke, deliberate lack of precision as a means to achieving wider resonance - but by this point the process had passed beyond pastiche and become his signature. You can understand why some people may not care for it, but to dismiss it as empty betrays a lack of imagination and attention.

The song is very obviously about Noel's estranged and abusive father, and the March 1996 meeting arranged by The Sun's Sunday stablemate, the News Of The World, which did not end with Noel tearfully forgiving his old man for abuse so routine and violent both he and elder brother Paul developed stammers. (In the first verse, Noel returns to "the hole where I was born" and recalls when "the sun in the sky never raised its eye to me"; the chorus - "I met my maker, I made him cry"; one word of two syllables, the rest one apiece - stands as a satisfyingly curt summation of the encounter.) Towards the end there's what sounds very much like some advice being passed from son to father ("Open up your fist or you won't receive/The thoughts and the words of every man you'll need") - a song being the only way Noel was ever likely to communicate with the man who not only beat him but belittled his musical ambitions and spent years telling the boy he'd never amount to anything. The disturbing, unsettling material is emphasised in the pervasive, ominous down-tempo rumble and the squall of wah-wah solos Noel wrings from his guitar neck, and the opening sound effects - Morse code guitar noises as a fixed-wing aircraft (despite the British Army Lynxes in the video, that's clearly not a helicopter) buzzes overhead. (It's typical of the cussedness and sense of perversity of the album that on the one occasion Oasis really do end up sounding like The Stone Roses, they choose not 'Made Of Stone' or 'Fool's Gold' as their template, but 'Breaking Into Heaven'.)

While critics often cite the chorus as an exemplar of the vacuity of the album, they tend to ignore the different rendering of it the second time through, which reveals its true purpose (the "All my people right here right now/D'you know what I mean?/Yeah, yeah" of the first reading goes from opaque to transparent when the "D'you" is replaced with a "they" for the second run through). The final lines achieve the near miracle of dragging some sort of unifying and relatable lessons from the personal pain of the past, the song turning an image that may in itself be an echo of that abuse when exhorting listeners to "Get up off the floor and believe in life/No-one's ever gonna ever ask you twice". To be able to take something universal and uplifting from that kind of experience is an achievement deserving of the highest respect.

It is certainly the case that Noel squandered few opportunities to nod in the direction of his musical inspirations (though one still can't quite work out why this avowed Paul Weller disciple would have let the "walls" in 'All Around The World''s second verse to "come falling down" rather than have them tumble) but that doesn't mean that the references are only there for window-dressing or in a gauche attempt to impress. Those who liked to dismiss Oasis particularly relished Noel's frequent dips into his grab-bag of musical iconography, interpreting those instances as a desperate stab at being taken seriously that was fatally undermined by the obviousness of the reference points. Sometimes you get the feeling that he was a step or two ahead, and was peppering the songs with deliberately obvious signpostings as a way of goading his detractors - none more so than the title track's "Sing a song for me/One from Let It Be", the inevitable Beatles nod played for laughs by picking the one album from their catalogue that everyone seems to agree is a mess. But this isn't always the case.

By referring to his touchstones and inspirations, Noel roots 'D'You Know What I Mean?''s narrative more firmly and resonantly in a past where music and film provided an escape from brutality (anyone who seriously contends that "Blood on the tracks and it must be mine/Fool on the hill and I feel fine/Don't look back 'cos you know what you might see" is lazy writing clearly needs to prioritise listening over reacting). Moreover, in this song and - particularly - 'It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)', there is clearly an attempt being made not just to deploy these pieces of history to help listeners understand Noel's background and interests, but to initiate a dialogue between his music and the stuff he grew up listening to. "What was that you said to me - 'just say the word and I'll be free'?" isn't just something dropped in to remind us that he quite enjoys Beatles records: nor is it necessarily Noel taking up a baton he feels he's been passed from the past (though that interpretation feels valid too); rather, it reads like he's trying to reach out to the music he grew up with and continue the work that his influencers had begun, even if he risks being misunderstood or misinterpreted or denigrated for his continued reliance on other people's phrases as part of his own creative process. That qualifies not just as highly ambitious, but brave, too.

The marketing departments at Creation and Sony did their job - perhaps - a bit too well. Be Here Now's release was covered on TV news broadcasts, and the record has ended up carrying the symbolical weight of what the summer it was released in came to represent. For Oasis, for Britpop and for Britain, it was soon to become evident that a pinnacle had been reached: from this point, the only way to go was down. Nothing the band did afterwards would ever work quite as well again, and though they soldiered on through a series of subsequent releases, the magic they'd mined over the first three albums was never harnessed so naturally, consistently or flamboyantly. For their fan base, the summer of '97 would become pivotal, too.

It's impossible to say for certain that the majority of Oasis fans voted Labour in the 1997 general election, but Noel's invitation to Number 10 for the victory lap didn't exactly result in angry mobs smashing their copies of 'Wonderwall' because they'd just discovered their favourite band weren't supporters of John Major. 'It's Getting Better (Man!!)' wasn't just a song title, it was a sentiment that united the nation: a conviction that now, at last, the pain of the Thatcher years was over, and something fairer, kinder, more inspiring could grow in its place. For many under 30, who would have had almost no recollection of any government other than the Thatcherite Conservatives, the sense of joyous relief at the election result was huge. People wandered round with grins on their faces for weeks. Many of us incorporated these songs into our soundtrack to that momentous period in the nation's history, and many of us wanted desperately to believe in it. "All around the world, tell 'em what you've heard - we're gonna make a brighter day" - that wasn't just a song lyric, it was an article of faith.

It's not clear when the backlash really began. Some of those Lynskey recently spoke to suggest that the death of Princess Diana later that month and the broad souring of the national mood started to make some people feel uncomfortable with what was felt to be the triumphalism of Be Here Now's indulgences, yet this doesn't seem to chime with how fans felt about the album and the band during the rest of the year. The record didn't sit particularly high in the music press's end-of-year lists, but there were plenty of people inside music mags who didn't care for Oasis anyway, and they would have all had a vote (Dele recalls being told, by a staff member of another magazine, that his 9/10 review for Vox was something he would "take to the grave"). NME's readers made it the third-best album of the year, behind OK Computer and Urban Hymns, and reviews of the band's (sold-out, of course) autumn tour of Britain were largely ecstatic. Yet when the hangover did finally kick in after '97's summer of celebration, the bitterness that would inevitably attend any attempts to recall the exhilaration of Labour's victory seem to have got mixed in and spoiled the flavour of the memories. Perhaps Be Here Now was too much a part of that summer to be able to avoid carrying the weight of the betrayal we now know was to follow.

The signs were there all along, though: maybe we just didn't take the time to read them. Be Here Now remains a captivating record in part because of the room it leaves amid its everything-louder-than-everything-else bombast and Oasis' customary swagger for passages that go beyond reflective and actively wrestle with doubt and uncertainty. At times, the songs set up a kind of predictive commentary on the group's eventual (and, as it turned out, imminent) fall from their precarious pinnacle. "Today is just a daydream," Liam declaims over the portentous slide guitar and minor chords of 'Fade In/Out' - "tomorrow we'll be cast away". To hear a band so identified with indomitable self-belief singing that "We're fading out/without a doubt" still has an unsettling power.

These themes run in parallel with, and at times appear a necessary counterweight to, the parts of the record that urge the listener to make the most of every opportunity - as if the fuel for the urgency with which today's pleasures are pursued is the knowledge that time is running out. Even in the middle of as vitriolic and spirited an apparent middle-finger to naysayers as 'I Hope, I Think, I Know' there's "You're gonna miss me when I'm not there" - an admission that the day will come when all this is gone, even if it's being used as a kind of a taunt of present supremacy.

'It's Getting Better (Man!!)' - especially given its position as the record's parting shot, the set of thoughts and feelings and emotions the listener is encouraged to have uppermost in their mind at the end of the album - is the key track in this regard. The song finds euphoric release in encouraging the listener to carve out their own future, regardless of the quality of the tools at their disposal. In many ways it can be read as Noel's manual of how (and why) to be in a band: "Say something - shout it from the rooftops off your head/Make it sort of mean something... Build something - build a better place and call it home/Even if it means nothing you'll never ever feel that you're alone". But even as we're being told that "life teaches you to build a castle in your hand", the song situates this dialogue on a beach, where we're waiting for the waves to come and wash everything away.

Worse is to follow in a chorus that appears to question everything the group had achieved to that point ("maybe the songs that we sing are wrong/maybe the dreams that we dreamed are gone") before smothering those worries and doubts with a warm blanket of reassurance. Here, the production, arrangement and lyric come together to amplify a complicated set of conflicting ideas - the music's brute force and ferocity at once underlining those fears as its riotous physicality threatens to unmoor everything, before the affirmation of the chorus rushes in and throws its arms around us all, the promise that everything's going to be OK used as a restraining device to stop everything from flying apart. The overwhelming sense of the song is one of exultant, proud belief triumphing over uncertainty, despite never entirely dispelling its clouds - a kind of musical alchemy only Oasis ever really seem to have mastered.

Perhaps, then, this is why the tide turned so emphatically against Be Here Now. Perhaps we're not enamoured of being reminded of the time a generation was sold out by a political party; perhaps we don't like being told that dreams rarely come true and that even the most full-on and headstrong among us cannot be relied upon to provide an easy escape at all times. Maybe it's a record that too accurately reflects the underlying chaos and instability of the era it was made in, and spends too much of its running time dealing in difficult truths rather than the more alluring and uplifting fictions its predecessors often dealt in. Yet it remains, for these reasons, by far and away the best Oasis album, and one of the more compelling and involving records of the decade it was made in.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.