DON'T BELIEVE THE TRUTH
HUTCHINSON-GILFORD PROGERIA is an illness merciful only in its extreme rarity. It cruelly hastens the ageing process in its young victims by a factor of seven. Small boys dwindle into little old men with no intervening lifespan.
A similar, if lesser condition exists in rock. Call it Gallagher's Syndrome. As a case study, we can examine the new Oasis LP, Don't Believe The Truth.
While no album deserves to be judged on its hype, it's notable that this one comes ushered by a campaign - less whispering than bellowing - to acclaim it a return to form. It took Bowie or the Stones a quarter-century, and a series of classics succeeded by a series of duds, to reach the “best album in years, honest” phase. Oasis have got there in just over a decade, after a thrilling debut, an overblown follow-up that diminishes with each listen, and three tepid tributes to the joys of clock watching.
If this seems harsh, bear in mind it's not a controversial or unusual opinion - the group themselves acknowledge it on their press release: “It's been ten years since Oasis made an album that truly changed the musical landscape.” I honestly wish I could agree that the wait is over.
Don't Believe The Truth is better than the last three albums (and if the record company wants to pull that accolade out for its adverts, verbatim, it can be my guest.) But that doesn't make it any good. It has the customary Oasis quality of feeling familiar on first hearing; not because it's instantly memorable, but because the mind wearily anticipates each step before the ear detects it (that alone makes a nonsense of comparisons to The Beatles.) It contains one genuinely surprising effort, Part Of The Queue, which Noel Gallagher boasts “doesn't sound like anything we've ever done before”. True. It sounds like Golden Brown by The Stranglers. Only rather hoarse and basic.
The many early imitators have long since given up, but Oasis are doing the job for them. Bassist Andy Bell's old band, Hurricane #1, or even God awful Scots mimics The Gyres, could have created any of the weakest tracks; while the rest are hobbled by Gallagher's characteristically sloppy writing.
That Gallagher plucks found phrases from the ether is no bad thing; the trouble is the inanity of those phrases. Lyrics needn't “mean” anything, but they shouldn't mount an obstacle course to his songs' chug-a-lug progress.
Mucky Fingers, a raw three-chord stomp punctuated by brays of “It's alright!”, and the
single, Lyla, which ineluctably plods its way to pedestrian bigness, sum up the album's shortcomings. Where there's vigour, there's no art; where there's craft, there's no life.
Oasis have always been in thrall to the notion of playing themselves into posterity. It seems never to have dawned on them that the bands they worship accomplished this through originality and daring - the two qualities most conspicuous by their absence on every Oasis record since Definitely Maybe. The Gallaghers' heroes may have started off standing on the shoulders of giants, but by album six they perched atop nothing but their own achievements. Perhaps the truth that Noel Gallagher chooses not to believe is that, having set out to write a chapter in rock history, he's consigned himself to footnote status.
Black Eyed Peas, in defiance of all physical laws, are hurtling in the opposite direction to Oasis, getting younger with each release. Monkey Business sees them complete the metamorphosis from inventive rap act to day-glo pop muppets.
will.i.am and company have employed their considerable talents in creating a pre-teen handbook to urban dance music. This is an album for an endlessly excitable audience, best enjoyed while hopped up to the gills on dolly mixture. Its scope is remarkable, its catchiness infernal. It would have been a lot more fun were it not afflicted with that breathless condescension common to presenters on kids' TV.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the frankly creepy My Humps, a souped-up jump-rope chant which captures all too perfectly the gauche wannabe hypersexuality of the precocious bambina. “My hump, my hump, my lovely lady lumps,” simpers Fergie, wince-inducingly, as nymphets everywhere frenetically wiggle their nascent goodies, and their elders cringe in embarrassment.
On Gone Going (based, like so much else here, on an original song that didn't demand reworking), BEP have the cheek to upbraid musicians who “ain't doing what they did from the start.” Now, it's hardly a Faustian pact to sell your soul to Bratz, but all the same, come on. BEP know what they were, and what they've become. Better get the glazier round to patch up that glass house.
If you think of Middle-Eastern crossover pop as something reeled out by the yard, you may have a point. But not when it comes to Natacha Atlas, the first and foremost of such artists in the UK, and owner of a marvellous voice. The Best Of (Mantra, out now)*** is a misnomer; this collection serves more as a sampler. While it's a shame none of her work with Transglobal Underground made it on, this remains stuff of a finer weave.
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