Be Here Now Oasis 25th Anniversary
Nobody spends a lot of time ranking Oasis albums for sports. It’s one of the many ways the Beatles’ most outspoken bandmates of the ’90s fail to measure up to their musical heroes: John, Paul, George and Ringo produced such a wealth of brilliant and eclectic material, on such a short time, that debating the relative merits of their baker’s dozen studio albums may provide a music nerd’s hobby for decades to come. True to its narrower view of rock ‘n’ roll, Oasis asks a much simpler question: Would you rather Definitely maybe Where (What’s the story) Morning Glory?
That the “best Oasis?” issue would forever be limited to two recordings seemed less likely in the summer of 1997, when be here now, their third album, has been released. The album that essentially ended Oasis as a mainstream juggernaut was also an early commercial success: the album sold the fastest in British history for nearly two decades, not eclipsed until to Adele’s. 25who had a major mathematical advantage on his side. be here now received plenty of positive reviews, even praise, before – as befits its supposedly substance-fueled creation – settling into a massive hangover. Although they went on to make four more albums with some success throughout the 2000s, be here now was the last time an Oasis album was described as being as good as the first two. And many people who said it would end up taking it back.
With even more time, however, there is reason to argue for be here now as an enduring document of Oasis, one that is a purer expression of brothers Noel (songwriter, guitarist) and Liam (vocals, general chuckle) Gallagher than the ‘best’ albums that came before. Definitely maybe and morning glory are top discs that happen to be by Oasis, but be here now maybe better actually to be an Oasis album – a dubious distinction, of course.
The story fans tend to know be here now, 25 years later, is that of an excess fueled by cocaine. The album is well over an hour long and contains only one ballad. The guitars are double-track, quadruple-track, eight-track… in fact, no one seems to know exactly how many guitar tracks are layered on these recordings, but “My Big Mouth” is said to have around 30. The shortest song on be here now is a two-minute instrumental cover of a nine-and-a-half-minute song. (The second-shortest song is “I Hope, I Think, I Know,” which is four and a half minutes long.) Johnny Depp plays slide guitar on one track. Noel himself described the album as “the sound of five men in the studio, on coke, who don’t give a fuck”. (Johnny Depp does not appear to have been included in this count.)
To be clear, Oasis has always had a penchant for a bit of rock ‘n’ roll hubris; Definitely maybe has many songs that exceed five minutes. This is what has always clouded the accuracy of their own comparisons to the Beatles. To listen be here nowit’s obvious that despite the multitude of references to the Fab Four, there is one very specific area of Beatles-ology that Noel and Liam prefer: the noise of “Helter Skelter”, the psychedelic nonsense of “I Am the Walrus (which they used to cover in concert), and, above all, the unique majesty of “Hey Jude”.
Based on be here now, “Hey Jude” is the band’s second favorite song of all time, second only to “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis. Song after song achieves increasing greatness somewhere between these two tracks, culminating in the never-ending “All Around The World”, which breaks out the “na na na” early on before going through a few key changes.
Beneath the wall of not particularly virtuosic but certainly loud guitars are lyrics about, uh… being in Oasis and also loving the Beatles? Again, however, these are values that are very present on the band’s first two albums. Their debut album opens with a song called “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” and the Gallaghers have never shied away from penning self-reflective lyrics commenting on their musical aspirations — and later, fame. They positioned themselves as the working class dudes versus the middle class art school kids in their Britpop rivals, Blur. (Long-term discographically, Blur easily beats Oasis. However, Blur is unquestionably worse at making Oasis albums.) As Noel noted in various interviews since, at the time of be here now, they were now in a position where no one would dare deny them their whims. (“Maybe it’s the fame,” he amusingly understates on a be here now B-side.)
Against this backdrop, there are some telling lyrical moments amid Noel’s patent anthemic nonsense. “My Big Mouth”, one of the less catchy numbers, is both swaggering and self-effacing about the Gallagher brothers’ reputation as brash fight starters in the press: “Into my big mouth, you could fly a hover,” sings Liam. , an Oasis-style humblebrag. “Don’t Go Away”, despite its string section, is one of the least overdone songs on the album. It’s also perhaps Oasis’ most soulful and underrated ballad – the world’s most popular band managing to sound pleading and lonely. Hell, even one of Noel’s usual catchy aphorisms via lines, “I’m not handsome, but I’m somebody’s child” (paraphrased from no less than Blind Willie McTell), is an unusual sentiment for a solid rock band.
This line comes from the first track and the first single, “D’You Know What I Mean?” – A song whose unambiguous title evokes a failure to communicate. Oasis has clear coping mechanisms for this disease, and when in doubt, the guys fall back on their favorite reference points: The Beatles and themselves. “You know what I mean ?” has a line about how “crazy over the hill and I feel good”, while “Be Here Now” (its own title derived either from something John Lennon once said or a song by George Harrison) features “Sing a Song for Me, one of So be it.Liam also throws in a Bowie-style “you bet” for good measure.
The title track doubles as a Beatles-style reference to another Oasis song: “Your shitty jokes remind me of Digsy’s”, a callback to “Digsy’s Dinner” by Definitely maybe. Then it’s back to “Champagne Supernova” when Liam sings about “walking slowly through the hall of fame” on “My Big Mouth.” At least it sounds like a variation of “walking down the hall slowly / faster than a cannonball” – there’s always the possibility that Noel plagiarized himself accidentally, rather than intentionally.
Building seven-minute songs that struggle to convey deeper meaning feels eerily like the height of a rock star’s arrogance, and has been quite described as such in the long be here now autopsy. But there’s a strange emotion to the album’s juxtaposition of lucidity and carelessness. Elsewhere on “My Big Mouth”, Liam sings “a sound so loud no one can hear it”; whether it’s unintentional irony or genuine self-awareness, it’s the kind of touch that makes be here now oddly sympathetic in its extravagance. It’s epic bullshit like free-flying honesty: “That’s the type of rowdy, moaning guitar music we want to do right now,” the band seems to say.
The hard descent of be here now era cured Oasis of that longing – and, it must be said, of the Oasis sound which reached a maximalist zenith on the third album. For all the obvious touchstones – the Beatles, T. Rex, certain phases of Bowie – there weren’t many bands that really emulated Oasis so well. (Sorry, Embrace.) This includes Oasis themselves; suddenly there was less demand for them to do their job of making Oasis albums, and they humbly obliged that downturn by taking a longer break before returning for their 2000s run, waiting out the 90s until what the Britpop scene in the UK and the alt-rock scene in the US has been diluted with second-tier stragglers.
There are plenty of highlights on Oasis’ next four records – enough for at least one big album, maybe two – but despite some experimentation with electronics, psychedelia and letting Liam write, the band often sounded like he was trying to repackage lightning. Plus they had to do it with only a portion of the lineup that recorded Definitely maybe, (What’s the story) Morning Glory?and be here now: Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan both left during the embryonic stages of album number four, Standing on the shoulders of giants. The Gallaghers continued with a succession of new bandmates, until Noel realized that being in Oasis meant being in a band with Liam, and quit.
Noel became more thoughtful about the be here now experience, but not much less critical. Speaking in 2016 of revisiting the songs for a deluxe reissue, he discussed an attempt to cut “My Big Mouth”: “When I got in there and put it together, I was like, I can’t edit… it is what it is.” He later quotes a friend who describes be here now as reaching a sort of hazy, disposable perfection: “It was just meant to be played once, that day, high as a kite…and then never to be listened to again.” It’s an extreme assessment, perhaps, but not without appeal.
But maybe be here now still worth talking about (and listening to) because it’s a one-album document of what it was apparently like to be inside Oasis in 1997 – inside the studio, inside their vision of the band, inside their head. Making this kind of exaggerated rock record was not yet an exercise in nostalgia or irony; it’s a ridiculous mega-CD, released a few years before digital music split everything into singles. Oasis has some good singles, but be here now offers very little. Most of his songs are catchy, but none were the size of ‘Wonderwall’ or even ‘Live Forever’, and they’re almost not worth pulling out and putting on a best-of playlist. -Oasis. These are songs best enjoyed in their own loud, big company – an uncompromising all-or-nothing affair where even the band members could now choose “nothing”. How many other bands have an entire album where their best tendencies and worst instincts come together on just about every track?