Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nothing Small Here As Oasis Finds Itself Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants

The Good: Soaring anthems, depth of emotion, some exceptional lyrics. Imagery!
The Bad: Failed musical experiments and a couple of lame, repetitive, songs.
The Basics: A nice experience for those who want to see what Oasis can do outside the mainstream, though it is a mixed bag of greatness and garbage, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is a good album!

Every now and then, I find myself encountering one of my old reviews and it occurs to me that my readers have become increasingly more sophisticated and demanding over the years. Combined with occasionally finding one of my reviews to be in complete contradiction with my current feelings and views, I will - only once in a long while - completely retrofit a review or scrap and old review and rework it entirely. For example, when I discovered that I had actually written a rather glowing review of Lost In Translation (reviewed here!), I felt compelled to rework it as I cannot recall speaking of that movie in the past five years with anything but disdain. On the flip side, when I found my rather mellow, tentative review of the Oasis album Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, I decided I needed to retrofit that one.

Whenever Oasis does something, it does it big. There's no better example of this than Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants which was, as an album, a big maybe. When the album was first released, Noel Gallagher said something to the effect of "This is going to be big or a big failure." When it succeeds, it is Oasis at its peak, where it fails it is Oasis reaching new lows. Coming off the lone perfect album Oasis produced, Be Here Now, Oasis continued its trend toward the anthemic and diverse with Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants.

With only ten tracks, spanning under 48 minutes, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is shorter than Be Here Now, but continues to illustrate the growth of Oasis. The reason for redoing the review (which this is only the second review I've ever reworked and rerated) is simple; years of listening to this album have forced me to acknowledge that it is one of Oasis's better works. Out of all of Oasis's albums, this one is in a neck and neck race for one I listen to second most with The Masterplan. The reason for this is simple, it sounds better than most of the group's other albums. It is not as juvenile and punky as the earlier albums and it's not as directionless and nebulous as the albums that followed.

Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants achieves a balance of creating a collection of rock and roll anthems and pushing what that sound is with tracks that move toward murky psychedelic rock and open creative expression. So, for example, Oasis uses samples on the opening track from the movie "Message To Love-Isle Of Wight 1970" to construct a song that does not use the vocals of the band. Similarly, "Go Let It Out" - the debut single from the album - uses elements from "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" from Johnny Jenkins. In "Go Let It Out," the borrowed elements are completely unrecognizable to those who do not know Jenkins's work. Outside the use of sampling, the album is strongly rock and roll, with a great deal of variation in the sound and range of that.

So, for example, "Who Feels Love" utilizes a backwards guitar track to enhance the sound of the song that is very fluid and murky. It also creates a more rich sound by adding a bass guitar in addition to the usual guitar Noel plays and the other guitarwork which is hard to define. I write "hard to define" because Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants was an album that was released as Oasis was in the middle of some serious transitions and the album does not contain a convenient "Oasis are" (that's a British grammatical construction, not me!) section and frankly, who is playing what does not matter for this review so much. As I recall, most of the line-up of Oasis who recorded "Be Here Now" recorded this album, but by the time it came to shoot videos and tour, everyone but the Gallagher brothers had been replaced. Again, it does not affect listening to this album, save that one some tracks additional musicians are brought in to give the sound of the singles more layers and more depth.

The core of Oasis has always been solid lyrics. On Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants, Noel Gallagher begins to show some cracks in his lyrical greatness. The confusion and longing so perfectly expressed in "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" is foiled by the repetitive lameness of "Put Yer Money Where Your Mouth Is." And while "Gas Panic!" is easily one of the most poetic Oasis songs ever, the heavy rocking "I Can See A Liar" is apparently the work of some alternate universe simpleton Noel Gallagher; there's just no explaining the differences in quality of the two songs. Similarly, the magnificently lonely and heart-wrenching "Sunday Morning Call" - which deserved to be a huge charting single in the U.S. - is placed on the same album as the impossible to listen to guitar and movie clip medley known as "F***in' In the Bushes."

Liam Gallagher writes a simply lullaby called "Little James" and it illustrates well why Noel does most of the writing, though it is not bad. The thing is, after the first song, the songs become well-written Noel Gallagher outings that then run right up into "Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is" which repetitively declares "Put yer money where yer mouth is / Yer mama sez that you was real" over and over again. Following "Little James" are three of Oasis's best songs ever, though one would not know it from listening to their compilation Stop The Clocks.

Starting with the murky, subtly menacing "Gas Panic!" Oasis explores political fear on the horizon, loss ("Where Did It All Go Wrong?) and desolate loneliness ("Sunday Morning Call"). These three songs catapult the album up with amazing poetical lyrics like "What tongueless ghost of sin crept through my curtains? / Sailing on a sea of sweat on a stormy night / I think he don't got a name but I can't be certain / And in me he starts to confide . . ." ("Gas Panic!"). Noel's brilliance remains!

But there is that weird fracturing in the album with the three bad tracks and the mediocre Liam song. Even the layout of the album manages to portray the dialectic of quality by beginning with the awful quasi-instrumental "F***in' In the Bushes" and ending with the downright grand lament "Roll It Over." The album never gets onto a consistent note, going from unspeakably, unfathomable opening to "Go Let It Out," a single that reminds us what Oasis is all about, which is rock. They rock and when one hopes the album is going to stay so good with the acid twist "Who Feels Love," the album craps it up with "Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is." And the album continues in such a vein.

Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is the first sober Oasis album and it is ironic in that some of the music bares a psychedelic twist ("Who Feels Love"). The power of it is that sober, Noel Gallagher and his brother crank out some of the very best songs they've ever done. "Sunday Morning Call" follows two other great songs in a mid-album push toward greatness that is ultimately foiled when it runs into the dippy-lyriced "I Can See a Liar."

Musically, the album is a confusing one to listen to in that it soars to such great heights only to plunge so rapidly to such low depths! Hearing Liam simply repeat "I can see a liar, sitting by the fire" ("I Can See A Liar") just makes the listener shake their head. And yet, even that fast rock track with predictable lines is followed by the slow, perfect closing song "Roll It Over."

The album comes (at least in the U.S.) with a copy of the single "Go Let It Out" which is identical to the album version. It also contains the track "Let's All Make Believe" which ought to have been on the album. It would have shored up the irregular album.

The best song is probably "Gas Panic!" (though "Sunday Morning Call" and "Where Did It All Go Wrong?" also make the album worth buying on their strength alone) and the weakest of the weak links is "F***in' In the Bushes," but not by much!

For other Oasis works, please check out my reviews of:
Definitely Maybe
"Cigarettes And Alcohol" (single)
"Whatever" (Single)
(What's The Story?) Morning Glory
“Wonderwall” (single)
“Don’t Look Back In Anger” (single)
"Some Might Say" (single)
Be Here Now
"D'You Know What I Mean?" (single)
"Stand By Me" (single)
"Don't Go Away" (Single)
The Masterplan
"Go Let It Out" (single)
"Sunday Morning Call" (Single)
Familiar To Millions
Heathen Chemistry
Don't Believe The Truth
Stop The Clocks
Dig Out Your Soul


For other music reviews, please check out my organized listing of music reviews at the Music Review Index Page!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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