Monday, June 17, 2024

An Oasis from rock n’ rote

Dallas Morning News Feb. 1995

The best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world right now is coming to Dallas on Saturday night, and it’s not Nine Inch Nails.

Sure, it’ll be a beautiful thing when Trent Reznor and company inspire their huge, ecstatic, black-attired crowd to sing along and slam together to alienation anthems. But the true rebel spirit of modern pop will reside at Deep Ellum Live, where a band from Manchester, England with a godawful name will stand relatively still and play music that burrows more than it burns.

A few acts might write better songs or rock harder, but Oasis is the best band in the world because they follow their instincts as steadfastly as most of their contemporaries follow the charts.

The sloshy, boisterous Brits may be lacking in social graces, but like former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks, it’s not their duty to make pleasant conversation: Their job is to knock people out.

In these high-risk days when the almighty dollar calls most meetings to order, spontaneity is as rare as peace signs at a Pantera concert. Nine Inch Nails, for instance, employs a roadie whose sole task is to repair the equipment that they break, on cue, every night. Isn’t that something? They’ve budgeted for destruction.

Meanwhile, another U.S. supergroup, R.E.M., has related, ad nauseum, that their latest LP, Monster, has a harder edge than their previous two albums because they wanted a whole slew of louder, more uptempo songs to play on their upcoming tour. With such calculation encroaching on the creative process, it’s no wonder that Monster just sounds like a big corporate alternative record. There’s little inspiration, just a lot of perspiration from a band struggling to remain relevant among the quick-shifting musical winds.

Popular music is a paradigm of society, and what the biggest American rock acts tell us is that innocence has been brutalized and left at the side of the road. Rock ‘n’ roll just isn’t lightheaded fun anymore.

But over in Europe, there are a host of newer bands like Bettie Serveert, Portis-head, Heavenly, Stereolab, P.J. Harvey and, yes, Oasis, who make music with a grace that seems as effortless as drinking wine in a sidewalk cafe until a better idea comes up. The era of “faster, faster, harder, harder” is obsolete to the melody makers of Europe, who have a song inside their heads that they need to get out via their fingers.

We know that all real music comes from America. That’s a medical fact. But Europeans seem to have deeper passion and better taste when it comes to American music. While Yank teens were grooving to the sounds of Pat Boone and Bobby Rydell in the early ’60s, for instance, a passel of young Germans and Brits were going nuts over the music of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Chuck Berry. Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker and Bob Marley are other major artists who received their due in Europe before making a dent in the States.

What’s more, Europeans had a better idea of what to do with punk rock, after it originated in New York City with the Ramones. They improved on the design by throwing elements of their own style into the mix.

While hard-to-get U.S. acts like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, Daniel Johnston and Guided By Voices were receiving almost zero recognition in their home country about four or five years ago, they were hailed as musical visionaries in Europe. American audiences and critics have finally come around, to some extent, on those bands, but European audiences were so far ahead that they’ve started making advancements on the so-called “low fi” sound.

In the case of Bettie Serveert, who covered a Sebadoh song on their 1992 debut, Palomine, the difference is the amount of glee they bring to the world-weary slacker pop of their U.S. predecessors. Members of this tuneful quartet sound like they actually like being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, which would reek of uncool naivete in jaded American rock circles. On their highly recommended new LP, Lamprey, the Amsterdam group resonates with a gorgeous innocence. With a bona fide guitar hero in Peter Visser and the willowy pop vocals of Carol van Dijk leading the way, Bettie S. mines the usual Neil Young-Big Star terrain. But songs like Re-Feel-It and Tell Me, Sad sound plucked from the thick air. They’re solely the property of this unassuming band that takes its name from Betty Serves, a tennis instruction manual from Holland sports hero Betty Stove.

“We are fans of music first,” drummer Berend Dubbe said in a recent phone interview, “so for us to have fans is something you dream about. We never thought we’d make a record or tour the States or make videos. We just started out playing music that we wanted to hear, and we didn’t think beyond that.”

A week later, Noel Gallagher, who plays guitar and writes the songs for Oasis, was on the phone telling why he started his band, with his brother Liam on vocals, bassist Paul McGuigan, drummer Tony McCarroll and guitarist Paul Arthurs.

“We formed this band with the intention that we would be the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” Mr. Gallagher said, matter-of-factly. It’s the antithesis of Bettie Serveert’s assertion that they had no grand vision of where they wanted to be professionally, but Mr. Gallagher’s statement seems to come from the same pool of sincerity. Oasis has got a big battle for supremacy on their horizon, but maybe because he pronounces only one consonant per word and will not shy from slagging other bands, Mr. Gallagher sounds bred for the task.

At a time when the biggest American bands reject the notion of rock stardom, Oasis opens their great debut LP, Definitely Maybe, with singer Liam Gallagher declaring, “In my mind my dreams are real/ Don’t be concerned about the way I feel/ Tonight I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star.”

There’s not a trace of irony or sarcasm in that song,

especially when the band kicks in the music business door by taking the traditional guitar-guitar-bass-drums set-up to a new place. And they do it as naturally as cracking open a beer. While Epic Records wondered how they’re going to promote this guitar band from Manchester, the land of sequencers and drum machines, Oasis just gave them songs like the heavenly Live Forever and the explosive Bring It on Down that can’t miss with listeners.

Oasis has found the perfect balance between melody and anarchy, getting drunk and getting down. They’re everything good about precursors like the Rolling Stones, T. Rex, the Kinks and even the La’s – and they’re also everything bad about those bands. The Oasis sound is not very revolutionary – in fact, they sound a little like our Tripping Daisy. Get below the familiar-sounding vocals and all the outer layers and dig deep, and you’ll find the danger that defines great rock ‘n’ roll.

But isn’t Nine Inch Nails dangerous too? Nah. There’s a difference between danger and fear. Nine Inch Nails is supposed to be scary, like a ride on the Texas Giant roller coaster. You know you’re not going to jump the track on a sharp turn and be hurtled to your death, but you scream anyway. It’s fun to scream. That’s Nine Inch Nails in a nutshell.

Oasis is more like driving all night to Mexico with someone you just met at a heavy-metal concert. Headed by two brothers who don’t like each other, sometimes even fighting onstage, Oasis uses that tension to their advantage. They could fall apart at any minute and the band members play like they know it. Just listen to the guitar-drenched last two minutes of Columbia, in which Noel Gallagher pokes at the traditional rock rhythm track like it’s a beast that’s either asleep or dead, and he’s hoping it’s the latter.

Yep, that’s Oasis, jabbing and prodding at the carcass of American rock ‘n’ roll.

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