Is Oasis about to ‘Dig Out’ another breakthrough?
A dozen years ago, a Rolling Stone cover trumpeted “Oasis have conquered America, and they won’t shut up about it.”
The British band has lost some U.S. ground since 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, but they’re still mouthing off.
That breakthrough album sold 3.9 million copies, seven times the combined U.S. sales of the group’s last three studio albums. The dip is surprising because Oasis is the best rock band on the planet, its singer says.
“I don’t say that for the sake of saying it,” Liam Gallagher says. “There are other good bands. They’re not as good as Oasis.”
If seventh effort Dig Out Your Soul, released today, doesn’t light up the charts, Oasis will compensate with receipts from a U.S. tour starting Dec. 3 in Oakland.
“It’s funny that it seems Oasis is under the radar in the U.S., since they’re one of the very few British rock bands able to fill arenas here,” says Spin editor Doug Brod. “Oasis will never sell millions of records like they once did, but then very few artists will.”
Slumping CD sales inspire artists to test unconventional distribution, yet Oasis, proudly old-school in its artistic approach, is leery. The band did stream Dig on its MySpace page last week, and Liam says he’d consider marketing innovations “as long as it’s not selling out, and we don’t look like a bunch of desperados.”
But the notion of giving away music “doesn’t sit right with me,” he says, branding Radiohead’s tip-jar sale of its In Rainbows download a publicity stunt. “This is my living. It costs me to make it, and it’s going to cost you to buy it. If they won’t buy it, I don’t want them as our fans.”
His guitarist brother, Noel, isn’t distressed by piracy losses, which he figures siphon 25% off industry profits.
“That’s what was spent on Champagne and limos,” he says. “It’s good when record companies panic. They need to streamline. Just like these big banks going under, and those Wall Street idiots driving Ferraris. What about people who had a hurricane rip apart their community? That’s real pressure, my friend.”
He prefers to leave business decisions to his manager.
“If he told me to sign with Timbuktu, I’d do it,” says Noel, recalling recent business meetings “so mind-numbingly boring that you’d want to kill yourself. I look after choruses. That’s my job.”
A month ago, Oasis began whipping up excitement with single The Shock of the Lightning and a string of Canadian dates. And suddenly, a different bolt.
“I remember singing the chorus of Morning Glory and then I was in a heap on the floor,” says Noel, who’d been assaulted onstage during a Sept. 7 concert in Toronto. “I can’t remember seeing the guy. I had a bad pain on the left side of my chest. I couldn’t stand up. I thought I’d been stabbed.”
Initially treated locally for severely bruised ribs, Noel was diagnosed in London with broken ribs. The tour was halted, and it resumes tonight in Liverpool.
“I’m a bit down in the dumps and pretty spaced out on painkillers,” he says. “Two ribs broke at the spine, so it’s almost like a broken back. They can’t manipulate them into place until they’ve healed. Another four weeks. It’s taken the wind out of my sails.”
The attack “freaked me out,” says Liam, who attempted to tackle the assailant. He’s less sympathetic now. “It could have been a lot worse. He’ll live. It’s mostly in his head now.”
The Gallagher brothers’ onstage harmony and offstage bickering have filled England’s music press since Definitely Maybe arrived in 1994.
“Liam still takes the rivalry thing a bit seriously,” says Noel, 41. “It’s real with him. I do tend to annoy him a great deal. I don’t mind that. When we get off tour, the last thing I want is to have dinner with Liam, after having dinner with him 365 nights. I’ve got another life outside Oasis. We’re not 21 anymore. We’re not The Monkees.”
They’re in rare accord on this.
“We haven’t got a relationship, only musically,” says Liam, 36. “I think he’s a great musician. He thinks I’m a great singer. Do people want us to hold hands and walk in the park and have little coffees?”
The pair also share a high regard for their seventh studio album, which is earning critical raves, including “the most begrudging positive review I’ve seen in my life, from a magazine (The Observer) that notoriously despises Oasis,” Noel points out.
Though U.S. sales have eroded, the band has maintained a solid reputation for Beatlesque guitar pop and Who-sized hooks and defiance, newly cemented by Dig’s melodicism and dense psychedelia.
Oasis “may not have the current artistic cred of, say, Radiohead, but you can’t underestimate their appeal as a classic-rock act,” Brod says. “Their first two albums are masterpieces and they’ve recorded songs, such as Live Forever and Wonderwall, that are now part of the rock canon. What shocked me the last time I saw them ó headlining Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago ó was that the crowd was full of college students who were (kids) during the band’s heyday.”
An atheist, Noel is at a loss to explain Dig’s multiple religious references.
“I don’t believe any of the stories in the Bible, but I do like the imagery,” he says. “I wish there were people with wings living in the clouds. But I don’t see the hand of God anywhere.”
Noel, who wrote six of Dig’s 11 songs and is sitting on another 30 demos and finished tracks, says he’s eager to release a solo album, provided Liam and guitarists Gem Archer and Andy Bell also pursue outside projects. (The band’s fifth member, drummer Chris Sharrock, replaced Zak Starkey in May.)
“The others would have to agree, and that’s not going to happen,” he says. “They cry, you see.”
Liam counters: “Let him do one. He’s a big boy. It’s not in my blood. I want to be in a band. I don’t aspire to be a Robbie Williams.”
Nor does he compete with Noel’s songwriting output. “I write if nothing’s on TV,” says Liam, who contributed I’m Outta Time, Ain’t Got Nothin’ and Soldier On to Dig. “I get my kicks singing.”
Besides, free time has grown scarce in both households now that parental duties encroach on their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles. Liam rises at 6 a.m. for a run before taking his kids to school.
“There are other things in my life besides Oasis, like that big pile of ironing,” he says. “But once I’m on that stage, let’s go, man. Let’s ram that music down people’s throats. I haven’t changed a bit.”
Being a dad “has changed my life outside of the band profoundly,” Noel says. “It hasn’t changed my work in any way. But when I’m bored in a hotel, I get my videophone out and look at my children and wish I was playing cops and robbers with them.
“I used to listen to music all day every day in my formative years. That time goes out the window. Show me someone who listens to Pink Floyd, I’ll show you someone who doesn’t have kids.”
Though hardly homebody teetotalers, the Gallaghers have calmed down since their feral ’90s, when Noel wrote the band’s early albums under the influence of cocaine.
“Our lives were very boring,” Liam says. “Obviously, if you take drugs to make music, you’re an idiot.”
These days, the two make more headlines spewing toxins than ingesting them. Noel in particular infamously blasts peers, most recently James Blunt, Mark Ronson, Keane, Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs, whom he dubbed “fat idiots.”
“I’ve said worse and lived to tell the tale,” he says.
He has been especially vocal lately about troubled Rehab singer Amy Winehouse.
“She’s probably dying as we speak,” he says. “That girl is a mess, and the people around her are vampires. Solo artists are easy prey. When we were at the height of our drug problem, we had each other to say ‘It’s gone too far.’ She has no one.”
Before anyone can accuse him of sympathy, he cracks, “I was never a fan, to be honest.”
I still listen to their CDs, but they no longer provide the soundtrack to my life…but there used to be days when they did.
Is Oasis about to ‘Dig Out’ another breakthrough?