With two band members leaving and the millennium quickly approaching, songwriter Noel Gallagher felt compelled to complete Oasis’ fourth album, even though it meant recording everything virtually alone. Lo and behold, the album ultimately seemed to confirm to the critics that Oasis were a spent force, having left much of their charm, charisma and manpower in the 1990s.
In many ways, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants represents the Gallagher brothers as a creative force, regaining their strength after dipping into a period of deep uncertainty. If anything, it’s Noel Gallagher’s first solo album, and the guitarist sings more freely and confidently than he had previously, as the lyrics stemmed from the bottom of his soul, exhibiting an honesty his younger self would have shied away from.
The recording quality, like the lyrics, has a coarse, ragged quality to it, exhibiting a sense of insecurity in a decade that was as alien to them as the 1990s was comforting. Where Be Here Now soaked itself in jubilation and celebration, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants is wracked with insecurity and self-doubt. Tellingly, the most openly wounding track ‘Let’s All Make Believe’ was left off the album and put as a B-side where only the most hardened of fans could hear Noel express his many disappointments in a blinding four minutes.
The song is scintillatingly produced and features one of Liam’s most impactful vocals, allowing both brothers the chance to grieve the departure of not just one but two band members. In Paul McGuigan’s absence, Noel ended up playing bass on the album and does so fairly well, especially on the blues-oriented ‘Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is’, where the galloping bass serves as the cement and engine for the track.
Some of the tunes – particularly ‘I Can See A Liar’ and the pounding ‘Fuckin’ in the Bushes’ – worked better on stage, particularly with Ride guitarist Andy Bell on support, but the album offers Noel and Liam the opportunity to experiment with styles a more traditional sounding Oasis album would prohibit them from doing.
‘Who Feels Love’ cuts deep into the heart of electronic music, as the dreamlike drums explode as if bombs are going off around the brothers’ orbit. Noel’s words on ‘Gas Panic’ illustrated the bitterness of getting older, particularly in a market that highlighted youth above all else, and the tune is bolstered by a searing harmonica line that invokes the image of a train racing to hit its destination in a bustling capital city. And Noel was finally happy to let his Manchester roots slip into ‘Go Let It Out’, a punchy, trance like number punched up by a propulsive bass pattern.
The album’s not entirely perfect, as it boasts the hackneyed ‘Roll It Over’ and the wretched ‘Little James’ (Liam’s debut as a songwriter) in the tracklisting. There are too many pointless “Beatles” licks needlessly plastered into the mix for good measure, and the album makes the mistake of placing the more memorable tracks at the beginning of the album, meaning that the album gradually gets weaker as it gets nearer the end.
But when it’s strong, it’s incredibly strong, and ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong’̀, delivering a tune that jumps leaps and bounds above the chorus-heavy anthems that laced (What’s The Story) Morning Glory together.
Written and sung by Noel, the composition delves directly into his personal life. He was recently separated and was awaiting divorce, which contrasted with the Catholic values of his early upbringing. He was auditioning new bandmembers, fighting with Liam, and striking to showcase his relevancy in a new era and decade. It can’t have escaped him that Liam needed him much more than he needed Liam, and he spent much of the recording wrestling with his personal dilemmas and demons.
As it happens, this changing environment benefitted Noel’s artistry, as he took command of the lyrics, committing one of his finest and most riveting vocals to tape. Indeed, there’s a case to be made ‘Where Did It All Go Wrong’, as it ranks among the most powerful, and certainly most honest, vocal performances in his career. And although it would take him nine more years to take the plunge into solo stardom, he had already shown he had what it takes with this pensive, probing recording.
For Noel, the album proved his last grasp of unfiltered creative authority until his solo career, as he acquiesced songwriting duties to Andy Bell and Gem Archer on future Oasis albums. He recognised the importance of the album, but brother Liam was much more critical. “That was when the band went a bit t**s-up so I’m not fond of that really, ” Liam recalled. “We lost good members; I can’t say I’m arsed about it. I’m sure I’m great on it but whatever – I’ll leave that up to you, mate.”