February 28th, 2013 4:37am

There We Were Now Here We Are

Oasis “Columbia”

There’s a common perception that Oasis are dumb and unimaginative, and I suppose a lot of their public behavior and later catalog justifies that judgment. But in the first few years of their career, particularly in the Definitely Maybe period, Noel Gallagher was a very sharp and clever songwriter. He’s good at writing a sticky melody, sure, but his true genius was in crafting a distinct sound that signaled a very working class conception of glam debauchery. The guitar parts on Definitely Maybe put a shoegazer gloss on familiar progressions, which is at once comforting and slightly off-kilter. The guitars always sound a bit too slow for the tempos and Liam Gallagher’s voice is a sneering droooone, which gives each song a potent druggy quality, like you’re hearing everything as musical light trails. This effect is stronger because the songwriting is so solid, so your brain can sense the lag between what you expect from the rock conventions the structures echo and the peculiarities of the execution.

“Columbia,” always my favorite on Definitely Maybe, is essentially Noel’s spin on a Manchester “baggy” dance song, but with the beat buried well enough that no one could ever really dance to it. But it’s in there, and it gives the song a subtle, flirtatious swagger. Liam sounds genuinely smitten in this song, and the delirious tone of the music does a great job of selling the part where he sings “this is confusion / am I confusing you?” That part is so very Oasis too – Noel can’t help but insert some dickish line into anything remotely like a love song. There’s almost always some bit where he turns the tables or claims some power over the object of his affection. The most amazing example of this tendency is on the Be Here Now song “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt,” in which he has Liam sing “Would you maybe come dancing with me / because to me it doesn’t matter if your hopes and dreams are shattered.” Like, wow, that’s so mean, and that’s before they both start singing “she knows exactly what she’s worth to me.” It’s interesting to me because Noel phrases it in a way that puts the emphasis on him – “to me, it doesn’t matter…” – and it’s all a part of this bigger project of selling this fantasy of being this sort of spiteful, selfish egomaniac who has transcended the trappings of normal life.

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