Bigger isn't always better Review: Oasis' noisy and bloated 'Be Here Now' a testament to immodesty, not talent.

August 26, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band? Let the Stones keep that title. Oasis has something bigger in mind -- literally. As the quintet has made clear both onstage and in interviews, what it wants is to be the World's Biggest Rock and Roll Band.

Already the most popular group in Britain, where gossip about the Gallagher brothers -- singer Liam and guitarist/songwriter Noel -- is followed as avidly as Kennedy clan doings are here, Oasis is out to dominate the international market. And how, exactly, does the band plan to pull off such a conquest?

Simple: It's going to beat us into submission.

That, at least, appears to be the thinking behind the band's third album, "Be Here Now" (Epic 68530, arriving in stores today). A blaring, bloated brute of an album, "Be Here Now" almost goes out of its way to seem oversized, from the dense layers of guitar crammed into each arrangement to the sonic sprawl of the songs themselves.

Where once Oasis specialized in tightly constructed pop songs, now it deals only in epics, with many of the album's tunes clocking in at seven minutes or longer. That wouldn't be so bad if the band spent all that time making music, but in many cases it's just making noise, extending its songs with pointless barrages of feedback and sound effects. After a while, it becomes like the studio equivalent of Hamburger Helper, tasty filler that makes the meat go further -- a full minute's worth in the case of "D'You Know What I Mean?"

But it's not about making the songs longer; it's about making them sound bigger. All those clangorous guitars add up, generating the sort of sonic mass suggesting a cast of thousands (as opposed to the more modest two guitars/bass/ drums line-up the band sports onstage).

It creates a sense of scale for these songs, and that's important. Because without a screaming wall of guitars behind him, Liam Gallagher would sound flat-out ridiculous mouthing lyrics as megalomaniacal as those on "My Big Mouth," in which he wonders, "Who'll put on my shoes while they're walking/Slowly down the hall of fame?"

Modest lad, our Liam.

Of course, given the way Oasis is treated at home in Britain, it's no wonder the Gallaghers are so full of themselves. Noel, the Gallagher who wrote "My Big Mouth" and every other song on "Be Here Now," pronounced his band more popular than God in a recent interview (God, on tour with U2, declined comment). Perhaps that's why, in "D'You Know What I Mean?", he has his brother sing, "I met my Maker I said, 'Listen up man, they don't even know you're born.' " Gallagher Bros. P.R. to the rescue?

Yet for all its big talk and big sound, "Be Here Now" amounts to surprisingly little. The songs may be catchy as jingles, but they're rarely any more substantial. There's a monochromatic quality to much of the writing, making it seem as if each new song were just a minor variation on the last.

It helps that there's enough energy and grit in Liam Gallagher's singing to make even the slightest melody quiver with intensity. How many other singers could have turned the stock Bowie-isms of the string-soaked "Stand By Me" into something approximating drama, or pulled pathos from the repetitious refrain of "Don't Go Away"? Liam's singing is clearly one of the most seductive aspects of Oasis' sound.

But it's going to take more than a few sweetly sung choruses to turn these tuneful tidbits into full-blown songs. No matter how nicely the band dresses things up -- tossing a recorder atop the title tune, adding a rollicking electric piano to "Magic Pie," even giving the full-orchestral Beatles treatment to "All Around the World" -- it can't quite disguise the fact that its material is thin to the point of transparency.

That's not to say "Be Here Now" is a failure, exactly. Canny craftsmen that they are, the lads in Oasis do a decent job of distracting us from the album's deficiencies, building up an impressive head of steam in "I Hope, I Think, I Know" and investing such energy in the out-chorus to "All Around the World" that you almost don't mind its seemingly interminable length.

In other words, Oasis is much better at playing than it is at writing. Maybe that's why the Beatles comparisons that have trailed the band since "(What's the Story) Morning Glory" don't quite work; if anything, the band's crass charm and riff-milking enthusiasm seems closer to the spirit of the early Rolling Stones. All they need now is material strong enough to give us (and them) some satisfaction.

Pub Date: 8/26/97

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