A few weeks ago, I was on a bus packed with football fans returning home from a match. With everyone in party mood, inevitably a mix of factions wanted to air their different brands of celebratory music, but in this case fastest with their phones were the teenagers. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect, but the opening bars of Don’t Look Back in Anger were certainly not it. Why, I asked myself, would anyone not born for a decade after their formation reach straight for Oasis in times of joy?
Some of the answers can be found in Definitely Maybe, the band’s debut album. Let’s not forget they were no wallflowers: giving yourselves the unofficial handle of the “Sex Beatles”, pretending you’d once been part of Manchester’s violent gang scene and constantly being on the point of public fratricide was hardly layering mystique. Add to that the fact that their industry spokesperson was the never-knowingly-undercoked Creation label supremo Alan McGee and you knew that this was either going to be a glorious fulfilment of the Gallagher brother’s lofty dreams, or a terrible disaster.
The result as they say is history but like any success story it relied on timing, luck and opportunity. The wayback machine will pitch it that the group received a massive leg up from their association with Britpop – most infamously the media contrived beef with Damon Albarn – but it’s arguable that Oasis would’ve happened regardless. True, at a macro level they were an equal reaction to the dominance of grunge as much as Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish was, but clearly they were an opposite one, relying more on instinct and street hubris than intellect. Blur won the battle, only to astutely end up being conscientious objectors to the war.
At the same time the lines of young masculinity were being redrawn. The launch of former NME editor James Brown’s new lifestyle title Loaded in line with Definitely Maybe’s lead single Supersonic may have been coincidental, but it was pure serendipity. Setting out a hedonistic template which let good behaviour be someone else’s problem, the rise of the lad had begun, sound tracked by music as brash and confident as the provincial rogues who wore it like a designer brand.
Such was the impression that it left on me I can still remember Supersonic being performed on The Word, a programme with a sense of cool that the band locked into expertly, despite it being their national TV debut. The blurry video now reveals a predatory Liam, using the mic stand simultaneously as a cigarette and a drunken cop-off; one look at the metropolitan fops in the audience immediately told you they had no idea what was coming. But plenty did.
We like to recut our history to taste. But this is a record which doesn’t need any kind of anatomical study because, to paraphrase Fox Mulder, it’s vastly ambitious truth was always out there in plain sight, from the steamroller opening of Rock N’ Roll Star, Slide Away’s spiralling, rough diamond romance, to the bliss-from-boredom lairiness of Cigarettes And Alcohol. Here was a new-old sound laid out in simple terms, colours you could nail to any mast. To identify with it gave you a new tribe to belong to that didn’t ask questions about the past or rush to judgement. For millions it quickly became an album that created an attitude that felt like home.
To an extent this is probably why our kid and our kid’s kids even now can relate so easily. Twenty first century life comes at everyone so fast that cultural firebreaks like it which are timeless, pan generationally respected and shove back against modernity will always feel accessible, rebellious even. Made by commoners at the gates, Definitely Maybe was the scallywag revolution in our heads we never even knew we wanted.