1994 was the year that gave birth to the likes of Portishead, Weezer, and Sunny Day Real Estate’s much celebrated debut albums. The likes of Green Day, Rancid, The Offspring and Beck became rising stars, while the Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins co-headlined Lollapalooza that summer. It was, however, more famous for being the year Kurt Cobain died, and with it, grunge rock as we knew it. His suicide that early April day created a big void in the rock world. It was a dark place at this time 20 years ago.
The bands listed above did their best to fill that void and did so admirably – as did Cobain’s widow Courtney Love via her band Hole, as well as Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers and others at the 25th anniversary of Woodstock that August. Still, as big and exciting as Woodstock ’94 was, there was something missing in pop and rock and roll culture, something that could lift everyone’s spirits around the world again – not just for three days. Thankfully, around that same time period in late summer ’94, a new movement was about to takeover for grunge. Enter: Britpop, starring Oasis.
Britpop was already well underway by the time Oasis came on the scene with the August 1994 release of their debut album Definitely Maybe. Blur’s much loved third record Parklife was just becoming a big hit around the world, while the likes of The Verve and Suede established themselves as buzzworthy acts too. But it was Oasis who emerged from the scene to become one of the biggest bands in the world, and it all started with their debut album.
Big Brother Recordings is reissuing remastered versions of the first three Oasis albums, and this week, the Deluxe/Special Edition of album one hits stores in CD, digital, and vinyl forms. Dubbed Definitely Maybe: Chasing The Sun Edition, this 20th anniversary set has the original album on disc one, and two more discs of live tracks, demos and other rarities from this era. It totals 44 tracks. A limited run also includes a cool copy of the band’s original 1993 cassette demo as well.
Headed by (singer) Liam Gallagher and brother (guitarist) Noel Gallagher, Oasis took the rock and roll world by storm with this album and its handful of successful singles (almost half of the 11-song record), starting with the big-sounding midtempo rock grooves of “Supersonic.” Though some of the lyrics here sound a bit silly in retrospect, there’s no denying that this tune remains one of the band’s top tunes. On the album as a whole, the lyrics – written by Noel, sung by Liam – carry a mix of themes more serious, including youth, love, working class life (ex. fourth single “Cigarettes & Alcohol”), and hope. That mix of positive messaging and powerful music is what gave Oasis its fame (along with the Gallagher brothers’ famous feuds) and staying power over the next few years.
As popular on radio as “Live Forever” was and still is, and how the fifth and final hit single “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” remains one of the top openers for an Oasis album, the best song on the LP and the highlight of Liam’s vocal chops is on “Slide Away.” The majestic sound of Noel’s arpeggiated chords coming from his Epiphone guitar, Liam’s impressive vocal range, and the song’s impassioned lyrics of love and longing for escape make for one unforgettable audio ride every time I take one. It is easily one of the very top songs in the Oasis catalog. (Certainly, I’m not the only one who thinks a lot of it since the “Chasing The Sun” part of the title of this reissue is a lyrical quote from the song.)
As much as people are aware of The Beatles’ influence on Oasis on this and other records, not as much attention is paid to other bands that Oasis are indebted to, including The Jam. “Shakermaker” references The Jam song “Mr. Clean,” for one, and the post-punk rocker “Bring It On Down,” and “Fade Away” (one of the bonus tracks that can be found in two versions on discs two and three) pretty much show off Noel’s love for the legendary British rock band. Along with “Bring It On Down,” “Digsy’s Dinner” and “Up in the Sky” are strong album tracks and when put together with “Slide Away” and all the hit singles, they exemplify why this is the strongest Oasis album of them all.
That being said, even after all these years, I can’t say the record is entirely flawless – it comes close, though. I never knew that “Shakermaker” was a single (until researching for this review), and even now after listening to the track again am mystified as to how it became a hit single (in England). It slowly prods along for five minutes using somewhat CCR-ish bluesy seventh chords but doesn’t take off into something all that memorable – worse is that there are parts of it that borrowed too much from a band called the New Seekers, who successfully sued them over it. It’s a pretty decent rock tune nonetheless, don’t get me wrong, but not one of their stronger tracks. Neither is the rather light-sounding final track “Married With Children,” which I like better but would rather have heard as a hidden track after “Slide Away” – that would’ve made the latter the ultimate album closer.
Noel churned out gem after gem in this era (the mid-’90s), so it’s no surprise that many of the b-sides/rarities represented on discs two and three are top-notch. Take “Cloudburst,” for example. This straight-ahead rocker (which lyrically quotes The Who’s “I Can See for Miles”) comes in original and demo versions. I actually prefer the latter due to its harder-edged sound – Noel’s loud guitars are more out in front, which makes his nifty hard rock riffs stand out more.
But if you were a big fan of the band back then, you’re likely already familiar with many of these non-album tracks, covers (a live version of “I Am The Walrus” from 1994, for example) and live versions of hit songs. So this collection may not be for you. But if you missed out and need the ideal starting point to what made Oasis so legendary and important to pop music/culture in England, America, and around the world, this expanded edition of Definitely Maybe is definitely a must-have collection.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00IN5KX06]