Liverpool musician Chris Pierce contextualises and revisits Oasis’ fourth record Standing on the Shoulders of Giants and insists there’s much to be cherished inside the Gallagher brother’s lost treasure trove.
As the cocaine blizzard of Britpop cleared and the nineties came to end, Noel Gallagher could look back on the decade with a satisfied grin. He’d been the brains behind the most successful band in Britain for decades, had written an era-defining album in Definitely Maybe, wrote all-time classics which made millions and lived out the full rock star excess of Be Here Now – the fastest selling album in history. added to which some of the biggest gigs of the century.
Commercially the band had nothing to prove. Critically they had everything to play for.
Oasis’ previous studio album Be Here Now, although rated at the time of release, had bombed after the hype and mystery. Noel hates the album describing it as ‘…the sound a load of guys on coke, not giving a fuck.’ Oasis needed to prove, at most to themselves, that they still had it, that they were a force to be reckoned with.
The band closed the 90s with a collection of career-spanning B-Sides: The Masterplan seemed to act as a closing chapter. Its songs covered the drug-fuelled rush of the early days (Fade Away, Headshrinker) to more personal, about dreaming for an escape (Going Nowhere, Rockin’ Chair). The album worked well as a reminder of how important the band was; especially after Be Here Now – only one B-side from this era is present on The Masterplan, proving Noel’s strong dislike for the album).
Noel reputedly stopped taking cocaine in 1998 and shunning the party lifestyle of London retreated to the country. With a new state of mind, Noel began to write with more depth making Standing on the Shoulder of Giants (SOTSOG), the darkest Oasis album to date. With the songs finished the band moved to France to record. But in the classic Oasis tradition, things were never going to run smoothly.
In an unsurprising move, producer of their three multi-million selling albums, Owen Morris, was out and Mark ‘Spike’ Stent was in, proving that Oasis where desperate to rid themselves of their old sound.
Then Bonehead and Guigsy, the two original members and founders of the group, left during pre-production; Bonehead being told to leave after a drunken spat with Noel, clearly ignoring the strict no-alcohol rule enforced during the recording. Guigsy followed soon after, which could have been seen as a blessing in disguise as Noel has said that ‘poor Guigsy…he couldn’t have played the new bass lines…‘ Noel also told the NME that Bonehead‘s departure was ‘hardly Paul leaving the Beatles.’
So with the band down to three members, Noel was left to record all the guitar parts, including bass. This is evident in the heavy bass lines that lead the majority of songs on SOTSOG, as in Go Let It Out and Fuckin’ in the Bushes.
With Stent on board this was the first time the band had the scope to truly explore their sound. The album is littered with drum loops, sitars, backwards guitars and sampling. Opener Fuckin’ in the Bushes contains a crashing drum loop, samples from the Isle of Wight Festival film and a riff that Zeppelin would have been proud of.
Liam makes his presence felt in the album, relishing the new sound and delivering some of his best vocal performances to date; even contributing his first song to the Oasis canon, Little James. A simple song with laughable lyrics and a brilliant Hey Jude coda. However desperate his song writing capabilities were at the time there’s no denying the power in Liam‘s voice. He twists and turns giving us snarling venom in Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth is, paranoid fear in Gas Panic! and heartfelt sadness in Roll it Over.
Even though Oasis were trying to open their horizons musically, they still managed to squeeze in a homage to their heroes, The Beatles with Who Feels Love? a tune borrowing heavily from the psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows. It’s all backwards guitars, chanting lyrics and heavy bass lines and although not as revolutionary or groundbreaking as The Beatles classic, it signifies a change of direction in Noel‘s lyric writing.
Throughout the album, Noel gives his best lyrical performance too – something he hasn’t bettered since. Instead of drunkenly digging for some simplistic rhyme, Noel has written from the heart on this album. Describing in haunting details his coke induced panic attacks in the progressive Gas Panic!, the table-hopping celebrity lifestyle in Roll it Over and Where Did it All Go Wrong and the endless hangovers of the Britpop days in Sunday Morning Call.
The latter two’s lead vocals provided by Noel himself as he admitted, ‘I worked harder on that album than anything before and anything since,’ this coming across in the array of instruments he plays on the album and his new found approach to lyric writing.
They still manage to capture the coke-crazed punkiness in I Can See A Liar, as Liam gives a great Johnny Rotten impression on top of a crunching power chord riff. It has the weakest lyrics on the album but Noel has said it was put on the final cut due to Liam demanding it be there.
The typical Oasis trait of great B-sides that should have been on the album is applied with SOTSOG.
We are treated to a wealth of great music tucked away with Q Magazine placing Let’s All Make Believe, a B-side from the Go Let It Out single on the top of their ‘100 Greatest Lost Songs‘ list.
The song is dark and edgy for Oasis, with its augmented chords and unusual melody, which is probably why it was neglected as an album track. Q went onto say that if the song had been placed on the album it would have pushed their original four star review, to a full five out of five. But there is a whole bunch of great b-sides from these sessions, (As Long As They’ve Got) Cigarettes in Hell, One Way Road and Full On, proving that this was a much more creative time for the band.
Meanwhile Stent is everywhere on the record adding backing singers, organs and a whole orchestra of foreign noises, something the early albums are barren of. This gives the album a more eclectic sound than Owen Morris‘ ‘brick wall’ method of everything cranked up in the mix.
The album was released on February 28 2000, almost three years since Be Here Now. It followed the number one single Go Let It Out, a clever first single to get the band noticed again as it’s easily the most Oasis sounding tune on the album. It was greeted with mixed reviews, with the NME giving it a cold 6 out of 10 but Q and the Guardian giving it very favourable reviews.
The fans were also confused with the darker sound of the album and they made this known by making it the worst selling Oasis album to date, selling 600,000 copies in the UK and just under 3 million world wide. It was a confusing time for Oasis as the scene that they helped (unknowingly) create was long gone and forgotten. Indie had shed its original meaning and rock had lost its edge. Rap was now in, pushing its way into the mainstream.
Oasis soldiered on regardless. They toured the album to sell out crowds across Europe, a tour which Noel subsequently walked off, before meeting up with the band again for their sell out shows at Wembley, which gave birth to the first Oasis live album Familiar to Millions.
So, why write about so positively about the least successful Oasis album and one a lot of fans don’t even own? The reason is that in SOTSOG we get the first real experimental Oasis album. It’s the sound of a band excited about making music again. And it’s the closest they’ve come to matching The Beatles in terms of musical richness.
It was an album Oasis had to make, an album to show their fans the dark side of their character.
It was an avenue they should have carried on walking down but one is inclined to think that due to the poor sales, they have decided to play it safe by rehashing the old songs and trying to recapture the magic of the nineties with Oasis Mk II. But the magic was already there on this their great lost record.