As a thirteen year old in 1996, the world was an impossibly exciting prospect. Full of fascination and too young to really understand much of anything, British music felt like it was everything. Giant, technicolour bands breaking from the sticky floored toilet circuit to the front pages of national newspapers; genuine characters identifiable by their first name looming large over day-glo breakfast telly and what seemed impossibly cool prime time slots – it felt like anything was possible. Not that this is one of those deeply personal opinion pieces, you understand. It’s simply context. Twenty years ago today, Oasis – the band who felt like the primary force behind it all – played Knebworth. Too young to even consider being there, or at any other show, it still felt important – because it was. The Mancunians, like so many of their peers, may be sneered at now, but most of that criticism simply doesn’t hold up. Not if you think music can be something more than a series of noises emitted by an app through some expensive technology.
See, Oasis – and as proud City fans, they wouldn’t thank you for this comparison – are a bit like Wayne Rooney. So many who were barely old enough to spot a Tellytubby by the time ’97’s bubble-popping ’Be Here Now’ was released will tell you they’re ‘shit’. But they were nothing of the sort: for a couple of glorious years they were fantastic. The swaggering, snotty-as-fuck ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Star’ every inch that top corner screamer that announced England’s young prodigy against Arsenal, the entire of ‘(What’s The Story)’ his rampaging European Championships of ’04. The buzz – so palpable you could feel it in the air – infected a whole nation. Those discovering them later may be left looking at a more limited, slightly ruddy faced band with a loose first touch and soaked in their own faded glamour – but you weren’t there, man. That boy could really play.
Oasis are a band who shouldn’t need a defence mounting, but as with the rest of their era, only the overtly smart (or those that retrofitted a bit of more high brow culture to their identity as the party ground to a halt) survive untainted. What other band releases a debut album with a song as perfect as ‘Live Forever’? Even as a devoted fan, Blur’s ‘Leisure’ certainly didn’t. It took Pulp years to find their true voice. Oasis came perfectly formed. A product of their era wearing the past as a badge of honour; a shot to the arm of a scene they both owned and never truly belonged to at the same time. As sneering upstarts from the north east with no time for niceties, there’s the vague hint of class war about much of the criticism towards them, but both Gallaghers – not just de-facto leader Noel – are and were smarter than their opposition. Either by intention or instinct, every move simply wrote the legend in bigger, more garish type.
The band that some now have them pegged as simply didn’t exist. The growling stomp of ‘Columbia’, the now-iconic first beats of ‘Supersonic’, the brattish playfulness of ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ – at times they were wilfully naive, at others tellingly wide-eyed, but as debut albums go, ‘Definitely Maybe’ is hard to top. Its follow up, ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’ is the kind of record that seems almost alien now. A band, not a solo artist or carefully positioned group, who could unify a nation. The caricatures of the Gallagher brothers may already have been set, but now they had anthems too. ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Some Might Say’ – their second album contains more bona fide Very Important Songs than it doesn’t. And that dumb pub rock band – yeah, they weren’t writing ‘Champagne Supernova’ were they? Course not.
It goes deeper too. As b-sides go, Oasis had no equal. ‘Acquiesce’, ‘Talk Tonight’, ‘Round Are Way’ and – most importantly – ‘The Masterplan’, there was enough there to make another Very Important Album. When their flip-side efforts were pulled together in 1998 it could arguably have made their greatest triumph. In three years in the mid 90s, they threw everything in the fire and let it burn high. That it had to end should be no shock, but to dull the brightness of those flames because of the spitting embers they left behind is plain disingenuous.
Whatever you think of Oasis now, Oasis then were more important than any of their peers could ever hope to be. British indie’s last superpower, they should be celebrated, not derided for it. Music may be just as exciting to those devoted to it as ever – and never let anyone tell you otherwise – but cynicism and hindsight be damned, rarely has it ever felt quite like Oasis at their peak.