Pop Will Eat Itself: Oasis As Mass-Catering Phenomenon

As Oasis release their _Time Flies..._ retrospective, Roy Wilkinson recalls various encounters which argue that this most patchy of British groups have much in common with cheap eat catering

Hungry for unlimited sausages? Up for endless potatoes, chipped, wedged, fried and baked? Oasis aren’t the only good-time guys to have arisen in the north and successfully supplied satiation on a mass level. Recently the Taybarns all-you-eat chain has been packing them in across the high latitudes, from Barnsley to South Shields. In mildly ethnographic style, Taybarns has been fascinating the London-based media. The press have been intrigued by the "34-metre food line" and an all-inclusive £5.99 meal-deal (weekdays from 11.30am to 5.00pm). Things were perhaps similar with Oasis’s initial bloom – a soft south bewitched by these brusque northerners and their mass pop provisioning. But, isn’t this latest Oasis best-of a bit like Taybarns in reverse? Paying again for stuff you’ve already had?

Oasis and their then label Creation once really did run an all-you-can-eat spectacular. All-you-can-drink as well. The backstage bounty at Oasis’s 1996 shows at Knebworth was astonishing. An immense marquee was lined with bars, all fully stocked with any drink you could imagine. A barbecue sizzled eternal. To anyone with a pass it was all free, all day. It wasn’t that exclusive either. The music-industry types were diluted by numerous family and friends. You could tell this because, when Noel Gallager wandered in, he was instantly mobbed by autograph-seekers. Within this moderately-exclusive marquee, there was a separate VIP quadrant. This roped-off corner was soon besieged by people who all stood there staring at Kate Moss and Patsy Palmer.

Backstage at Knebworth there were also free ice creams and lollies, plus portraitists and magicians permanently on call. Professional entertainers wandered the marquee offering tricks and caricature sketches. Completing the deranged mood of mass munificence, on the roof of the tent was a slogan in huge letters: ‘CREATION RECORDS – WORLD CLASS’. It made sense that you’d need a helicopter to really appreciate this inscription. By this point, Oasis had become a kind of Eddie Stobart space shuttle, constructed largely from old second-hand parts but still blasting off into space. This Knebworth gluttony and Taybarns-style super-consumption chime with Oasis in several ways. In their new hits compilation Time Flies…, Oasis once again feast on the fat of their own back catalogue. As well they might – perhaps more than anything else, Oasis are an astounding manifestation of David Quantick’s theorem that ‘Pop will eat itself’.

Quantick’s phrase appeared in an NME article on Jamie Wednesday, a Streatham indie band which included the two men who would become Carter USM. Quantick’s observation was to acquire even more chilling associations – a prediction of pop’s ever more repetitive instinct for recycling and recombination. Noel Gallagher, of course, has been utterly brazen in his pop larceny. Various admissions and legal interventions have confirmed the way he’s been unafraid to draw on extant composition by anyone from Burt Bacharach to Stevie Wonder to The New Seekers.

‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ appears again here. On the face of it, it amounts to a gang of Manchester urchins strolling up to Marc Bolan’s ‘Get It On’: "Hey mister, we’ll mind your song for a quid." But, ‘Cigarettes And Alcohol’ is also an ineffable, timeless concentration of human pleasure, like the film of Saturday Night & Sunday Morning condensed into a few minutes of audio. To hate Oasis seems a bit like hating humanity en masse – or at least the British public en masse. Oasis cleverly capitalise on this aspect with the CD booklet here. There’s a collection of testimonial quotes from Oasis fans. "When I hear Oasis," says Marty Corry of Belfast, "they change me from being a factory worker into a rock star." Simon Baddeley, Stoke-on-Trent: "Oasis reminds me that one day I’ll get away from the job centre and council estates." And, casting the net further afield, Joaquin Lios of Costa Rica: "Without this song I would not look, think or feel the way I do now." It’d take a cold heart to damn all of this – or to even think about denying the way Oasis have recorded many songs of undimming everyman-and-everywoman (but mainly everyman) transcendence. The gauchery and man-with-a-van mysticism that often colours Oasis’ words only accentuates this feel of a universal human voice: "We’ll find a way to do what we’ve done," as Liam sang on ‘Slide Away’.

Even when Oasis are terrible they are at least catastrophically terrible, as, in extremis, on the Be Here Now album (an LP this reporter awarded full marks at the time. I was wrong! I wasn’t alone!) They’re at their worst when they’re merely competent in this catastrophe, as on a good few tracks here: ‘Lyla’, ‘The Hindu Times’, ‘Lord Don’t Slow Me Down’. But even at his nadir Liam can be not just a goon but also someone with a kind of free-associating absurdism that verges on The Goon Show. Liam’s bipartite presence and his representation of man-on-the-street-on-the-stage maybe came to a peak with the disastrous Wembley Stadium show of 22 July 2000, where a hugely drunk Liam mixed surreal slurrings with gormless requests for girls to get their tits out for the benefit of the video screens.

On the way home from this Wembley show, I found a little tableau that seemed emblematic of Oasis’s impasse. In one of the Wembley underpasses, there was a forlorn and massively inebriated Oasis fan, shirtless and stumbling. He was attempting, vainly, to start a fight with a street-sweeper who was clearing up the post-gig detritus. The drunk Oasis-ite would periodically lunge toward the street-sweeper. The man would casually step away from the confused attack and carry on with his work. How symbolic. It wasn’t Noel Gallagher turning out some typical pop-eating-itself variation on the Stones’ Street Fighting Man. Just a man fighting a street-sweeper. By whatever means the Oasis fan had evidently found his way to some all-you-can-drink nirvana. The infinite consumption hadn’t necessarily led to best possible conclusion.

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