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Revisiting Oasis' ode to life: 'Definitely Maybe'

No matter what anyone says, Oasis‘ debut album, Definitely Maybe, is a bonafide classic. Not only is the title a brilliant oxymoron, capturing everyday British conversations, but it also captivates the band at their rawest. Released on August 29th 1994, by the ubiquitous record label Creation Records, the album is 51 minutes of the four lads from Manchester announcing their raucous arrival onto the British music scene.

The album would kick off the career of the band whose perennially squabbling duo of brothers, Noel and Liam Gallagher, who would light up British music forevermore. Perfectly capturing the hedonistic zeitgeist of the time, the album was an immediate success and spawned four hit singles, ‘Supersonic’, ‘Shakermaker’, ‘Live Forever’, and ‘Cigarettes and Alchohol’. The album went straight to number one on the UK Albums Chart and since has sold over eight million copies worldwide.

From a modern perspective, Oasis and Definitely Maybe may be regarded as cringe, cock-rocking signifiers of Britain’s now outdated “lad culture”, and in many respects, it is. However, what can’t be denied is the amount of certified bangers that the album withholds. One would wager that the album is actually one of Oasis’ most complete, and in addition to its follow-up, 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, it represents Oasis at their best. This was the period when we got the true Oasis before the drugs, infighting and overblown songwriting set in.

Initially, in late 1993, the band were booked in to record the album at Monnow Valley Studio near Rockfield in Wales. The producer they hired was Dave Batchelor, whom Noel knew from his days as a roadie for Manchester rock legends the Inspiral Carpets. However, the sessions proved to be largely unsuccessful as the band were unsatisfied with Batchelor’s production, labelling it “weak” and “too clean”. 

This lack of an artistic connection was also felt by engineer Dave Scott who struggled to understand what Batchelor’s artistic or technical vision was. He later opined that: “I think that the lack of direction and different expectations led to an uncoordinated session with too many compromises.” Eventually, Scott was fired by Batchelor after two clashes during the arduous recording sessions for ‘Slide Away’. Later he was told that the track was the only one kept from these sessions. 

In addition to numerous personal and technical issues that plagued the sessions, they were also expensive. The studio was charging £800 a day, and in addition to the fact that they were largely fruitless, this led the band to panic, fearing the unknown. Guitarist Bonehead later said that “Noel was frantically on the phone to the management, going, ‘This ain’t working.’ For it not to be happening was a bit frightening.” 

Subsequently, the impasse was finally cleared, and Batchelor was fired. Wanting to save time and money, Noel attempted to salvage the takes that had been recorded in Wales at a host of London studios. Whilst visiting the band in Chiswick, West London, Tim Abot of Creation remembered: “(Alan) McGee, Noel, me, and various people had a great sesh (session), and we listened to it over and over again. And all I could think was, ‘It ain’t got the attack.’ There was no immediacy.” 

(Credit: Michael Spencer Jones)

Come January 1994, and the band had decamped to Sawmills Studio in Cornwall. This time they hired Mark Coyle to produce, alongside Noel. They elected to record the album live as that was the only means of replicating their abrasive live sound. Bonehead recalled: “That was Noel’s favourite trick: get the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar down, and then he’d cane it. ‘Less is more’ didn’t really work then.” However, the attempts proved futile, and the band were still unhappy with the results.

They knew that the chance to try and record the album for the third time was near impossible, so the band had to find a way of using the recordings they already had. In desperation, Creation employee Marcus Russell contacted engineer Owen Morris to save the sinking ship — and it worked. Using Johnny Marr’s studio in Manchester, Morris turned it around. Inspired by Phil Spector’s use of tape delay on the drums of John Lennon’s 1975 song ‘Instant Karma!’ and Tony Visconti’s production style on David Bowie‘s classic album Low, he added a filtering technique he’d learnt from New Order’s Bernard Sumner, and created a drum sound that gave the album a thicker sound. This was to be the turning point.

Commenting on the miracle of Morris, John Harris noted: “The miracle was that music that had passed through so many hands sounded so dynamic: the guitar-heavy stew that Morris had inherited had been remoulded into something positively pile-driving.” Sometimes all you need is that little bit of luck. Without Russell’s decision, there would likely have been no Oasis. To imagine British music’s landscape without them is like imagining New York without the Statue of Liberty. 

Opener ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ does what it says on the tin. It is an unapologetic, meat and two veg indie banger that takes as many of its cues from Marc Bolan and T-Rex as it does the Kinks. ‘Shakermaker’ is a hazy, bluesy number that exudes all of the unrelenting swagger that Oasis carried. Also, the chorus, “When you’re happy and you’re feeling fine/Then you’ll know it’s the right time”, is one of the classic examples of Liam Gallagher’s uninventive yet classic AA rhyme scheme. Other highlights on the album include ‘Columbia’, ‘Supersonic’, ‘Digsy’s Dinner’, and ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

Without a doubt, the two highlights are ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Slide Away’. The former is a brilliantly British ode to living life. Allegedly, Gallagher wrote it in response to comments icon du jour Kurt Cobain of Nirvana made. Gallagher said: “At the time…it was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’, and I was like…’Well, I’m not fucking having that.’ As much as I fucking like him (Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain) and all that shit, I’m not having that. I can’t have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That’s fucking rubbish. Kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense.”

What Gallagher achieved on ‘Live Forever’ is one of Oasis’ most enduring tunes. It builds up to an emotive crescendo with Liam screaming, “Gonna live forever,” all the while Noel provides us with one of his most iconic guitar solos. It was on ‘Live Forever’ that Noel introduced himself as one of Britain’s foremost guitarists and songwriters. 

‘Slide Away’ is not only a highlight of the album but of the band’s career. Featuring the droning bassline and Noel and Bonehead’s swirling, grinding guitars, it is one of Oasis’ best-loved singalongs that comes to an almost psychedelic reverb-drenched climax on the album version.

The chorus lyrics, whilst not “artistically” special, carry that simplistic magic that was inherent to everything good Oasis achieved: “Two of a kind/ We’ll find a way/ To do what we’ve done/ Let me be the one who shines with you/ And we can slide away/ Slide away/ Slide away”. It is one of the most nostalgic and uplifting songs the Manchester rabble ever released and rightly continues to be hailed as one of the best indie songs ever penned.

Although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, Definitely Maybe is one of, if not the best, album Oasis ever released. It gets your blood up and makes you want to have a good time. Given the existential crisis the world currently finds itself in, Oasis’s ode to life has never been as pertinent.