Released 1st October 2008. Review published 8th October 2008.
Oasis occupy probably one of the strangest spaces in British rock’s glitterati. They sell out arena tours in minutes, recently celebrated a lifetime achievement award bestowed by the otherwise neurotically youth-revering New Musical Express, and any release of theirs is unquestionably a music industry EVENT. And yet. Whatever the build up to the release of Dig Out Your Soul, the nagging doubts persist, especially for those of a certain age who still vividly remember their visual debut, a bunch of Dickensian upstarts literally electrifying The Word with a now legendary performance of Supersonic.
Since the musical disaster that was 1997’s Be Here Now – the sessions for Dig Out Our Soul was the band’s first sortie back to the (in)famous Abbey Road studio since – Oasis have somehow shrunk a little, preferring to rely on a fan base which defines hardcore and making music which at its heart has progressed little, a conservatism leaving them open to accusations of rejected ambition. They’ve written great songs since their heyday of course, “Lyla”, “The Importance of Being Idle”, “Little By Little” – even the ugly Standing On the Shoulders of Giants gave us “Who Feels Love” – but like the boy in the bubble, they’ve remained ferociously resistant to any infection by their environment.
Three years on since Don’t Believe The Truth, Dig Out Your Soul arrived with the brothers in what amounts (For them) as an oxymoronic charm offensive; front covers of Q and NME, in-depth interviews (Q‘s piece ran to over-engineered 50 pages – a month later, their review awarded the record an underwhelmed 3/5). Even the effusive but far less quixotic sidekicks Andy Bell and Jem Archer were wheeled out, the sole purpose of which it appeared was to underline just how egalitarian the band are as a collective these days. Bell And Archer make their arguably superfluous contributions here as in previous collections; the latter’s effort “To Be Where There’s Life” is dominated by a bass-heavy groove complete with a de rigeur (for them) sitar, whilst Bell wisely absconded to the control room during the recording of his strictly drone by numbers “The Nature of Reality”.
Democracy aside, perhaps more is riding on Dig Out Your Soul than anyone connected to the band would publicly care to admit. Their legacy is writ large in British music terms regardless, it’s practical terms in inspiring countless back bedroom groups to form and then fizzle, but they find themselves almost cryogenically frozen in their own hubris. All music is cyclical by influence of course, but it’s difficult even now to hear any of their legions of acolytes citing an Oasis track from this millennium as the reason they first plugged in an amp.
Gallagher sr. appears to have won the battle of track sequencing. We open with “Bag It Up”, a growling, opiate drenched snap of garage psychedelia which sets the tone for what is obviously a record hermetically sealed from hipster trends and retro white noise chic. The first smack of adrenalin arrives soon after as “The Turning” breaks on a gliding wave of piano, Noel making exhortations to us to “rise up from your soul” whilst a quiet-loud groove sets the tone for the most confident sound they’ve worn in years. At times, you can forgive the hype and actually believe their self-belief, especially on “Shock of The Lightning”, a thumping – there’s no other word for it and it embodies that word in every sense – headbanger which recaptures their brash, unstoppable first essence.
At the other end of the scale “High Horse” – a hangover from the Heathen Chemistry sessions – is a gutsy blues, with Noel’s distorted vocals twisting against a stop-start backdrop. Elsewhere “Falls Down” refines proceedings with gentler, organ rendered atmosphere, the eye of the hurricane effect mirroring his turn on the Chemical Brother’s “Setting Sun”. That total sense of creative omnipotence still has an inevitable effect on quality control, the leaden ballad “I’m Out Of Time” nondescript, but for a change there’s something really interesting at the close; “Soldier On” is undoubtedly Oasis at their most unspecified, rolling by with a ghostly melodica providing something that is almost introspection. Part mantra, part auto-hypnosis and part rip-off of their fellow veterans and soul mates The Verve, it hints at a direction ripe for divergent solo material should Noel show any interest.
Questions continue to follow the band round in much the same way as controversy used to. Are they still relevant? Are they eco-musicians, continually recycling the same three or four riffs? why should we get out of bed for them? Certainly, their original ethos – a portentous cocktail of working class pugilism and proto celebrity diva – has long since evaporated. The residue is still fascinating of course, the portentous sibling rivalry as much a catalyst for their work as a constant threat to their long-term status as a band; it’s still impossible to tell whether the Def Con III aggravated bickering is their greatest strength or weakness.
Fractious or not, looking down from their plateau though they’ll quietly conclude that there’s no direct competition and they’re unquestionably right. And that’s really the problem. For certain groups, out on their own – The Arctic Monkeys are probably the only other real example – there are no points of comparison with what other bands do, because no other bands do it. For critics, this leaves the only recourse of making comparisons between one album and the next, like so many packets of corn flakes. Dig Out Your Soul will please fans, please the band, and please those for whom loyalty is a commodity all too rarefied in these times. For the rest of us dipping in and out of this story, we know little more.