“The old paradigm,” Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, points out, “had it that all marketing was selling a product. In the new model, however, the product always takes a back seat to the real product, the brand.” While the world of manafacturing struggled in the ’80s and ’90s to get to grips with a world where the logo was more important than the shirt it was stitched onto, where a jeans logo could ultimately sell a bottle of perfume, rock n’ roll has never had such problems. Elvis’ sneer and hip shake could sell anything from t-shirts and posters through to rhinestone capes and fake sideburns, regardless of the songs written for him by the likes of Lieber and Stoller.
Oasis, ten years ago, became a household brand, at least in Britain. On the back of their attitude and style as much as their songwriting capability. Millions of people bought into the idea of Oasis. The latest incarnation in a list of great British bands, the Beatles, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, as the Gallagher brothers were keen to suggest. They, more than anyone, came to embody the idea of Britpop. An idea that initially suggested something intrinsically British about the musical outlook of the groups involved, but went on to, in fact, signify their provincial outlook, and the impossibility of selling the music outside of the UK and Ireland (who claimed the Gallaghers – 2nd generation Irish immigrants – for their own).
That’s not to say that there wasn’t talent lurking in the Oasis camp. Sub-Slade anthems and Beatles rip-offs apart, when Noel Gallagher was on form they were indeed superb. Wonderwall for all its apparent simplicity is a song that only Gallagher could write, and yet anyone can sing and play. Live Forever, Champagne Supernova, and Don’t look back in anger all managed to capture a certain zeitgeist, albeit from a shallow time when new Labour sold old ideas slipped into glossy new formats.
Don’t Believe the Truth is Oasis’ sixth album proper (not counting B-side collections and live recordings), which may come as a surprise to many. It’s been quite some time since the band set the world alight with a great tune, and the marketing and publicity onslaught surrounding its release suggests that all involved think it’s time to change that state of affairs.
Enthusiasm and attitude, though, will not cut it this time. There are plenty of decent tracks on the album, but precious little genius or surprise. Current single The Importance of Being Idle is big and ambitious, but ultimately sounds like a DIY Kinks pastiche. Love like a Bomb written by Mr Liam Gallagher is Beatles-lite. A rythm and melody without insight or soul. Contributions from Gem and Andy Bell do little to change the sound or outlook.
The two outstanding tracks on the album, Mucky Fingers and Lyla, both written by Noel Gallagher suggest that his is a talent still worth watching. Mucky Fingers in particular seems to be breaking away from his musical roots and moving somewhere different. A throbbing guitar line is matched by vitriolic lyrics that could be read as being addressed to Tony Blair, baby brother Liam, or indeed himself. It’s superbly angry and melodic, and sadly out of place on the album as a result. Lyla is less inspired, but still a cut above the rest of the album. It’s quirky rythm daring you to tap your feet once more to Oasis.
So, in truth, Oasis are back flogging the brand rather than the product. It will sell by the bucketload to people who have ‘brand loyalty’, but it won’t excite. Which is a shame. Noel Gallagher could yet rejuvenate himself and become once more one of Britain’s outstanding songwriters. But not while he clings to the safe option.
The recruitment of Zak Starkey to their ranks will be seen by cynics, such as myself, as yet another sad attempt at linking themselves with the Beatles. They may wish that people viewed the Oasis brand in a similar light to that of the Beatles, but without invention and imagination on the songwriting front they’re more likely to be placed alongside that other great British music brand – Status Quo.