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  • Tony Harris

MASTERFUL


As per usual, I was browsing through a second hand record stall the other day and saw several copies of the final Oasis compilation "Time Flies 1994-2009" which was largely a compilation of all 27 of their UK single releases.


Two thoughts immediately sprang to mind...


Firstly, why would anyone part with such a stellar compilation from a band who had made such an enormous impact.


Secondly, is it really 12 years since the band finally imploded.


So this led to me thinking quite a lot about Oasis, which I confess to not having done very often since the crushing disappointment of "Be Here Now" on its release in 1997. First thing I did was dig out the offending album and in truth I don't really like it anymore than I did back then. However, the understanding that this was released at the height of the band's cocaine fuelled success and accompanying excesses is all too apparent. On reflection, its fault is simply that it is just too overblown - the songs are too long and what the album could really do with is some judicious editing and a little more light and shade because it does plod.


I know I am not alone in losing touch with Oasis at that point and frankly most acts that make such a colossal wrong turn normally find it hard to retain their fanbase but many Oasis fans remained loyal to the end, giving them #1 singles and #1 albums in the UK consistently for the next 12 years. Inevitably with each album being touted as the best since "What's The Story Morning Glory".


With the exception of "Don't Believe The Truth", I don't think anything even that made much of a dent in my consciousness. It only did because I liked the Kinks pastiche both in the track and its accompanying video for "The Importance Of Being Idle" which bore more than a passing resemblance to "Dead End Street".


However, when you listen to "Time Flies", you realise that for all its span, there are some tracks that still have classic etched through them - mainly from the first two albums - and a lot of others that you vaguely remember but would probably struggle to hum when put on the spot to do so.


"The Hindu Times" anyone?


Yet Oasis still seem present in our lives - the almost cartoonish caricatures of the warring Gallagher brothers and a memory of when they were the biggest band in Britain, much to the bemusement of our transatlantic cousins (but then we could say the same for Country & Western).


Perhaps that's Oasis... Country & North Western...


There is a theory that most acts who can be classified as "important" normally have an imperial period of three albums where everything they produce is exceptional. Sometimes, it might be four if the period of time between releases is more condensed. I am never quite so sure of this as a foolproof theory - Dylan might have a fantastic four in a row run around 64-66 but has also popped up with the odd periodic classic in the 70s (and the odd late-period wonder in this century). U2, as I have already discussed previously, seemed always to intersperse a classic album with a sighter in between.


But I do think, under normal circumstances, that the really great artists can normally leave three great albums of work. Which would leave us thinking that Oasis come up just short because whilst "Definitely Maybe" is one of the most scintillating debuts of all time and "What's The Story" is full of monumental memories, as stated earlier, you would be hard-pressed to include "Be Here Now" as even approaching imperial.


However, that overlooks just how prolific the band was during the period of their first two albums when they were producing a ton of other magnificent songs that were often just included as B-sides.


What is fascinating is that, during the time of the Brit-pop explosion, the 45 was not a particularly cherished format and although they did release all their singles on 7 inch, their singles were really to be found on CD. This unloved format normally needed at least three and sometimes four tracks to make their purchase seem worthwhile to fans. Like their 60s heroes as well as The Jam and The Smiths, Oasis (especially Noel Gallagher) wanted to put as much effort into delivering quality to their fans.


Which brings us to our latest discussion, "The Masterplan" because if any album confirms just how powerful and relevant Oasis were and still can be then it is this odd 1998 release that pulled together many of the songs that had appeared on their earlier singles (mainly around the first two albums) ostensibly for the still bemused American market.


I would hazard that some of their very best work can be found on this throwaway compilation. When pushed, Noel would tend to agree now, blaming his youthful arrogance that ignored advice that some of these potential classics should be held back for separate release.


His claim was that he didn't want the band to release anything s**t. I rather wish in later years he had taken his own advice.


By and large, this should be considered their legend-reinforcing third album.


The opening track "Acquiesce" starts with an odd static reference from "Morning Glory" and then turns into an astounding duet between the two brothers (not a common occurrence) that mistakenly is claimed to be about their relationship but actually is around friendship generally.


Track one and it is already a typically explosive start and a track that stayed in their live set right until the end.



Strangely, when compared to the band's previous release there is light and shade throughout out the record. The delightful "Underneath the Sky" feels quite psychedelic whilst "Going Nowhere" clearly shows the influence of Burt Bacharach, whom I saw greet Noel as a guest star at the Royal Festival Hall around this time.


It is the criticism often levelled at Oasis that they seem to be musical magpies and wear their influences so blatantly and yet I would counter that it doesn't matter because it still sounds unmistakably Oasis, regardless of its antecedents.


So what if they sometimes borrow from the Beatles or The Stones or The Kinks or T Rex or Slade, they are good influences to have and they still turn them into their own confection. The live version of "I Am The Walrus" acts as testament to that and, I would suggest, their sense of brazen fearlessness because surely that would be classified as one of the most uncoverable of Beatles tracks.


However, there are truly moving songs in this line-up like the sensitive "Talk Tonight" which was written by Noel after walking out from the band during their US tour in 1994 after another flashpoint with the band. It is low-key without ever dropping into mawkishness which one or two of their later ballads could do.



"Half A World Away" is familiar now through its use as the theme tune to "The Royle Family" but it also keeps the right side of sentimental with a familiar wistfulness that Oasis always managed to pull off irrespective of their latently aggressive attitude. It is allegedly now the band's favourite of all these songs.


"Rocking Chair" is compared to a McCartney number - particularly as it is performed in a minor key - and it has a singalong quality that old "Thumbs-Aloft" would like but it reminds me more of Slade during their majestic "In Flame" recordings. Noel was undoubtedly a fan of them. In fact for me, whilst many bemoan the lack of "Whatever" in this album's line-up, I would have liked their cover version of "Cum On Feel The Noise" which is a rollicking good song performed by a rollicking good band. Oasis were about good times after all.



I am even something of a fan of "The Swamp Song" which is often decried by critics, as I feel it is the kind of bluesy work-out that the band admired in their predecessors and wanted to have a crack at themselves. It does though perhaps point to where the band's excesses would later take them.


It is astonishing that they were prepared to reduce so many classic songs as filler for their CD singles because this album is full of wonders and surprises showing just how deft Noel Gallagher was as a songwriter and just what a musical force Oasis were at the time.


And if that wasn't enough, they save the very best for last... the title track "The Masterplan".


This might just be one of the very best songs they ever produced and hindsight from all the participants but particularly Noel Gallagher and Creation Records' owner, Alan McGee regularly acknowledges the lunacy in not holding the song back for greater things.


There's an acoustic opening that sounds like vintage Bowie, an orchestral backing that's pure Beatles not to mention the backward guitar and a chorus and tempo that feels closely related to "You Can't Always Get What You Want". It is a glorious mix of all their influences and yet sounds like it could only come from that band at at that time.



Clearly, "The Masterplan" is the third album they should have released and their direction may (though probably not) have take a different path. I doubt it would have curbed the band's excesses but it is likely to have given them the run of three great albums that would have had Oasis seen immediately as genuine musical force for good rather than a mid 90s firework that became something of a pastiche as time flew.


Their legacy is something at least Noel Gallagher still feels is important and perhaps if some more of these less familiar tracks had been given more prominent exposure, their reach would have gone further and their affection stayed longer outside their loyal core. Maybe the world might have come more forgiving of their less engaging output particularly across the ocean.


Interestingly, the best Oasis compilation is "Stop The Clocks" (put together around 2006) which had the band's oversight and a good deal of "The Masterplan" is included to the exclusion of a considerable amount of later work and is an excellent reminder of just how good they were.


"The Masterplan" is an extraordinary piece of work that actually could easily have included further excellent tracks from a time when the band were in their pomp. Considering it is made up of a ragbag of what were originally considered leftovers, it hangs together like a proper album with all the right changes in mood and meaning.


This is the record that cements their legacy. All the best bits of what made Oasis so exciting are here and this album, more than anything, stands as confirmation of the status and respect they deserve, no matter what melodrama would follow.


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