It’s the 20th anniversary of Definitely Maybe, the first album by Manchester rock band Oasis, and the springboard which saw them jump into the middle of the Britpop invasion and claim the title of biggest band in the country. The anniversary has seen the album remastered and rereleased, much to frontman Liam Gallagher’s disapproval. His shouty tweet, ‘HOW CAN YOU REMASTER SOMETHING THATS ALREADY BEING MASTERED.DONT BUY INTO IT.LET IT BE’, implies that it was perfect already – and he’s absolutely right.
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ is the greatest opening track there has ever been. Noel Gallagher wrote the whole album before the band were signed, and apparently they once performed this song to two people at the Boardwalk. Probably an exaggeration, but the point remains – they could have had no idea that the dream the song describes was just around the corner.
If ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ was their mission statement, the rest of the album is explanation in itself of how the dream became a reality. The thick guitar chords that bellow from each track are denser than anything we would find in contemporary rock recordings, but here they are a perfect, confrontational expression of the 1990s which could almost fit the punk rock genre. Liam Gallagher is perhaps the only possible vocalist who could have matched the power of Oasis’s instrumentals, and his performance on Definitely Maybe was the best he would ever record. The emotional intensity he brings to every track on the album was crucial to its success. His personal triumph is ‘Slide Away’, where he captures the youthful naivety of his brother’s lyrics so well that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else singing them. But what about the lyrics themselves?
Let’s look at ‘Supersonic’, the first Oasis single, which Noel wrote in half an hour. The band were trying to record ‘Bring It On Down’ but couldn’t get it right, and needed to come out of the recording with something, so Noel wrote these lyrics which they only ever recorded that night: ‘I know a girl called Elsa, she’s into Alka-Seltzer, she sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train’. Incredibly memorable rhymes which could be described as nonsensical. While it’s true there are no concrete narratives or hidden meanings behind most of the songs on the album, it instead leaves a distinct impression of a working class (or ‘underclass’ as described in ‘Bring It on Down’), drugged-up Northern Britain, and the lyrics are so specific they encourage us to attach our own meaning to them.
That’s not to say that the album is without substance. ‘Up In the Sky’ might not be overtly Pink Floyd-ian, but is a clear attack on the establishment, while ‘Married with Children’ scathingly assesses the banality of marriage. ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ spoke to the disenchanted working classes with lines such as ‘Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?’, suggesting the best solution to futility could be found in the song’s title. But the clear theme that Oasis celebrate throughout the whole of Definitely Maybe is one of aspiring to better things, whilst always maintaining an affection for the world which spawned them.
In this sense, the album is defined by the track which set off the chain reaction for their success: ‘Live Forever’. Britpop is said to have been Britain’s reaction to American grunge music, and Noel has explained how within this, ‘Live Forever’ can be seen as a response to Nirvana’s ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’: “Kids don’t need to hear that nonsense,” he said. “He seemed like a guy that had everything and was miserable about it. We had fuck all and I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest thing ever, because you didn’t know where you’d end up that night.” ‘Live Forever’ perfectly encapsulates the brothers’ pure and shameless optimism, and for that reason alone it is probably the greatest song they ever recorded. I listen to Oasis a lot, and even I can hardly tell that the remastered version has changed – as Liam suggested, it didn’t need any work.
The real reason the rerelease is worth the 13 quid price tag is that there are 33 extra tracks on it – demos, live recordings, and of course, B-Sides. Noel claims to have been writing about four songs a week at the time, meaning some real gems never made it onto an album. Definitely Maybe is the only record to be sung entirely by Liam, but Noel performed several acoustic numbers for the B-Sides which all seem to paint the wistful image of him looking out of the window at the horizon – these include the beautiful ‘Sad Song’, the Royle Family theme tune ‘Half the World Away’ and an homage to the Beatles’ ‘Octopus’s Garden’ in ‘Take Me Away’. Another notable bonus track is ‘Whatever’, which bridged the gap between Oasis’s first and second albums as their first to include a prominent string section.
Although it’s arguable that their follow-up album topped it, Oasis never recreated the authenticity of Definitely Maybe before their split in 2009. Grunge, Madchester, being on the dole… the conditions were perfect, and the album’s context shows in each track. It celebrates youth, but makes me wish I was 15 years older – if I was, I would have been a teenager in the middle of Britpop and experienced for myself what seems like an incredibly exciting time when compared to the music of today. I missed out, just as Oasis themselves missed the Beatles, who they regularly named as their biggest influence. But the Gallaghers always had Sgt. Pepper to listen to, and the same can be said now for Definitely Maybe – it isn’t going anywhere, and in a way that’s enough. The character of the time I missed can easily be found and explored in the 11 – or should I now say 44? – tracks, which in my eyes, definitely makes it one of the best records that has or ever will be made. No maybe.