Welcome to the Music Roundtable, a blatant rip-off of TV Club’s TV Roundtable feature. Here, music writers and fans discuss recent reissues, hot new releases, or just records we like. This week, we’re talking about Oasis’ 1994 album Definitely Maybe, which is getting a new, fancy reissue complete with bonus tracks and live material.
Marah Eakin: If there’s any band I’d live and die for, it’s Oasis. They’re not the coolest band, not the band with the most cred, but they’re the band that’s seeped the deepest into my soul over my lifetime. They put on the first concert I went to, made one of the first CDs I practically broke through too many listens, and, to this day, I know all of their songs—even the B-side singles—backward and forward.
That’s one of the reasons I was so excited about the new 20-year anniversary reissue of the band’s 12 million-selling Definitely Maybe, which is out this week and features not only a remastered version of the record but also unreleased demos and B-sides previously only available through a variety of singles packages. Though I really got into Oasis through 1995’s (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, Definitely Maybe is, in my opinion, the bombastic companion.
In fact, that bombast—evident from minute one of album opener “Rock ’N’ Roll Star”—is Oasis to me. Noel Gallagher’s lyrics can be simplistic, brother Liam Gallagher’s delivery of words like “imaggggginateeeeon” can be suspect, and some of the middle tracks on Maybe get a bit similar, but none of that matters because of the way Oasis delivers its material. The band’s got a cocksure swagger that so many grunge stars of the early ’90s didn’t. They’re here, they’re probably both drunk and on drugs—coke, not heroin; ecstasy, not LSD—so get used to it. And, yeah, maybe they’re cribbing from The Beatles, but fuck you, who cares?
There are a lot of big singles on Definitely Maybe, including both “Supersonic” and “Live Forever,” which essentially defined the Britpop movement, but for me, Oasis was defined straight up by “Rock ’N’ Roll Star,” which set the band’s persona from minute one. It was about bombast, yes, but also about how the band is so inherently committed to living this proverbial rock and roll lifestyle, with night becoming day and lights, drugs, and girls swirling around them so fast that they could hardly keep up. They can’t slow down, so if you want to get on board, you’re going to have to speed up—and maybe literally get on speed. Oasis wasn’t a band that catered to an audience. Rather, they knew who they were, stuck with that, and launched themselves into the musical stratosphere straight away with Definitely Maybe. And that’s why I love them.
What about you, Jason? What’s your relationship with Oasis? Or with Definitely Maybe in particular?
Jason Heller: I hated Definitely Maybe when it came out. I was 22 at the time, and I was a stubborn little bastard, and I spent over a year resisting the obvious charms of Oasis. The funny thing is, I was a huge Anglophile at the time. I’d been voraciously consuming British music since getting into The Smiths, The Jam, and Joy Division when I was 15. By my late teens, I was a fanatic for everything from The Stone Roses and My Bloody Valentine back to The Kinks and The Beatles.
The fact that Oasis was so blatantly trying to be The Beatles—or at least talked that talk so loudly—was why I resisted Definitely Maybe at first. There was nothing complex, mysterious, or open to interpretation to either the band’s music or its persona, and being the opinionated post-adolescent that I was, I decided that was crass, and not in a good way. Also, “Supersonic” was the first Oasis song I’d heard, and it remains my least favorite track on the album—which is not to say I don’t like “Supersonic.” I love the whole damn disc, although I only came around to that opinion after (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? came out in 1995. I still vastly prefer that second record, and I’m not embarrassed to say it took the stamp of approval of The Jam’s former frontman, Paul Weller—not to mention his participation on Morning Glory—to turn me around when it came to Oasis.
Listening to the anniversary edition of Definitely Maybe, I have to admit I was resisting the inevitable when I shunned it at first. It’s hard to imagine an album more perfectly suited to my idea of British music at the time. It doesn’t even really sound that much like The Beatles; as it’s been pointed out so many times, there’s a post-Nirvana thickness to the songs, and everyone from The Sex Pistols to T. Rex are being evoked. Oh, and that cascading, Stone Roses-esque guitar solo in “Live Forever”? As overplayed as that track is, I’ll never hear it enough. Those are all potent signifiers to me, but Definitely Maybe is more than just pastiche. It’s an arrogant, joyously snotty album—one of the punkest statements of the ’90s, in its own way, but also full of moments of true tenderness and wimpy loveliness. Once I wrapped my head around that, there was no going back. And hell, I may have even learned a little something about holding oneself with confidence along the way.
The ensuing war between Oasis and Blur was a no-brainer for me. I’ve always loved Blur more, and seeing Damon Albarn and company on tour behind The Great Escape in 1995 remains a high point in my concert experiences of the decade. But I also never viewed Oasis and Blur as an either/or proposition. I started DJing Britpop in 1995, and when the crowd would practically pogo on the dance floor every time I played “Rock ’N’ Roll Star,” even a reluctant fan like me had to admit: This was about as perfect as pop-rock gets, a fiery ball of both self-effacement and self-aggrandizement that summed up what it felt to be young, impulsive, and yearning for an immortality that you know you’ll never have.
I finally saw Oasis in 2000, partly because Andy Bell—previously of Ride, one of my favorite English bands of all time—had become the group’s new bassist. The show was total shit. Liam could not have acted more contemptuously bored, and the rest of the band, Bell included, just stood there like bumps on a log. The set list wasn’t even that spectacular—especially considering that most of us there would have been more than happy to have heard the first two albums in their entirety. But that doesn’t matter. Definitely Maybe dared everything, took no prisoners, and could not give two fucks about the rest of the world. It’s not much of an ethos to live by in your 40s, but in your early 20s—especially during a decade full of gloomy grunge and ironic alt-rock—what else could feel more liberating?
Annie, what’s your take?
Annie Zaleski: Like you, Jason, I was far more Team Blur during the Britpop era. Oasis was okay—I didn’t mind them when I heard them on the radio or saw them on MTV—but I much preferred Blur’s new-wavy power-pop. I think I was initially turned off by the fact Oasis proclaimed to love/rip off The Beatles so much—as a snotty, angsty teenager who much preferred The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen to bawdy pub rock, I thought that was really lame. (Also, nobody in Oasis was as cute as Damon Albarn, which was an important consideration at the time.)
Had I listened to the record then, I think I would’ve changed my tune; non-singles such as “Columbia” (hello, Primal Scream!) and the bluesy, melancholic slow-burn “Slide Away” are fantastic songs that have deeper influences. And it’s a shame you only saw Oasis during a bum live period, Jason, because the live versions of Definitely Maybe tunes on the reissue—especially the prickly “Supersonic”—are gloriously off-key, off-kilter, and raucous. The Gallagher brothers didn’t bother polishing their act for anybody, which made them oh-so-charming.
Like you guys, I actually warmed to Oasis circa (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? too, specifically because of the title track. (Those tornado-vortex guitars! The distortion! The drug-addled conflict!) But I really began to love the band after the odds ’n’ sods collection The Masterplan, which (to my ears) was more cohesive and moving than their previous full-lengths. Really, what’s so incredible about Oasis is how high-quality its B-sides and non-album tracks are—the glammy Gallagher brothers’ vocal duet “Acquiesce” (the flip side of “Some Might Say”) especially smokes half of Morning Glory.
This Definitely Maybe reissue also makes the case that Oasis had far more catalog depth than many think—from the mortality-facing acoustic composition “Half The World Away,” hot-rodding power-pop jam “Fade Away,” and the delicate “D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman.” The latter tune—which laments that people lose their whimsy as they grow older and become bogged down by routine—is a shockingly mature song to come from a twentysomething hooligan. But that’s why Definitely Maybe spoke to so many people: It tackled normal everyday things such as fear of boredom, wanting to have a better life, feeling invincible while you’re drunk, escapism through debauchery, etc. Yet it didn’t do so in a shallow way; real depth and vulnerability existed behind the bravado.
What’s interesting about the mature, introspective themes of Definitely Maybe is that they contrast so severely with the Gallagher brothers’ public personas. It’s tough to separate the band’s music from the sibling rivalry, off-color insults, and clever quotes—although I’m not sure you’d actually want to. Let’s face it: Noel and Liam are hilarious. Sure, they crossed the line plenty of times (see: wishing AIDS on Damon Albarn), but during the self-important ’90s, they weren’t afraid to take the piss out of music, musicians, and almost everything else. In that sense, they were true larger-than-life rock stars—and, better yet, celebrities who also enjoyed every minute of their stardom and didn’t apologize for any of it. We can appreciate Definitely Maybe for many things, but kicking off 20 years of amusement from the Gallagher brothers should be right up there.
Josh, your thoughts?
Josh Modell: So many things to agree with here, guys, but I think you all might be wearing slightly rose-colored glasses. (Liam tended to favor those, too, though I think yours are metaphorical.) Definitely Maybe has four unstoppable songs, one good one, and a bunch that sort of blend together in my mind. If What’s The Story (Morning Glory) weren’t so damn great—I see you’re all admitting that Definitely Maybe is inferior, right?—Oasis would be one of those bands best represented by a greatest-hits collection, and nothing more. (I guess I have to bring up Blur, if only to admit that while I like both bands, I think Blur has a far more consistent and interesting catalog.)
Which isn’t to say that Definitely Maybe is bad, not by any stretch. I was a hardcore Anglophile when it came out, and was enamored of that album’s singles, a murderer’s row of derivative but fantastic songs: “Supersonic,” “Live Forever,” “Cigarettes & Alcohol,” and “Rock ’N’ Roll Star.” (I’m deliberately not including the album’s second single, “Shakermaker,” on that list, because it’s so vastly inferior to its brethren.) I saw Oasis on their first American tour, and their reputation for what seemed to be bored arrogance on stage preceded them, and proved to be true. They played the songs perfectly well. Liam stood stock still in front of the microphone with his hands behind his back and said nothing. I’m not one who goes looking for much of a show, but it would’ve been nice to know there were actual humans onstage, not just rocking machines.
Here’s a funny aside that belongs deep in a piece for dedicated Oasis fans: In the early ’90s, I was obsessed with a mostly forgotten proto-Britpop band called Inspiral Carpets. I saw them play at Metro in Chicago in probably 1990, and their main roadie was notable for rocking some big pants and a Johnny Marr haircut. He looked like a star. He turned out to be Noel Gallagher, I later learned.
Anyway, back to Definitely Maybe, whose very age makes me feel the creaks in my knees. Now, as then, it sounds perfectly solid to me. I will never turn off its singles, but I will rarely pull it off the shelf and listen to it all the way through, the way I do its superior follow-up. I like Oasis—I even went to see Noel solo a couple of years ago!—but my love doesn’t run too deep.
ME: It’s interesting that you thought that first Oasis show was boring, Josh, because I saw them around the same time (at a high school auditorium! In a Cleveland suburb!) and thought the same kind of show was anything but. Yeah, Liam just stood there, occasionally breaking to stamp back to his beer and take a long swig, but that kind of immediate defiance is what I found endearing. The band’s tension and anger was palpable, and maybe this is just the teen girl in me (You love the ones who couldn’t care less about you.), but the genuine contempt the band seemed to have for its adoring fans, myself included, made me like them more. I’m not sure what that says about me, but it is what it is.
I’m interested in hearing what you guys thought when you dug into the other two discs of the reissue, which are packed full of live tracks and B-sides. I know Annie and I grew up listening to the deep Oasis stuff, so we’re obviously biased, but I think some of those tracks, like “Half The World Away” and the live version of “I Am The Walrus” are some of the band’s best material. I’m also partial to “D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman,” which Noel does vocals on. It’s one of the band’s more downtempo tunes, but it’s also one of their sweetest and most optimistic, which I think shows the band’s versatility.
JH: Josh, I love that you cite Oasis’ arrogance as a bad thing, and I cite it as a good thing. Normally I’d agree with you. But there’s something about Oasis’ particular strain of arrogance—and how it felt refreshing, at least to me, in the face of so much indie/alt self-effacement circa 1994—that really became a selling point for me when it came to Definitely Maybe. Live shows, yeah, not so much. Then again, I look back at old Sex Pistols videos where Johnny Rotten is just standing there, glaring at the audience… A completely different context, but still. Does every band have to pander and cheerlead and glad-hand? It’s not in every person’s nature, and it’s not in every band’s nature. There’s something about that cultivated disregard for the audience, if done right, that’s perversely fun. Oasis didn’t always do it right, though, and that’s the problem. Sometimes, you know, they were just being shits.
Annie and Marah, I love your perspective on the bonus tracks. I’m not familiar with them at all, and I hadn’t heard most of those B-sides until getting this reissue. The funny thing is, I’m a huge fan of British B-sides from this era: Supergrass’ “Melanie Davis,” Elastica’s “Gloria,” Morrissey’s “Nobody Loves Us,” and so many others that rank up there with these acts’ best stuff. I’d say that goes the same for Oasis. “Take Me Away” is simple, sweet, and beautiful, and Noel’s vocals are stunningly superior to anything Liam is capable of—at least on a technical level. Of course, Noel doesn’t have as much snarling attitude, which is what elevates Definitely Maybe from being just a batch of nicely played, nicely sung tunes. And the demo of “Alive” is incredible; the wall of guitar sounds like more like Swervedriver than Oasis, and I’m totally okay with that.
AZ: Jason, I love that you call out Noel’s superior vocal talents. His voice isn’t necessarily that distinctive, but it possesses so much wisdom, gravitas, and melancholy, which is a nice balance to Liam’s brattiness. I also think Liam really overshadowed Noel’s musical talents, especially in Oasis’ early days. (I suppose you could chalk that up to the younger sibling trying to hog all the attention.) Noel more than anyone was the heart and soul of the band—I mean, he freaking wrote Definitely Maybe’s songs! Sure, he had as much attitude as his brother—and he held his own in any instance of “Wibbling Rivalry”—but Oasis wouldn’t have had as big of an impact if they didn’t have indelible songs. (Seconding the “Alive” love and Swervedriver influence too.)
And when Oasis wanted to focus on live performance, they weren’t that much of a mess. The reissue does a good job demonstrating that. The “Supersonic” B-side “I Will Believe” is recorded live, and it’s a total barnstorming studio jam that sounds like a Buffalo Tom/Boo Radleys hybrid, while a version of “Cigarettes & Alcohol” recorded in Manchester boasts T. Rex swagger. Plus, the reissue also has a bunch of solid acoustic tracks: “Live Forever” is full of longing—and Liam sounds positively restrained, while the band sounds like they’re having jaunty fun with “Digsy’s Dinner.” Maybe the secret to appreciating Oasis live is to focus on the audio. Without any obvious stage boredom or Gallagher disinterest to taint the music’s impact, things sound much more engaging.
ME: All this brings me around to a final point, I suppose: Do you guys think this record should have been reissued? It’s clearly a major label product that sold millions upon millions of copies, so why bother with the reissue? Is it an attempt to cash in, a way to get LPs into the hands of everyone who doesn’t have one already (myself not included, thank you very much), or maybe a way to test the waters for an Oasis reunion? Is this a record that needed to be reissued or is it just more fuel for the $.01 bin on Amazon?
JM: First off: I like the B-sides just fine. Some gems, a bunch of filler, and none that I’ll likely ever listen to again. As for whether it deserved this deluxe reissue: It’s just another instance of physical media’s last gasp. People our age (Sorry, I don’t mean to call you guys old.) still cling to real-world copies of stuff, but we’re going to be some of the last ones. Everything that can be deluxe-reissued at a premium price will be, until people stop buying it (which they will). I’m not knocking it—I got the Stone Roses box thing a few years back, even though I already owned everything on it, and I’m a sucker for cool packaging and liner notes. But are three discs of Definitely Maybe super essential? Definitely not.
AZ: See, I disagree. For starters, there are far more egregious examples of deluxe reissue fatigue out there. I love Morrissey and The Smiths, but keeping track of their reissue campaigns is almost a full-time job. And sure, plenty of Oasis fans collected every CD single or 7-inch to get these B-sides, but for casual fans (or Americans who didn’t want to shell out for imports), it’s nice having these rarities in one package. Plus, having the album on vinyl again is a godsend, because original copies of Definitely Maybe have gone for stupid money on eBay in recent years. While the reissue isn’t quite as good as the Blur boxed set from a few years ago—and, really, few things are—it’s a comprehensive look at Oasis before they were OASIS. As a historical artifact, that’s valuable; as a hardcore fan, it’s simply priceless.