Hey all, welcome to the second entry in the new Ranting About Music series “Feedback”, where I look at a less known album by a big group. I’ve decided there has to be a few qualifiers: “less known” is in comparison to the artist’s other work and how it’s status has held up over the years–doesn’t necessarily have to be in hard numbers. Additionally, the album has to be at least 3 years old. Feel free to Facebook, tweet, email, or comment me with suggestions!
While I’d never call Oasis one of my favorite artists, they’ve stuck with me for a long time. I first got into them back in 2006, just missing Don’t Believe the Truth, a record that, despite being billed as the band’s “comeback” album, I never really dug. Around the same time that I discovered Oasis, I made another, possibly more important discovery: the CD section of Half-Price Books. The section is essentially the Land of Misfit Albums; CDs with scratched, broken, or written on jewel cases end up there, making it prime territory for the hits of the past 5 to 20 years that we don’t think about anymore, the misses of today, obscure stuff, and tons of rightful castoffs.
So being able to find Oasis’ big albums–Definitely Maybe, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and The MasterPlan at HPB seems pretty fitting. While Britain was still heavily Oasis loyal, the number of their albums you can find for them at HBP implies most of America stopped paying attention long ago (only Aerosmith and R.E.M. had more, if I remember right). In the States, Oasis had limited success during their 90’s run, culminating with “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova”, but even that dwindled to almost nothing by 2008’s Dig Out Your Soul.
More than any other of their albums, Dig Out Your Soul sound worn. Guitarists Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer’s guitars have their usual overdrive, but instead of sounding crisp and fresh, something about them sounds ragged, but still kicking. Zak Starkey’s drums get a similar treatment (as does Andy Bell’s bass), but the grittiest element of the band is Liam Gallagher’s voice. After a decade of cigarettes and alcohol reduced his once famous singing voice to a croak, Gallagher mentioned that he quit smoking and took up running before the recording of DOYS, and it shows; he’s able to snarl his way through opener “Bag It Up”, and makes “I’m Outta Time” even more charming.
The album begins with one hell of a 4 song punch. “Bag It Up” details what could easily be a bad trip with some massive guitar riffs, “The Turning” turns a choir into arena rock, and Noel’s first singing appearance “Waiting For the Rapture” is a pop song cum distortion pedals and huge drums. Lead single “The Shock of The Lightning” shakes the lead out with an unrelenting drum beat and a laughably basic but sharp guitar riff. It encapsulates what makes Dig Out Your Soul stand above just about everything else the band had done since Be Here Now: finally, Oasis wasn’t trying to be Oasis, they knew themselves better than that.
Similarly, the two ballads on DOYS, one from each Gallagher, are the most self-aware songs each has written. For all their talk about this being The Oasis Comeback, the brothers must have known something was at risk (Oasis had always been a volatile unit, the Gallaghers in particular). The vulnerability in Liam’s Lennon-esque “I’m Outta Time” and Noel’s “Falling Down” is only magnified by the very public split the brothers had after the album’s release. Liam sounds more hard on himself, but reaching out on the Lennon-esque “I’m Outta Time”, where he asks someone to stay. Meanwhile, Noel’s “Falling Down” has desperation wrapped up in the line “I tried to talk with God to no avail”, looking for answers and getting nothing in return. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to, I don’t know, quitting a band.
In promotion, much was made of this being Oasis’s “democratic” album, with Liam writing three songs and Andy Bell and Gem Archer getting a song each. Well, Liam’s songs are quite nice. Besides “I’m Outta Time”, he also contributes the quick, sloppy “Ain’t Got Nothin'” and closer “Soldier On”, which might go down in history as the Most Ironic Closing Song on the Album Before the Band Breaks Up ever. If Bell or Archer are master songcrafters, it doesn’t show here, since they bring up Oasis at their worst: bold faced Beatles imitators and mid-tempo bar band material. Archer’s “To Be Where There’s Life” yearns for Revolver-era Beatles in an uninteresting way, and Bell’s “The Nature of Reality” is a standard blues stomper that gets outclassed by the album’s other 3 or 4 blues stompers.
Those two songs and possibly “Ain’t Got Nothing” and “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady” are what keeps Dig Out Your Soul from being an end to end success. It got generally good reviews, discounting a few backhanded compliments about being “a high point in a career deficient of high points” and a particularly catty take on the “Why won’t this band die?” review that Pitchfork writes for most 90s bands it thinks should have offed themselves by 2001.
So, bringing it back around, it’s not surprising that I’ve now seen Dig Out Your Soul at HPB as well. While it’s a sturdy album that easily lends itself to relistens, it wasn’t a gamechanger for a band that was, in the eyes of many, already on its way out. As is, it’s easily the band’s strongest since Be Here Now (itself good Feedback material) that sounds different enough from what came before it to be dependably relistenable. It’s the only Oasis album I bought on release day, but Dig Out Your Soul‘s as good a high note as any to go out.