Oasis – Be Here Now
Oasis – Be Here Now (1997)
This album was one of the first two albums I selected for ownership autonomously. That's a somewhat mealymouthed way of tip-toeing around the fact that I don't remember exactly whether it was given to me as a gift, or whether I bought it with allowance money – and in fact I don't even remember what the other of the pair was, but I think it was Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers. Either way it was one of the first two CDs I owned that purely reflected a nascent taste in music that was independent from my parents'. Album "ownership" was of course a more precious sort of relationship with music back then, by virtue of both the contemporary technological landscape (before file sharing and streaming) and my own considerably limited financial means. If I was lucky, I could probably expect to acquire one new CD per month, and my listening choices were limited to that slowly growing collection, whatever the radio was playing, and whatever the radio had previously played that I'd managed to capture by recording to cassette.
I remember a friend coming over to my house to hang out shortly after this watershed moment of acquisition. I presented my collection of two CDs to him and asked him to select one for us to listen to. He chose Be Here Now and I popped it into my boombox. The gathering instrumental noise of album opener (and first single) "D'You Know What I Mean?" seeped forth from the feeble speakers. Liam launches into his verse. "Step off the train all alone at dawn, back into the hole where I was born..." Then the bridge, announcing itself with its conspicuously produced guitar riff, and then on into the refrain, an all-dials-to-11 sensory assault. My friend looked at me and, without a trace of modesty, said: "Can you turn the music off?" "What?" "Can you turn this off?" So I turned the music off, and that was the end of us listening to Be Here Now.
While it was far from the end of me listening to Be Here Now, I have to imagine that my friend's reaction might not've been dissimilar from that of thousands – or, possibly, if the title of their 2000 live album is to be believed, millions – of hopeful Oasis fans upon their initial listen. And if not their initial listen – reception to the album was warm at first – then maybe by the third or fourth. The concerns around the bloated, pompous sound of the album which emerged not long after that deluded thrill of first-listen are well-documented elsewhere, as is the fraught production process, the sycophancy surrounding the band, and the drug abuse; all I'll say is that the cover art really just sums it up. You're just at the peak of your powers, there's nothing in the world that can stop you – and then suddenly all that wealth and opulence implodes on itself, and, well, the Rolls ends up in the pool.
Today, Oasis' cultural relevance doesn't seem to reach far beyond karaoke go-tos and memes, so splitting hairs about one of their second-tier albums feels a bit clinical. Still, it fascinates me to listen to this album now with objective ears – as objective as possible, considering its place in my personal history. There's some horrendous production decisions, for sure. There must be a dozen guitars overdubbed on second track "My Big Mouth". The songwriting is perhaps even easier to poke holes in than their earlier, more well-known material, for the same reasons as leaning too heavily on The Beatles for influence and lyrically being largely vacuous. But there are moments worthy of notice. First of all, Noel, for his part, could sure still write a damn melody: look no further than that first single for evidence. While the inflated production in some places registers as an eardrum-crushing misfire, elsewhere that big sound benefits the music, namely in the rich, orchestral depth of the ballads "Stand By Me" and "Don't Go Away". And the tracks "Be Here Now" and "It's Gettin' Better (Man!!)" stand out as catchy, head-bobbing rockers, even if they happen to each overstate their point by about two minutes.
I'm probably just being sentimental, but I'm not the only one to have reconsidered the album in recent years . Maybe what makes it interesting is its relationship to the rest of Oasis' history and discography, in which case, to be blunt, it might not be a very worthwhile listen to those who are not part of the "millions" to whom their music is familiar. But if you do take the plunge, I only humbly request that you give it a chance beyond the first sixty seconds.