For years, the crumbling of the British Empire has been mirrored by the shrinking chart fortunes of British bands in the colonies. Sure, at one time Britain gave us the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Sex Pistols, the Police and the Smiths--but what has it done for us lately? Bros? The Soup Dragons? Suede? Bah! Just to show you what little value we place upon British imports nowadays, note how Suede and the Charlatans, two bona fide big-name bands in the Mother Country, had to change their respective handles to London Suede and Charlatans U.K. so as not to be mistaken for a nobody lounge singer and a nothing garage band in this country.
Then along comes Oasis, covering all the bases. If Oasis didn't exist, British weeklies like Melody Maker, New Musical Express and Vox would've had to commission a similar band just to have something to write about. All three publications dutifully award Oasis a cover story every time the group's siblings, Noel and Liam Gallagher, have a quarrel. And each weekly has named the band's debut album, Definitely Maybe, Album of the Year for 1994 (though a good 70 percent of each listing consists of American bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys). It's a matter of national pride now that Britain's own "boys" should have the American following that is their birthright.
But all the U.K. press in the world means ca-ca in America, where resisting limey poseurs has been a way of life since the days of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Yet unlike recent Next Big Thuds like London Suede or the Happy Mondays, these Oasis fellas mean business. They've been in Phoenix twice in the past six months, and turned in a scintillating show at Nile Theater two weeks ago. But humble they are not; as guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs recently told Denver's Westword, "We're playing the best music at the moment. We're the best band at the moment. People want to know about us." Will their plan to be the most user-friendly British group in a decade work? Let's pick apart the components that make up Oasis and see if an American breakthrough is in the cards or just a mirage.
Part One: The Group
Lead Singer: Liam Gallagher
Past Brit Rocker He Most Resembles: A cross between two U.K. pop stars who lost something in the American translation--Paul Weller of the Jam and David Essex, who actually scored a U.S. No. 1 hit ("Rock On"). But then again, so did the Bay City Rollers. Oasis, take note: In 1976, the Rollers came to New York hyped as the next Beatles, only to wind up waving to 12 teenagers and hundreds of police barricades at Kennedy Airport.
Singing Style: Johnny Rotten all the way, baby, except on the album's McCartneyesque closer "Married With Children." The creative mispronunciation Liam specializes in throughout ("sit-choo-a-shee-unnn," "soonshee-ine") allows him to rhyme "You're not very bright" with "Your music's shit!" Hot shite, indeed!
Stage Presence: Liam is a cross between Hitler and the archetypical rock star you find in films like Privilege and Stardust, and his onstage demeanor consists of standing with his hands clasped behind his back as if in front of a firing squad. When he isn't singing, he stares intently into space. Occasionally, he dramatically points to a random audience member for a split second or else towels himself off before assuming his attention pose again. If it weren't for the flashing lights, you could be looking at an album cover. In Liam's favor, he shakes the odd hand in the audience now and then and mumbles "thank you" after every number. But considering the grudging fashion in which these tasks are carried out, you suspect someone in the Oasis organization (big brother Noel, perhaps?) is forcing him to be courteous ("Coom on, Liam, ye wanna crack the States or don't ye?").
Lead Guitarist: Noel Gallagher
Past Brit Rocker He Most Resembles: Pete Shelly and Midge Ure--two guys with a lot more albums available by import than domestically.
Stage Presence: Hardly any, but since he's the group's songwriter, that's gotta account for some introspective shoe-gazing. Still, a couple of well-timed windmill chords couldn't hurt.
Future Plus: Both Noel and Liam have perfected the battling-brothers shtick that Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks invented more than a quarter of a century ago. If the Gallagher boys keep up on the same troubled course as Ray and Dave, onstage fisticuffs can't be too far behind.
Rhythm Guitar: Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs
Past Brit Rocker He Most Resembles: Looks like a refugee from Gerry and the Pacemakers. Plus, he's got a nickname--just like Ringo. But Noel, Paul, Liam, Tony and Bonehead? Even John, Paul, George and Bonehead wouldn't have stood a chance in this country. Ah, but what's in a name--if the words "rapid hair loss" mean anything to you, look no further for your favorite guy in Oasis.
Stage Presence: At the recent Nile show, Bonehead's rhythmic strumming prowess was not needed for the ending of "Shakermaker." So what does he do? He takes his wrist watch off, winds it to the correct time, then shoves it into his pocket.
Bass Guitar and Drums: Who cares? In the great tradition of visually invisible British rhythm sections like Wyman and Watts, these guys are about as noticeable as cellophane in a puddle. And as with Bill Wyman's mug in the early Stones days, photographers can't even be bothered to get all of bassist Paul's whole face in the shot.
Stage Presence: Compared to them, Bonehead's a freewheelin' yet gifted extrovert!
Part Two: The Packaging
Clearly, the Oasis logo is meant to subliminally evoke old memories of great Stones albums from the Sixties; it's a ringer for the British Decca Records logo of that era. The candid band photos inside Definitely Maybe's booklet also wouldn't have looked out of place in the Stones' Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) booklet. So why, then, does the band pay homage to Pink Floyd's Ummagumma for the front and back cover? Simple--Pink Floyd's last U.S. tour outgrossed the Stones in a big way.
Part Three: The Music
Virtually every song on Definitely Maybe is a knock-off of at least one huge British hit. Oasis is not above stealing the New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" for "Shakermaker," a nick it graciously acknowledges with the song's live version. T. Rex's "Get It On" is also fair game for plundering--check out Oasis' "Cigarettes and Alcohol." "Up in the Sky" has subtle snatches of the Pistols' "I Wanna Be Me" and Syd Barrett-era Floyd ("Flaming"). There's also a "Yellow Submarine" reference in "Supersonic," even though that song's chorus is a direct melodic lift from "Blood and Roses," recorded by those limey-loving Yanks, the Smithereens. It is Alan McGee, the man who signed Oasis, who best described the band's sound: "Like the Jesus and Mary Chain would sound like if they'd been able to play."
Part Four: The Verdict
Definitely Maybe probably maybe promises great things in the future for Oasis. The lads have just got to remember that arrogance did little for Paul Weller, Marc Bolan, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and Terence Trent D'Arby in the States. It's pretty stupid for Noel to make cocky statements like "America needs us more than we need them" when the only British album currently residing in the U.S. Top 20 consists of 30-year-old BBC recordings by the Beatles. Oasis must know this, since it closes every show with a sizzling "I Am the Walrus." If Oasis perseveres, there's no reason it shouldn't be at least as popular as the Smiths were just after they broke up. But conquer America? That all depends on Bonehead!