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Britpop redux
A new beginning for Oasis and a brave new world for Coldplay

In the run-up up to the May 5 elections that returned Labour Party leader Tony Blair as PM, two things were taken for granted: 1) Blair would retain his position, since he faced no significant opposition; and 2) it would be a pyrrhic victory in that the Clintonesque popularity he had enjoyed prior to Iraq was being eroded with each painful new revelation about the nature of the conflict. Blair had found himself between Iraq and a hard place, thanks to the Bush regimeís insistence on invading Iraq without the UN and his own unwavering support even as the British public turned against the war. David Remnick, in a long "Letter from London" in the May 2 New Yorker, borrowed a term Blairís aides had coined to characterize his painful march to victory ó "the masochism campaign" ó as he detailed the daily harassments his subject allowed himself to be subjected to by the British media. "Why does the Labour Party have flowers as its logo? Isnít that a bit . . . girlie?" was just one of the humiliating questions Blair fielded from a pair of adolescent talk-show hosts. And it only got worse.

Oasis know a thing or two about masochistic campaigns. Ten years ago, they conquered the British press, who celebrated the hard-hitting melodicism of Definitely Maybe (Epic), dubbed them "The Sex Beatles" for their sneering, hook-laden guitar pop, and sent them off to America to do what generations of British bands had been doing since the very first Invasion. "Oasis summed up the sprit of the times: the sense that things have been crap for a very long time and that things were about to get better," says one commentator in the documentary portion of the new, special, tenth-anniversary DualDisc reissue of Definitely Maybe. "There was a positive feeling that weíre going to make it, and thatís a definite message in the whole thing," comments another friend of the band. Still others chime in about the albumís being one of the best debuts of all time.

But even though Kurt Cobain was gone, alternative rock ó distinctly American alternative rock ó was still king when Oasis hit these shores. And for all the airplay Definitely Maybe generated, the band struggled to gain a foothold. By late í95, when (Whatís the Story) Morning Glory? (Epic) was released, it was clear that US audiences were underwhelmed by what had been labeled Britpop. And as Oasis struggled to fill venues half the size of the arenas they commanded overseas on tours that could, given the obvious tension between singer Liam Gallagher and his songwriting/guitar-playing brother Noel, be considered masochistic, they were dealt one last indignity: their arch Britpop rivals, Blur, scored a Top 10 hit with "Song 2," which borrowed heavily from the Amerindie æsthetics of bands like Pavement. Perhaps, like the Kinks, the Jam, and the Smiths before them, Oasis were simply too British.

I try not to read too much into official band bios, not just because theyíre written by record companies and read like advertising copy but because itís only recently, at major-label Web sites, that the texts of these bios have become available to the general public. And yet Epicís two-page pitch for the new Oasis album Donít Believe the Truth demands a little reading between the lines. "Oasis have always been at their best when they didnít give a fuck," it announces in boldface, suggesting that perhaps the band went off course for a few years by "giving a fuck." Donít Believe the Truth is trumpeted as a "glorious rebirth. Itís the Oasis that blew you away and an Oasis youíve never met."

In other words, the self-indulgence, self-pity, and self-importance that began to infect the band in the wake of their great American failure have all been cast aside. Liam and Noel donít give a shit anymore. Theyíre not trying to please you, me, or anybody else. Theyíve returned to the basics of being a band, and though the Blair government isnít even half as big a target as the Bush regime for the "anger can be power" equation the Clash set forth 25 years ago, thereís something to be mad about in England again. Donít Believe the Truth is a product of all that and more, including a camaraderie that has bassist Andy Bell, guitarist Gem Archer, and Liam joining Noel in writing songs. (Zak Starkey rounded out the studio band on drums.)

Donít Believe the Truth is no American Idiot. Even when Liam has sounded angry, Oasis, who play the Tweeter Center 20th Anniversary show on Friday June 24, have always been more about the escapism of grand anthemic pronouncements framed by wonderwalls of melodic guitars and oversized hooks than about detailing everyday struggles or taking a political stand. And thereís plenty more of that on the new album. The disc opens by leading slowly up to the tuneful Technicolor explosion of "Turn Up the Sun," a driving rocker that hinges on the hopeful mantra "Love one another" but at least makes an apology or two: "I carry madness everywhere I go/Over the border and back to the show/So if you see me and I look right through/You shouldnít take it as a reflection on you." But the punk I never really heard in Oasis takes hold in the pounding, monochromatic, 1-4-5 chords and political pronouncements of "Mucky Fingers": "You found your god in a paperback/You get your history from the Union Jack/And all your brothers and sisters have gone/And they wonít come back." (On the DVD portion of the DualDisc version of the album, Noel admits that the production of "Mucky Fingers" was inspired by the Velvetsí "Waiting for My Man." Which may be a good argument against these sorts of extras.)

Elsewhere, Noel says more with the title "Part of the Queue" than he does with any particular lyric, but the acoustic guitar-driven walk through the streets of a suddenly strange city does advise "Stand tall, stand proud" in the face of the harsh realities of urban life. I wonít pretend to know Oasisís political leanings. Most of the DVD interview footage with the band consists of each memberís pointing out how "fuckiní brilliant" each song is. So, yeah, itís the same narcissistic Oasis weíve always loved to hate. But itís also their first album to make good on the promise of Definitely Maybe. And maybe it really is a "new beginning" for the group.

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Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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