The New Big Thing in England -- the latest band touted as...

March 03, 1995|By Deb Hopewell | Deb Hopewell,Knight-Ridder News Service

The New Big Thing in England -- the latest band touted as the savior of rock 'n' roll -- is practically unheard of Stateside.

Yet, you've heard it all before.

Oasis, the staggeringly popular quintet fronted by bickering brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher (when they're not taking feverish swings at each other), has an unerring ear for copping guitar riffs and sharp pop hooks straight from the canon of rock -- and the cheeky punk arrogance to pull it off.

Liam, 22 (sneering vocals), and Noel, 27 (snotty lyrics and guitar), are a formidable triple threat in the form of naked ego, brash ambition and raw three-chord talent.

So what if "Cigarettes and Alcohol" brazenly lifts T. Rex's "Bang a Gong"? Or that the hit single "Shakermaker" makes off with the New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"? Oasis has a knack for the instantly memorable melody -- you can hear the bones of the Who, the Sex Pistols and the Smiths rattling in almost every track on the group's debut album, "Definitely Maybe."

"I'm not going to apologize that 600,000 people have bought my album in Europe because our music is derivative," says Noel Gallagher by phone from London, with a laugh heard all the way to the bank. "That's demeaning to the record buyer. That's saying, 'You're thick and stupid, and you should not like this record because all this music has come before.' I'm not going to apologize for that, I'm going to show you my bank balance."

Indeed, the Gallagher brothers and the rest of Oasis -- guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, drummer Tony McCarroll and bassist Paul McGuigan -- stood to make a few quid after "Definitely Maybe" entered the British charts in August at No. 1.

"Tonight, I'm a rock 'n' roll star," Liam Gallagher prophesies on the album's first track. It took just two days for the disc to go gold, before becoming the biggest-selling debut album in the history of Britain.

Three years earlier, Oasis was quietly incubating in Brunage, a dreary little suburb of Manchester. While Noel Gallagher was marking time in the United States as a roadie for Inspiral Carpets, his mum mentioned that his younger sib had started a band. Noel arrived back home to catch Liam's debut performance with the rest of what later would become Oasis.

"They had plenty of attitude, but they didn't have any songs," says Noel Gallagher, who recognized immediately Liam's natural gift as a front man. He wasted no time in commandeering the band and declaring that, from now on, he'd be doing the writing and Liam would sing. Period.

"He's a good singer; he's the singer of the band, and that's that," Noel Gallagher says. "I mean, I'm not going to stroke his ego any more than the press has already stroked it for him. He don't write no music; he don't write no lyrics. And that's all I got to say about that."

A couple of years later, Creation Records chief Alan McGee signed the band on the spot after hearing it perform four songs after, as legend has it, Oasis threatened the owner of a Glasgow pub with arson if he didn't let the group on stage.

"We didn't even have to ask for a record deal; they asked us to sign to them," Noel Gallagher says. "So that immediately put us in a bargaining position." Mr. McGee realized he had the sexy, swaggering front man every label prays for and a songwriter well-versed in the pop catalog.

"People will never go and see a band just because you've got an attitude. You go and see a band because they've got good songs," Noel Gallagher says. "Say, for instance, you heard a song by the Spin Doctors on the radio, and you liked it. You'd have no inkling that the lead singer looks like . . . a complete and utter idiot. All that comes secondary. It's the song that strikes you first."

Is Oasis' stage presence -- which borders on indifference -- calculated to keep attention focused on the songs?

"I would actually give out Oasis blindfolds on the way into the gig, to say to people, 'Just listen to the music,' " Mr. Gallagher says. "You're not there to look at anything; you're there to listen."

On the other hand, "We're not that good of musicians," he says, perhaps a bit disingenuously. (Last year Neil Young's band, Crazy Horse, coaxed him on stage to jam on his guitar -- bequeathed to him by the Smiths' Johnny Marr.)

"I'm serious. If I could play guitar and do a funky little dance routine, believe me, I'd do it. . . . But I'm afraid that once I stand on that stage, I can't move a muscle, because I'm too busy looking at the fret board. And the same goes for the rest of the guys."

Oasis made its first jaunt to America last fall, playing the small-club circuit in pursuit of fans. This time, the band will be headlining larger venues, but still smaller than gigs back home in England, where their next show has sold out a 13,500-seat venue.

"I don't think it's important to crack the U.S. market; I think it's important to go there and play to the people who bought the album," Noel Gallagher says. Their current release in the States is "Live Forever."

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