Recommended Reading: ‘Definitely Maybe’ by Alex Niven

17933884I just finished the 33 1/3 volume on Oasis’ debut album Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven, and I’m adequately floored. With all due respect to many talented authors in the series, including my buddy Mike Fournier (who wrote the volume on the actual best album ever made), this may have been the best installment I’ve read so far. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t expecting to agree so frequently with someone who took the time to write a book about Oasis, save for some occasional (admittedly understandable) remarks about Blur and an uncool dig at “Digsy’s Dinner.” Like many of the books in the series, it’s a breeze of a read, so I’m not going to withhold ‘spoilers.’ It really helped this Yank bloke understand just why Oasis shot to super-stardom in the time and place that they did, making their working-class sensibilities intelligible through analyses of their compositions coupled with appropriately scathing takes on the aftereffects of Thatcherism. I’ll share one of my favorite passages here, in which Niven contextualizes the socialist building blocks of Oasis’ music:

Oasis took the detritus that surrounded them in the dole culture of eighties’ and nineties’ Manchester and cemented it together to create one of the most accomplished works of archaeological summary in pop history, a work that ranged widely over rock influences in a way that seemed effortless.

… The socio-economic conditions of the period gave rise to a climate of scarcity, resourcefulness and heritage-mining in post-industrial Western urban areas. Without money and access to higher education and metropolitan taste-making culture, it is extremely difficult to make the leaps of innovation that are deemed to be progressive by the music industry establishment

… When society becomes hostile, when access to novel mainstream developments is difficult, it becomes practicable to draw on any resources that are to hand – classic records, borrowed riffs, recycled materials of all kinds. In periods of economic downturn, a kind of folk culture develops that values ingenuity with heritage over conspicuous innovation. This culture of grassroots classicism was very much Oasis’ home terrain in the early nineties.

Niven also shines a light on the overlooked (sloppy) genius of Tony McCarroll, the band’s original drummer who they sacked after recording “Some Might Say” (which just so happens to be the best song on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?). I vaguely remember Kurt Loder mentioning his name on one of those post-“Wonderwall” MTV News features on Oasis back in 1996 where they gave the Gallagher brothers subtitles for the US audience. The book ends on a somewhat sad yet incredibly educational note about success and class politics. I look forward to incorporating Niven’s lessons into my Britpop unit (yes, you read that correctly) this semester for GEOG 371: Exploring Europe.

Here’s a video of vintage Oasis (with McCarroll) on MTV in 1994 performing what’s probably my favorite song of theirs, the first four minutes of “Rock n’ Roll Star.” The way that Liam Gallagher sneers “I live my life in the city, and there’s no easy way out” as the opening line of Oasis’ debut-opening track makes me think about Paul Westerberg yelling “Raised in the city, runnin’ around” as the opening line of the Replacements’ first demo tape. There’s probably some connection there that I’ll wake up and draw out at 4 AM one of these nights. Anyway, enjoy.

 

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The 33 1/3 Author Q&A: Phillip Crandall

I have an entry coming soon about Gainesville and punk rock for your Floridians by birth and at heart. A large component of what made Gainesville the crux of such a vibrant movement was a heavy concentration of cheap rents, a transient atmosphere that removed the burden of permanence, and (you probably guessed it) the explosive house parties where bands like Radon and Spoke spoke of radon (as it emanated into the FL punks’ lungs in clouds of sweat). There are a few academic studies of mosh pits and the spatial dynamics of private, DIY spaces out in the ether, but nothing could adequately prepare us for the firey world of Andrew W.K. So, let’s put the social science aside for a few minutes and hear from Phillip Crandall, whose volume on “I Get Wet” is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the 33 1/3 series. PARTY HARD.

333sound

PhillipCrandallOver the next few months, we’ll be profiling the authors of the eighteen forthcoming 33 1/3 titles here on the blog so you can get to know them, their writing, and what kind of twisted soul chooses to think about just one album for months at a time.

Next Up: Phillip Crandall is a South Floridian and longtime music writer, particularly of oral histories. He’s also in a band called There’s Gonna Be Girls There, and every day, he wakes up believing the Chicago Cubs are going to win that day (poor guy). Of the experience working on a 33 1/3 about Andrew W.K.’s 2001 party rock album I Get Wet, he says, “It’s been extremely moving and incredibly rewarding, but when I look back at it, sappy-me is probably going to remember most fondly my wife announcing halfway through that she was pregnant with our first child. So…

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