25 Years Ago, The Biggest Rock Band Dropped A Perfect Album That Nobody Was Ready For
The year is 1997. Where were you when Oasis was getting even higher?
For American fans of the band Oasis, the year 1997 was the moment when the Gallagher brothers should have been bigger than ever. The first single off Be Here Now was the seven-minute-and-forty-two-second long anthem “D’You Know What I Mean?” In 1995, Oasis closed out their critical hit album What’s the Story? (Morning Glory) with another seven-minute-long epic, “Champagne Supernova.” So, the difference between 1995 Oasis and 1997 Oasis was pretty simple. In 1995, they saved the super-long epic song for the end of the record. But Be Here Now had to be bigger and for Oasis in ’97, bigger meant longer. Not only is the first song on Be Here Now over seven minutes long, but the 10th track, “All Around the World,” is nine minutes long. In 1997, Oasis thought, why not have an epic at the beginning and an epic ending? And while we’re at it, maybe a handful of nearly seven-minute-long songs in the middle?
Be Here Now was released 25 years ago on Aug. 21, 1997. Pretty much everyone who doesn’t like Oasis considers this album just as annoying as any other Oasis album. If you’re a casual fan, and of a certain age, you probably remember “D’You Know What I Mean?” in heavy rotation on MTV. That’s the one with the helicopters, where brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher look like they’re playing a concert for a bunch of extras from V for Vendetta. While most Oasis music videos are notoriously bad (even Noel Gallagher hilariously went MST3K on several), the video for “D’You Know What I Mean?” is just as cool today as it was in 1997. And it’s a good microcosm for Be Here Now in general. What is going on here? Why does this music sound the way it does? Are all these songs basically the same? Is Liam basically just like John Lennon’s voice fused with Ian Brown’s swagger from The Stones Roses?
The deal with Be Here Now, at least for American Britpop fans in 1997, was that it was pretty much the antithesis of all the other big albums that year. Yes, it’s the same year as Radiohead’s OK Computer, but it’s also the same year as U2’s forgettable album Pop. The Verve may have out-Oasis-ed Oasis with “Bittersweet Symphony,” but what made Be Here Now so great was its relentlessness. OK Computer was high art. There’s no debate there. The Verve’s Urban Hymns was just solid indie rock, if a little too shoegazey to really go mainstream.
But Oasis was playing a different game. Noel Gallagher never cared if his songs were taken seriously or even considered to be artistic. The goal of Oasis was always to have great big anthems, to be epic, to be larger than life, and to basically feel like the soundtrack to the imagined interior lives of the fans. Oasis famously had a working-class background, and so, the achievement of world-class fame meant that nearly every aspect of the songwriting process was like an inspirational speech. In the refrain of “All Around the World,” as Liam sings “It’s gonna be OK!” Noel echoes saying “Please don’t cry and never say die!”
Oasis was always the anti-grunge band. Though their music retained a post-punk sound borrowed from Television and, again, The Stone Roses, the stated purpose of the music was to be uplifting, but also effortlessly cool. The reason why Be Here Now wasn’t embraced fully at the time of its release is for one simple reason: It was the album that was the least concerned with trying to be artistic or subtle. It was and still is, the most Oasis-y Oasis album, even if it doesn’t contain the band’s best songs.
Instead, Be Here Now should be the album music historians put in a time capsule for critics to analyze 50 years from now. This was a band at the height of their powers that released an album that was the most honest version of what they’d been going for the entire time. With Be Here Now, Oasis didn’t compromise, which, one could argue, is why it’s not (or is) a perfect album. In this way, it’s kind of like what Dangerous is to the Michael Jackson discography. It represents what the band is, and how the band will be remembered, even if it doesn’t have “Wonderwall” or “Live Forever.”
The songs “Stand By Me” and “Don’t Go Away,” are probably the two best songs on the album, criminally underrated, but beloved by true fans. And if you revisit those songs now, you’ll find that time has been kinder to them in a way that’s not true of the more famous hits from the first two albums. These Be Here Now songs are great, but they’re made even better by the fact that they’re not overplayed. “Wonderwall” from What’s the Story will always be hard to listen to objectively. But “Stand By Me” and “Don’t Go Away” aren’t like that. They sound just as good today as they did in 1997, and best of all, lack the baggage of other “classic” Oasis tracks.
Over the years, everyone involved has said a lot about how the album was made, and how the songs were too long, and how the band was doing too many complicated things with their stagecraft. After Be Here Now, Oasis wouldn’t release another album until 2000, and by then, guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs and bassist Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan would be replaced by Gem Archer and Andy Bell, respectively. In essence, Be Here Now is the end of the classic Oasis trilogy, and every single subsequent record in the aughts (of which there were four studio albums) was billed as a comeback.
Oasis was never as big and as confident as they were with Be Here Now. And 25 years later, the best compliment you can pay this album would be to paraphrase Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) in the original Ghostbusters. It’s not that nobody makes them like they used to. Nobody ever made them like this.
You can grab the new reissue of Be Here Now on vinyl right here.