Oasis returns to the arena with 'Don't Believe The Truth'
Does the fact that only five of the songs on the newest Oasis album, "Don't Believe The Truth," are actually penned by Noel Gallagher make the album actually more representative (democratically) of Oasis, or less like Oasis (artistically)? Does the fact that Ringo Starr's son (Zak Starkey) drums on the album mean that the brothers Gallagher have gone further in their miming of the Beatles? And is it really possible that the album could beat out the perennial classics "Definitely, Maybe" and "(What's the Story)" as the Mancunian siblings have babbled to the eager press?
This, the sixth studio album from the rock'n'roll snarlers, seems to come weighed down by as many questions as expectations. Following 2002's mediocre "Heathen Chemistry," which was preceeded by the lackluster "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" and "Be Here Now," "Don't Believe The Truth" has a waiting audience that is begging to be recaptured and taken back to the glory days of mid-nineties era Oasis. All the listeners who took "Champagne Supernova" as their mantra and sat glued to MTV to see the video of "Don't Look Back in Anger" for the millionth time ten years ago (that bygone age when MTV actually played music-related programming), have been waiting for a return to form.
And there's plenty of proof for the possibility of it: Oasis's ability to produce a fantastic rock'n'roll anthem was never in question -- as evidenced by "The Masterplan," which is full of them -- it's just that such gems as "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" and "Songbird" were hidden in a clump of lingering iffy tunes on the last three recordings.
So does "Don't Believe the Truth" deliver the goods? Well, yes and no. By no means does it touch on the status of "Definitely, Maybe" or "(What's The Story)" but, at the same time, it's an improvement over the last three records.
But more importantly than it's vaulted position in the catalogue of Oasis recordings, the best thing about the album is that it sounds like an Oasis album should sound: solid, classic British rock'n'roll. There's none of the faux 80s nostalgia that's flooding the scene with cookie-cutter bands like Kaiser Chiefs and The Bravery, and it's happily devoid of the cloying sweetness of Mr. Chris Martin's latest output. These Oasis tunes are soaringly simple and helplessly catchy rock, meant to be shouted just as much from rooftops as from the back of the local pub. Hearing the ever-recognizable Gallagher brothers powering through just a couple great songs seems at least a partial antidote to the speed with which carbon-copy four-piece bands have taken independent music in a stranglehold in the last year.
Bucking the latest trends as per usual (you think the self-proclaimed world's greatest rock band would follow a trend?), "Don't Believe The Truth" often reverts instead to apeing vintage rock songs of the 1960s. But their ever-enduring fondness for the Fab Four shines softer on this album, while more prominently stand homages to bands like the Stones, such as in the title of the track "Mucky Fingers" and the tune of "Lyla." Even a novice ear can find the piano riff of "Waiting For The Man" in "Mucky Fingers" and "Part of the Queue" sounds a damn lot like "Golden Brown." But this is not a new tactic for Oasis (take another listen to "Shakermaker"), and it continues to work brilliantly.
The high points on the album are mostly of Noel's doing. "Mucky Fingers" is honestly brilliant, all jangly and cool with a little touch of folky harmonica dancing in and out behind the powerful piano. "Lyla," the album's first single, is easily the most classically Oasis-sounding tune, backed by a pushing march from Starkey.
Noel's "Part of the Queue" is additionally great. Although the everyman-quality of the lyrics is bizarrely less bombastic than the Oasis of yore ("I'll call out / No-one will hear" seems odd coming from the man who basically proclaimed himself the next Lennon), it still exudes a force and a neediness that rings through. It strangely works extremely well for a song that starts off with a riff akin to (of all things) an early Badly Drawn Boy track, that ends up being an anthemic song about very little of anything.
Liam's "Love Like A Bomb" rivals "Mucky Fingers" for best song of the album. It's easy-natured and simple, and thrives on the fact that it comes off as totally honest and affecting. Hearing Liam "na-na-nana" his way through the second verse is downright sweet for a man usually depicted by the press as snarling and snapping. Unfortunately, Liam's other attempts at songwriting aren't as strong: "The Meaning Soul" is rough as sand paper. And as for "God Must Think I'm Abel," well that would make Noel yes, yes we get it.
And as for Andy Bell's contribution: who thought it was a good idea to give a Welshman the reins to the album opener? Bell's "Turn Up The Sun" is pretty abominable, littered with trite lyrics like, "C'mon turn up the sun / Turn it up for everyone / Love one another." Oasis was never known as a group of profound lyricists or poet laureates, but that's near sickening. The album almost ends with an equally saccharine note, but luckily "Let There Be Love" is saved when Noel takes the vocal lead halfway through, interrupting with a coo of "C'mon baby blue" and a falsetto build-up, thereby pulling the song partially out of its glucose-induced coma and into a shiny new verse.
Oasis plays in Massachusettes this Friday, after selling-out Madison Square Garden and thereby proving that they are still an impressive force in the music world. Unfortunately, "Don't Believe The Truth" does not build upon that force, but only adds to it laterally. The album succeeds, stands on its own and is brilliant at points, but it will never be "Definitely, Maybe." "Don't Believe The Truth" is good enough and a great change of pace from the rest of today's music scene, but the Oasis heyday is probably over. Don't look back in anger, but accept the new album for what it is.