Monday, 22 August 2016

The Moody Blues "Strange Times" (1999)




The Moody Blues "Strange Times" (1999)

English Sunset/Haunted/Sooner Or Later (Walkin' On Air)/Wherever You Are/Foolish Love/Love Don't Come Easy/All That Is Real Is You/Strange Times/Words You Say/My Little Lovely/Forever Now/The One/The Swallow/Nothing Changes

'The dark cloak of 1980s hell had not been worn by The Moodies well, until the band re-learnt how to be bold, hired an orchestra and sang of growing old, now having adventured in time not space, The Moodies still tried to heal the human race, with a new album for our children's children's child, while still full of flashes of when this band were young and wild, full of thoughts and even more so care, this is a far superior millennium prayer, born for hearing on satin nights, and putting unjust wrongs to rights, nothing stays the same yet nothing changes, that's why we end with another monologue thankfully this time not about oranges'

 or 'We take it day by day because that's the English way. More tea, vicar?'

There's a weird looking cover that seems to have got the whole world in a shell tossed up on a beach. There's a weird half-concept about time and ageing that was only ever going to work round the millennium. There's an even weirder sub-1980s production, overdubbed with an orchestra straight out of the 1960s that wouldn't really have worked at any time but particular when this album was released. Weirdest of all, The Moody Blues - once the hippiest and least commercial minded of all bands - use the CD inner tray to advertise all the wonderful, if expensive, junk on sale from the fan-club of which the music seems to play a very small part (did anybody ever join 'The Moody Blues University' advertised in the box? We thought about creating an AAA University on similar lines, but the essays would all be 20,000 words long and each terms would last about five years). These, dear readers, are strange times indeed, both then and now (what would a Moodies themed album on Brexit sound like one wonders?) - but in true Moody Blues fashion the band embraces them all. Perhaps because of all the weirdness going on, the public never really clicked with what is still the last studio Moodies album proper (Xmas carols don't count on this site!) and 'Strange Times' became one of the poorest sellers in the band's back catalogue. However Moodies fans know to measure records in bigger terms than sales figures and chart statistics and like a spiral rising up to freedom (whatever that means), this album's weirdness is a thing to embrace rather than be ashamed of, especially after a full five albums of records that aimed little higher than making shiny singalong pop records. 'Strange Times' just feels like a Moodies record in a way that the keyboard-filled pop-heavy songs about rocks rolling over you and sitting behind the wheel watching the river roll never quite did. 'Strange Times' sounds like the kind of record a 1960s kid would expect The Moody Blues to still be making when they looked forward (as surely all time-keeping Moodies fans must have done) to the age of the great millennium without any knowledge of the punk, new wave, 80s pop and Britpop movements to come. These may be strange times discussed on the record, but The Moodies are on the outside looking in and commenting on them again rather than being so keen to be right in the middle of things.

Don't underestimate the dating of this record which 'counts' far more than most of the 'timeless' Moodies albums. 'Strange Times' was released a mere four months before the change of the millennium and is in fact the penultimate AAA album to be released in the 20th century (only CSNY's 'Lookin' Foward' came later). Much as people now pass the millennium fever and the worry about the millennium bug off as a bad dream that didn't really happen and we weren't caught up in, honest, there had been a building of anticipation for years about what the 21st century might look like. Several of our hippie bands especially discussed it: would the dawning of the age of Aquarius see the true hippie colours fly, even though Aquarius is traditionally one of the least hippie friendly signs? (It seems a shame to point out that the 2000 years of the age of Pisces between 0 AD and the year 2000 wasn't exactly peace, painting and fish). The children of the 1960s were all approaching fifty in the year 2000, traditionally seen as the 'age of power' when people had climbed up the ladder in their careers but not yet as far as retirement. Surely things would be different with hippies in charge? That's where 'Strange Times' is coming from, with the album written largely during the half-return of the 1960s values across the 1990s (when Britpop contained faint echoes of hippiedom and psychedelia), but recorded late enough in the decade for the panic to set in that the millennia isn't going to be the way it once seemed like it might have been in the 1960s.

In that sense 'Strange Times' is a sort of sequel for 'To Our Children's Children's Children' released almost forty years (minus two months) earlier, only this time it's an adventure in time rather than space. Instead of using rocket ships and science fiction to imagine what the future might hold for humanity, though, this is a group of fifty-somethings looking back on their youth and wondering why life ended up turning out so very different to the way they imagined in 1969.. The earnest opportunistic idealistic youth now has grandchildren and while they haven't stopped believing in their dreams for the youngest generation they're experienced to know you can't always get what you want.  The never-ending horizon, filled with pioneers and rocket-ships, is now an 'English Sunset'. 'The past has been and gone, it's time we're moving on...because tonight will never pass this way again' runs the chorus to 'Wherever You Are' which may as well be the album's motto. 'The Swallow' reflects on how 'time goes by, seems like the blink of an eye' - was it really four whole decades ago the future seemed unknowing and impenetrable? The love that once seemed so certain is now a ghost, the narrator 'haunted by your love' from years ago. 'The One' deals with the ups and downs of an artist who once had it all and lost it, the bumps on the way teaching him more than the times in the spotlight. 'Sooner Or Later', meanwhile, still looks towards the future for perfection in true Moodies style, as perhaps in another forty years' time we'll get the perfect world we always wanted? There's nowhere quite so alien as the future - and The Moodies act across this album as if they've just woken up from a Rip Van Winkle sleep, wondering how their younger selves would have re-acted to modern trends. If 'Children's album cover was The Moodies having fun and adventures in space, 'Times' cover is adventures in time, with graphics of clocks and sundials on everything.

This isn't just an album about ageing and things changing, though. Just as 'Children's was split between a utopian and dystopian model of the future, so 'Strange Times' darts back and forth between wondering where the old days have gone and remarking on how much everything stays the same. The other big album theme is 'love' - an unremarkable theme you might think, but even by Moodies standards there are an awful lot of romantic ballads on this CD and love seems to be the only thing that lasts the ages (except for the songs where it doesn't, of course - and no that's not necessarily a contradiction, The Moodies are a band built for near-contradictions and subtle similarities). Love lasts forever, even if relationships come and go, with the theme of past loves that's so common to previous Moodies albums here frequently, even after the narrators are happily married and should by rights have moved on. Love also never comes easy, no matter how many relationships you've had - whether you're the youth of 1969 embarking on your first great adventure or the wizened old man of the new century still struggling to learn how to cope with the unknowable. The Moodies have also come to believe that goals in life can change and that most of the world and time is an illusion (lunch-time doubly so), but that the feelings of love is what's 'real' and the true meaning of life. Back in 1969 'To Our Children's was a fairly lonely and isolated record - the good news is that The Moodies don't sound quite so lonely anymore. They've had a full and gregarious life (or at least the characters in their songs have) and perhaps the biggest lesson to pass down to their younger selves is not to 'worry'; that even if the love affairs come and go and hit ups and downs they never were left watching and waiting for 'someone to play with'. The future may not have been as great as it sounded on side one of that record - but it wasn't as isolated and upsetting as the second side either. 'Nothing changes and yet nothing stays the same' as Graeme puts it in the final spoken-word track (the first Moodies monologue in sixteen years - we told you this was a weird record!)

One of the other reasons 'Strange Times' feels like it pushes the clocks backwards so much is the sound. The Moody Blues are for some reason famous for using orchestration when arguably their dalliance with strings lasted for one whole album ('Days Of Future Passed' in 1967) and one whole live performance (the 1992 'Red Rocks' one). During the years in-between the band had got by with a cornucopia of keyboards - first by the oh so 1960s legend Mike Pinder, then by the oh so 1980s leg-end Patrick Moraz. The latter split with the band in a major way in the early 1990s sometime during the making of their previous album 'Keys To The Kingdom', with Moraz claiming in court that he was due unpaid royalties and had effectively been in charge of the band's sound since he joined around 1980 (nice try and Moraz was clearly central to much of it, but The Moodies had a sound before Moraz arrived and still had it after he left - and anyway most musicians wouldn't want to admit to being in charge of most of what The Moodies had made in the intervening years). The court case was even screened on television where it makes for fascinating compulsive viewing of you're the kind of fan who loves details of gruesome fall-outs (though for the rest of us hippie flower-children living on an imaginary cloud of perfection it's one of the most distressing things out there, along with sick puppies and dead unicorns). The Moodies don't just want to move back in time on this record, they want to eradicate the Moraz 1980s sound almost entirely (despite doing a pretty good job at replicating it post-Moraz on the half of  the 'Keys' record he didn't make). As a result 'Strange Times' is the most un-synth-ridden Moodies album since 'Octave in 1978 so of course it sounds more like the 'real' 'them'. And that's even without the orchestra overdubs overseen by arranger Danilo Madonia which are a natural replacement for Pinder and Moraz and make 'Strange Times' feel like a more 'real' album than anything they've done in a similar time period.

Unfortunately, though, what could have been the mother of all comebacks is slightly thrown off-balance by a curious need to still keep something of the 1980s sound going, even though by 1999 it all sounded far more out of date than a 1960s production would have done. Graeme's struggled more and more with his drumming over the years (the band have had Gordy Marshall as a 'second drummer' on stage for decades now), but really there's no reason to replace him with a drum machine on quite this many songs. The few times the synths kick in they're not the latest model but a pure 1980s casio sequencer (or at least that's what they sound like). 'English Sunset' even includes a hip-hop chant and football hooligan cries of 'England!' that sound like a New Kids On The Block member having a mid-life crisis. Like many a Moodies album since the break-up the band sound a little desperate. It's not hard to see why: the music business had changed phenomenally since the days when the Blues were in the black and an album like the original seven (by the Hayward line-up anyway) would never have worked in being sold to the general public. But chances are no album with the Moodies name could ever have sold in vast quantities to the general public (even as classic like 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere' didn't do that well); why not make an album for the millions of Moodies fans out there instead of stapling embarrassing nods of the head to inferior music? Though the loss of Moraz isn't something to be mourned too hard (he did the role he was asked to do well, though whether he should have done that role is of course another question), the removal of his keyboards leaves an empty space that even the orchestra can't fill. Though Ray and Graeme finally get a song apiece (their first since 1986 and 1983 respectively), it's also said that the last Moodies album to feature all four 'core' members and one that spends so much time discussing the old days is still largely the Justin 'n' John show. Even accepting the fact that Ray was poorly during the making of this album (according to some reports with diabetes - to others it was gout) and thus not much involved - again - it still seems awfully sad that he only gets a grand total of 90 seconds of the album to himself as a writer (and only a further three lines of 'Sooner Or Later' as a singer). He doesn't even get to play the flute, with the one vaguely flutey sounding piece (on album standout 'The Swallow') performed on keyboards. Graeme, too, only features on about half the album and seems to have been given 'Nothing Changes' as an afterthought, without the love and care and attention devoted to the rest of the album. John's stuck in twee ballad mode, which is better than the albums when he's stuck in aggressive rockstar mode but still not exactly adding up to a band firing on all cylinders (though 'Love Don't Come Easy' is one of his very best twee ballads it has to be said).

Thankfully Justin still sounds and writes much like he always did and a couple of clumsy tracks aside sounds like he's awaken from a bad dream. 'Swallow' isn't just a highlight of the album, it's a highlight of his whole catalogue and his best track since at least 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere', a beautiful song about growing old that still rocks with the power of the young. 'Haunted' is the lonely searching Hayward of old, last heard somewhere around 1972, finally breaking through the decades of perfect love and happy relationships to worry it's way into the album's heart. 'Foolish Love' might not quite match the Blue Jays songs about lost first loves or 'Somewhere' but it's another beautiful and oh-so-real song about still missing someone you thought you'd got over decades ago. The pretty 'All That Is Real Is You' is another under-rated track with a bounce and ease long missing from the Moodies songbook. The Justin-John co-writes 'Sooner Or Later' and 'The One' have their moments too. Add that lot together and no, 'Strange Times' isn't a masterpiece - and when this album gets things wrong (as on the shrill title track, the desperate contemporary 'English Sunset' or the 'Isn't Life Stra-a-a-a-a-ange?' re-write nobody needed 'Wherever You Are') it gets things pretty wrong (though not quite 'Keys To The Kingdom' wrong). But by and large there's a consistency, a drive and an experimentation to 'Strange Times' that makes it really stand out after three whole albums of The Moodies playing things safe and pitching songs to the lowest common denominator. The best Moodies album since 'The Present' (the last album that tried to play things both so safe and so strange all at the same time), it deserved to do better - a lot better.

Unfortunately the album's relative 'failure' (at least at first - the album did quite well when re-issued a few years later a s double-set with a best-of, but that doesn't really count does it?) all but killed the band off after this, as a creative and recording if not a touring force. Ray will depart in 2002, to suffer the ignominy of being the only AAA band member to be replaced by a girl (though Norda Mullen is his equal as a musician) and despite not having much to do in the band since 1983 the band will never quite seem the same after his loss. The keyboards will gradually take up more and more of the stage once again (though as one of the players is Hollies 'discovery' Paul Bliss we at the AAA can't be too upset at this). The only releases from here-on in will be an odd does-this-count? instrumental score to a documentary film about caves that's about as fun as it sounds (technically credited to Justin and John alone), Christmas songs and lots and lots of live albums (and the DVDs to go with them of course!) In other words, 'Strange Times' is a fine album worthy of the Moodies name which should have brought a whole new energy and interest to their career, which had been in cruise mode for a while. Sadly that courage wasn't properly rewarded and instead it's the CD's inner tray full of merchandise and goodies that wins the day, with every future Moodies release designed to make the most money whilst using the shortest possible amount of effort. Needless to say, if you're a true fan you'll like the slight danger and attempt to do something bold on 'Strange Times' more than you'll like hearing your 83rd live version of 'Nights In White Satin', hearing Justin and John's take on 'White Christmas' or turning white when you realise you've just paid a fortune for the privilege of owning an hour's worth of staring at caves. It isn't 'Strange Times' that's part of, well, strange times, but what's happened to The Moodies spirit since the 21st century began that's a bit...strange. Seen in context with the whole catalogue 'Strange Times' feels like a bit of a dead-end now, set apart from the straight line of commercialism between the relentlessly jolly 'Keys To The Kingdom' and wassailing weary 'December'. But it's this album that sounds most like The Moody Blues have worked out what to do with their old age - it's a true shame that, at the time of writing, these aren't just strange times but the last times, the final moment when The Moody Blues were the band people remembered instead of one that just tried to sell things. If that seems a bit harsh, remember The Moody Blues lasted longer without pandering to commercial tastes than most, but who seriously thought in the 1960s that the band's last big group project would be a Christmas covers album?

The album starts with an 'English Sunset', with The Moody Blues clearly singing about Brexit seventeen years early. Just as 'The Sunset' from 1967 couldn't have been recorded in any other year, so 'English Sunset' couldn't date from another other era except this one. The most relentlessly contemporary Moodies track since 'Go Now' thirty-five years earlier, it features bursts of hip-hop, squeaky synth strings, drum machines and a breathless melodyline that crushes along so fast it doesn't have time to make much of an impact. Released as the single, many fans were impressed with how modern the band sounded but the general public stayed away - perhaps because this track sounded like every other song around in the year 1999 and lacked the Moodies' extra identity. Justin's lyrics are strong for the most part, recalling 'To Our Children's 'Gypsy' with a tale of a country that doesn't know what it stands for anymore 'rolling down the track' and about to crash headlong, with everyone powerless to stop it. However they're at odds with the music which seems to celebrate the modern day and is genuinely exuberant and one heck of a lot more forceful than your typical Moodies song. The track sounds slightly unfinished too, despite the many layers of extra on the actual production: the chorus 'I feel the rhythm of the Earth in my soul tonight!' arrives after the song has leapt off a temporary cliff and brings the song crashing to the ground as it half-repeats the verse again - not so much the soft golden cushion to land on as another assault course to navigate when your head is still spinning from the last one. There's a distinct lack of a band feel about this song too which will marr many of the tracks to come: few harmonies and the loudest instruments in the room tend to be from the 'extra' band members. Still, Justin's in good voice and in even better form as a guitarist and as the lyrics tell us, if we can take this album day by day (and song by song) then that's ok - it's the English way. Despite all of the above, I still shudder when I hear the line 'more tea Vicar?', the football Holligan cries of 'Engerllland!' or here Justin doing his grunting impression of Snoop Doggy Dogg however.

'Haunted' is a pretty and overlooked song, one that surely would have been a better candidate for the only album single as it sounds both contemporary and Moodiesy at once. A typical Justin ballad about love and loss, it starts off with icy cool detachment and explodes in fires of burning passion by the middle in the same way as his similar songs about past loves, from 'Who Are You Now?' through to 'I Know You're Out There Somewhere'. Once again the song takes place at night, after the rest of the house is quiet and Justin's narrator mind is wondering, but it's a more colourful song than the 'Blue Jays' takes on the same theme in the 1970s, with a busy backing track that gets in the way of what should really be a pure and simple kind of song. Goodness knows why the band start singing 'doo-dit-dit-dit-doo-doohs' on the chorus too like it's a Fred Astaire musical or a Manfredd Mann song: this song isn't meant to be pretty, it's meant to be powerful. After all, the narrator is only slowly admitting to himself just how much he was hurt from a relationship gone by. 'Life goes on' the narrator sighs, but it's clear his heart's not in the present but the past as memories brush past him like ghosts. As with so many Justin songs from the 1960s and 1970s, you can never go home once you've left it, but that doesn't stop the narrator trying and the powerful middle eight has him as a river getting lost trying to find its way to the sea, desperately to connect with someone the way he once did. Worst of all is the silence: Justin's memories are mute, scary silent movies that taunt him where his life used to be so...musical. Much as the band have tried to dress this song up in finery and cheery singing, it's a much deeper, scarier, real and far more, well, haunted, song than it's usually given credit for being. A remix one day would be great.

'Sooner Or Later' by contrast doesn't say much but has a lot of fun saying it. A co-write between Justin and John, it features the pair and Ray alternating lines (John/Ray/Justin) on an uplifting song about recovering from bad times and getting back on your feet and it's great to hear all three singing together one last time. After all, as the song says, bad times are just a phase that means good times are around the corner 'sooner or later'. A rather unfortunate lift from the Aled Jones' Snowman theme of 1982 aside (they really should have noticed the 'Walking On Air' hookline), this is a nicely inventive song that doesn't sound quite like anything else The Moodies have ever done, jolly without being silly as they can sometimes be. Like many a strong Moodies song, the middle eight is especially good: 'Love is out there waiting for you...Love will surround you', you just have to get on with your life as best you can until you find it. Note an early reference (the AAA's earliest?) to getting a 'message from your online' - The Moodies' internet community was one of the first and strongest back in the days when reading a site like Alan's Album Archives seemed like the sort of science fiction you could only find on Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Who records. Happy days!

'Wherever You Are' starts off magnificently: a haunting mournful synthesiser lick, the sound of ticking clocks and brushes of sound that come as close as any Moody Blues song post-1978 to featuring the spirit of the mellotron. However the song itself is one of those ugly awkward John Lodge ballads where the lines don't quite fit the music and the music is clearly trying to go somewhere more interesting than where it ends up going. Like many a Lodge song this one reads better than it sounds, with some intriguing lyrics about moving on from bad days into good and making the most of  what's happening today. Unfortunately we get them all twice, sandwiched together with a typically curious instrumental section that recalls 'Hole In The World' from 'The Present' - it's very inventive and shows off contemporary technology nicely but why is it here and why does it last so long? The song isn't helped by the fact that it's effectively a Lodge solo song, with John singing triple-tracked instead of using the talents of his bandmates and featuring lots of keyboards rather than anything the band themselves play. Some Ray Thomas folky flute, for instance, would have 'earthed' this song no end - with all those synthesisers at times it feels like the song is going to float away. Still, the song earns half a mark for the haunting keyboard riff alone which automatically puts it higher than a lot of John's other big weighty romantic ballads recently.

If 'Wherever You Go' sounds like the 1980s Moodies, 'Foolish Love' sounds pure 1960s (no guessing which I like better). Justin's poppy song recalls 'Vintage Wine' from 1988 but with more purpose: once again he's running down memory lane but this time he's marvelling at the fact he was a brave enough to take a chance on his beloved - and that she still is his beloved. 'I love you as I love you then' sings Justin sweetly, but this is no twee ballad: the pair had to work hard to make things right and overcame many bad times; only now, after decades of security does it feel like there is 'no danger and no doubt'. This was, after all, a gamble as all love is at the start will it work? Are the two compatible? Will the 'flying', the feeling of bliss, ever last? Foolish as all love might be, though, in this narrator's case it's worked and he's delighted, wishing he could go back in time and tell his younger self not to worry. Like all of this album's songs that speak about the passing of time, this one feels musically like The Moodies could have recorded it at any time period (annoying drum track aside), but lyrically the band had to be of a certain age to write a song like this one. It's a sort of before and after shot, a spot the difference picture where everyone has aged but the music sounds pretty much timeless. Another vastly under-rated track.

'Love Don't Come Easy' proves that John can shine when he sings from the heart instead of his bank balance and it's one of his best songs - perhaps in eighteen years. Picking up on the theme of the last song, John's narrator is in a very different place. Though once equally in love as Justin and partner, this couple have drifted apart and instead of well-worn memories he keeps discovering new and unpleasant things about his beloved. 'Scared of losing you', John is terrified by the new look of disdain in his lover's eyes he's never seen before and wonders if she always had it but love blinded him too much to let him see it. Reflecting that love isn't easy, he longs to turn back the clock to a time when love seemed simple and he, too, was 'flying' on the wave of love. John's not going to give up without a fight though, vowing 'I can make it up to you! I can heal the pain!' Musically this song is a fight between the light and the darkness; over in the happier corner is the slightly cloying chorus that 'time changes for the better', while other on the 'secondary' chorus we fall through the rabbit hole of an eerie minor chord and the admittance that 'love don't come easy'. The Moodies are famous for their use of orchestras, largely erroneously given that most of the ideas on 'Days Of Future Passed' weren't by them but arranger Peter Knight and weren't that great anyway. However, this song features a truly stunning use of orchestra, as the layers build and build and what started off as a safe and simple song builds into a scary world full of poison, nightmares and fragility. John's vocal is something rather special too, just detached enough to get the idea of two partners not talking to each other across, while Justin's snarling wild beast of a guitar solo is impressive, quite radically different to his usual 'clean' sound. One of the best Moodies songs for years and one of the greatest 'Lodgesongs' of them all.

The sweet 'All That Is Real Is You' sounds more insubstantial than it should coming after that last track and is perhaps the most Moodies-ish on the record, with a hummable and again very 1960s chorus and not many production trappings. The lovely melody sounds like a folk song, rounded and cyclical in contrast to Justin's lyrics about searching for the un-findable everywhere in his life. The future isn't what the young Hayward once thought it would be: instead of utopian romantic dreams he longed for he's found a world full of people scrabbling to get by, where 'all of the silver and all of the gold seems worthless to me, lifeless and cold'. Even his memories of days of future passed, usually so sacred to Hayward, are 'illusions' and he knows that his past wasn't really like that at all. Instead the only thing he can be certain of is 'you', singing the word with so much feeling it's enough to make his sizeable fanbase weak at the knees once again. While most of the song is downbeat, the tune going right down low as if the narrator is staring at his shoes, a fiery middle eight reaches out to Justin's partner and plays the same melody in reverse, reaching up for the stars. 'Bring me back home, my love' he soars, in contrast to all the past Moodies songs where home was an impossible place to find, because his love is back home and love isn't just all you need but the only thing in life that's truly 'real'. Another special and under-rated song from a writer having a particularly strong album which is another candidate for the single that got away. 

We've commented a few times on this site at how much better The Moodies were when they were looking inside themselves, not out to the wider world. The title track of 'Strange Times' is a case in point: whenever the band try to paint the history of the world and mankind and civilisation in a lyric they tend to get all overblown and mystical. With lyrical references to 'the house of the water sign' (which is a nonsense: in 2000 we were leaving the house of the water sign Pisces for air sign Aquarius), crystal waters, wastelands filled with snow, falling stars and 'temples of greed', it's safe to say that this is the most 1960s lyric on a Moodies album since the 1960s. And sadly about the worst: it's hard to write a lyric that's clearly meant to be about the modern day and how strange it all is using the strange trappings and stylings of the past to make your point. Especially when such a hippie lyric is accompanied by a backing track that's almost as contemporary noisy as 'English Sunset', complete with rat-a-tat drumming and synth strings (although an organ hook straight out of the Denny Laine-era early Moodies makes for a nice contrast). The cheesy key change near the end also makes the most Eurovision of Moody Blues songs - and sadly more like the songs that get nul points than, say, Frances Rufelle or Gina G's contributions. Though 'Strange Times' is of the weakest tracks on the album, even this track has its charms though: 'Years went by, time just fell away' sighs an elder Hayward as an oh-so Moodies guitar lick hits a modern drum machine head on, with the band sounding hopelessly lost in this strange modern world. A later verse finds Hayward and Lodge in a happier mood though: it's not that the world has moved on so much as that time has stood still cocooned in the Moodies' own bubble. Had the rest of the lyric spent more time focussing on the band (who are the only thing that aren't strange in the modern world and still keeping the sixties faith) rather than the strange modern world, this might yet have been a strong song.

'Words You Say' starts with the sound of a real orchestra for only the second time on the album - they even tune up at the beginning of the song as if to prove it. Lodge's third lovelorn ballad on the album, this one is less twee than 'Wherever You Are' but not as strong or heartfelt as 'Love Don't Come Easy', it sounds remarkably like the similarly, umm, moody songs from the 'Blue Jays' LP.  A promising opening has John's narrator listening to his loved one and wondering why he feels annoyed rather than sympathetic as per years gone by, before returning to his memories when times were better and going back to sleep pretending the changes in his life that hasn't happened (again, very Blue Jays where sleeping was a key theme). The song is basically a sequel to 'Talking Out Of Turn', only John's narrator is being rude by ignoring his partner rather than speaking his mind - still the response is the same as he worries about what his love has come to because he's still passionately in love (the song reaching a crescendo on the words 'you are in my heart and soul'). Ray's brief flute solo is easily the highlight - every song on the album (or nearly every song anyway) should have featured his playing too - closely followed by Justin's oddly flashy guitar solo, which sounds more like a Jimmy Page or an Eric Clapton flourish than his usual precise self. Though most of the song is hopeful for a reconciliation, the final door-slam suggests that it's never going to happen, with the song eerily fading on a bunch of alien morse code bleeps that recalls Justin's work on the 'War Of The Worlds' project.

Ray's final song in the Moody Blues canon is his best for a while, pretty but also pretty darn short. The flautist was famous for writing songs for his children ('Nice To Be Here' and the wonderful 'Adam and I') so it seems fitting that he bows out of the band with a song for his newborn grand-son Robert. It's a song about the old and new, endings and continuation, as Ray - who was already preparing to leave the band - offers up a song for the newborn babe that is in many ways a manifesto for what the Moodies stood for. Urging his grandchild to believe in fairytales and pixie dust and that anything is possible in life, Ray warns him that life may be hard and he might have to learn how to life his life 'slowly', but the world is also a wondrous place full of possibilities and an awful lot of love can get stuck to that 'pixie glue'. With its talk of wizards and angels and streams and shores (see 'And The Tide Rushes In' particularly...), you could easily imagine this song on a 1970s Moodies album and Ray's voice sounds remarkably good (certainly better than on 'Keys To The Kingdom'). A charming melody is also a good fit for the band, humbly reaching up to the stars on a sea of possibilities open to the newborn baby, the same way 'Adam and I' once did. Unfortunately Ray's already run out of ideas 1:06 into the song and repeats both the chorus and first two verses again before bringing this song to an uncertain halt a mere 1:45 in (thus making this the shortest Moody Blues song that-isn't-an-instrumental-or-a-spoken-word-piece in their pantheon). It's a real shame that Ray didn't hand this song over to Justin or John to finish off for him (the way he did on 'Kingdom') because with a few extra verses, a middle eight and a flute solo 'My Little Lovely' could well have become the loveliest song on the album. Instead Ray's finale with the band he'd been with for thirty-five years (a six year sojourn aside) rather sums up his contributions to the band: flashes of genius that aren't always followed through and who was ultimately overshadowed by more prolific writers within the band.

John Lodge was always the Moody happiest working with orchestras and the band themselves barely appear on 'Forever Now', the last of his quartet of romantic ballads. A little on the lush side, this is one of those songs that is both authentic and incredibly saccahrine at the same time, switching gears from honest outpouring to Elton John style commercial preening in the blink of an eye. John's vocal is the best thing about this song and the clumsy chorus ('Why can't it be, forever now?') the worst as he returns to the long pauses and clumsy chord progressions of 'isn't Life Stra-a-a-a-ange?' The lyrics are, perhaps surprisingly, the first ever on a Moodies album to be primarily concerned with death, as John sings about wanting to live forever and whether mankind would make better or worse progress if he had more time to do everything he needed to do. John admits to 'living in a child's world of simple fascination' as he ponders this thought and returns to the tried and trusted 'To Our Children's philosophy of imagining a world both better and worse than the one we have. On the one hand, man has more time to discover the universe and learn new secrets - on the other he stands at a crossroads 'waiting for the new millennium', perhaps on the edge of having thrown everything he's learnt away. An angry middle eight intrudes on the song as reality creeps in on what is a surprisingly down and bitter section for a Moodies song ('There's no way out, there's no return!'), but this only adds to the gravitas of the song: we have no time to make our decisions, so we have to make them count. John then finds room to start sounding more like his old hopeful self again as he wonders if future generations just might have the ability to find a way of living forever. A mixed song, with a good and very Moodies concept let down by a slightly forgettable and unfinished sounding tune and another oddly aggressive Hayward guitar solo that really doesn't fit with the orchestra.

Hey, no surprise - that The Moodies return to their noisy poppy 1980s sound one last time. Fittingly, though, it's part of a lyric about an un-named someone trying to score a hit after being away from the music business for years. 'The One' is a John and Justin song dominated by the former, it's at one with other walking pace rockers like 'Gemini Dream' and 'Roll Over You' with crashing riffs and busy rhythm tracks trying to distract from the bonkers lyrics. However it's the words that are the most interesting feature - especially the debate about who John is singing about. He could be singing about quite a few people here (given that this song could have been written anytime between 1991 and 1999), with the 1990s giving rise to many careers long since dead. However this song sounds personal and sung from personal experience, which means it must be someone close to the pair. Ray would be an obvious target: after sitting out most of the 1980s he was back writing and singing again on both this album and 'Kingdom', although his eccentric contributions to both don't really sound like he wants to be 'the one' again. So, instead, here's my candidate: former bandmate Mike Pinder, who broke nearly fifteen years' worth of silence (while bringing up a family) with a run of characteristically cosmic albums in the mid-1990s. Though admittedly neither 'Among The Stars' or 'A Planet With One Mind' sound like quite the tabloid-journalism-kissing and the-one style egotism of the singer in question, Mike did a lot of publicity for his two albums and after decades as the Moody most reluctant in public seemed to be everywhere (at least in his new home of America). John and Justin also have form singing about their old partner and once again, following 'To Our Children's, the orchestral album of goodbyes 'Blue Jays' is the previous Moodies album that shares most similarity with this one (the record where Mike left partway through with several sad songs about his departure). Then again, perhaps this song is about Denny Laine who was going through an interesting period of releasing more albums than he'd ever made in his life in 1999 - sadly most of them the same album shifted around a bit for the Hallmark Greetings Card own label (though it's worth pointing out that Judtin never actually met his predecessor and John only crossed over with him for a few months at most). Whoever inspired the song, the Moodies clearly hold whoever this is with affection, greeting his return with a jolly 'no surprise!' happy birthday style greeting, accepting his need to tell tall tales in the press to plug a new record and supporting him through times of being forgotten with the promise that 'we all still love you'. It's all rather sweet in fact - or it would be if the Moodies had stuck with the main tune instead of throwing the oddly aggressive and shouty chorus and riff in there.

The album highlight, though, is surely 'The Swallow', a truly beautiful Hayward song about the album's twin themes of living 'real' life away from the spotlight and the passing of time. Now content to be 'in the really slow lane', Justin is removed enough from the carrion clies of rock stardom to reflect that those times weren't his happiest moments at all - it's the nothing days spent with someone who truly loved him that he'll look back on and remember. 'Only lovers feel like we do!' Justin boasts as he relishes the idea that his partner knows everything about him and still wants to be with him - that compared to his younger days there are 'no more mind games, simple and true!' Justin takes just enough of a sneaky look from his cosy cocoon  at the world outside to check it's still there and in a rather far-fetched metaphor compares it to a swallow gliding up in the air to freedom. In other words, in contrast to the 'strange times' of the title track, the world's back on the path it should always have been on and it no longer need the Moody Blues to 'save' it so Justin can go back to enjoying his lovely quiet life and can even dance a happy jig near the end of the song. 'Swallow' really plays to all of The Moodies' Strengths here, with some stunning acoustic guitarwork (sadly rather thin on the ground across this album), some lovely harmonies, a beautiful lead vocal from the song's composer and a delightful flute part which marks Ray Thomas' last contribution to the band. The final cosy duet between the two guitars, wrapped in a cotton wool blanket by the orchestra, is a real moment of celebration and smiles as The Moodies sound anything but blue. Completely ignoring the rest of the album's need to impress commercially, this is what the reunion run of Moodies records should have always sounded like - doing their own thing, merrily, lost in a world of their own making. One of the best songs not just on this album but in the band's catalogue as a whole, the melody is so infectious you really do believe the world will spiral up to freedom.

It's left to Graeme to wrap the album up with 'Nothing Changes'. And in a way it hasn't: back again, for the first time since 1970, comes the portentous monologue as the drummer breathes mystical thoughts in a thick Brummie accent. It's a bit like a musical game of Where's Wally?' without the bobble hats but with lots of fan-pleasing references: 'Sitting in a class of the future's past' 'have you heard the word?' and 'Life is still a simple game'. In that sense it's a fitting end to an album that's all about the passing of time and the difference between 'then' and 'now'. However it's a shame that the theme of the millennium, which is so subtle across the album packaging and lyrics, is used so heavily handled here. In 'Where's Wally' terms, this is like working out every page across the book only to find all the answers have been given at the back so you didn't need to do all that work anyway. It's also hard to imagine a Moodies fan playing this track for fun outside the concept of the album, which admittedly not many fans do with Graeme's monologues anyway, but at least 'The Balance' isn't time-sensitive (well, not for as long as oranges still exist in the world anyway) and 'Late Lament' is positively universal for any time period. 'Nothing Changes' became pointless the minute 2001 came and - as the lyrics put it - just as soon had come and gone. That said, it's hard not to feel a rush of sentimentality as that final rush of Moodies harmonies rush in (sadly minus the departing Ray Thomas) on what is, by most accounts, the last 'proper' track on the last 'proper Moody Blues recording (at least to date, though seventeen years and counting seems an awfully long time, even if it does go by in the blink of an eye nowadays). With the band suddenly sounding much like they always did  (in contrast to Graeme's clearly older voice), it really is a case of nothing changing, but nothing staying the same.


Overall, then, 'Strange Times' is a rather overlooked and perky little album, a quieter affair than most of the past Moodies reunion records that got rather lost in the rush of the millennium album traffic and ignored compare to the noisier, more commercial Moodies records of recent years. However, that slightly more inward-looking humbler sound is far more in keeping with the sound of the original Moodies records and the addition of the orchestra (for the first time since 1967 in terms of a full band studio album) makes 'Strange Times' sound far more like the 'lost chord' the band have been searching for since 1978 than any of their preening pop records. Yes the album could have been stronger: not all the fourteen songs are great, the John Lodge string quartet really belongs as part of a mini-album and sounds wrong heard separately, Ray and Graeme are as under-used as always and there's a distinct lack of the Moodies performing these songs as a band. But there's so much more good here than bad: there's a much bigger sense of identity and what The Moodies stand for across this record and it's lovely to hear them sounding more at peace with themselves as they grow old, while Justin and John also put more emotion into the album songs than they had in years. The performances are generally excellent and you can actually hear the acoustic guitars, bass, drums and flute for once without synthesisers getting in the way all the time and even the orchestra is tastefully done, adding washes of colour to set the scene rather than large dollops of technicolour paint. Best of all, though, are the songs: poignant, powerful and pretty a good half of this record can stand up to anything the band did in their heyday and even the rest isn't that far behind. The fact that a record this strong became a flop is far more indicative of the strange times we were living in musically in 1999 than anything this album got wrong. This album about the then-present is easily the best Moodies album since, umm, 'The Present', spiralling not like a crow into synthesiser hell as on so many albums of future past and present but like a swallow gliding up to freedom. 

Other Moodies reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:


'The Magnificent Moodies' (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-moody-blues-magnificent-moodies.html

'Days Of Future Passed' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-moody-blues-days-of-future-passed.html

'In Search Of The Lost Chord' (1968)  http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-22-moody-blues-in-search-of-lost.html

'On The Threshold Of A Dream' (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/news-views-and-music-issue-53-moody.html

'To Our Children's Children's Children' (1969) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-32-moody-blues-to-our-childrens.html

‘A Question Of Balance’ (1970) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-moody-blues-question-of-balance-1970.html

'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' (1971) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-49moody-blues-every-good-boy.html

'Seventh Sojourn' (1972) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-53-moody-blues-seventh-sojourn.html

'Blue Jays' (Hayward/Lodge) (1976) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/news-views-and-music-issue-38-blue-jays.html

'Songwriter' (Hayward) (1977) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-112-justin.html


'Long Distance Voyager' (1981) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-moody-blues-long-distance-voyager.html

'The Present' (1983) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/news-views-and-music-issue-98-moody.html

'The Other Side Of This Life' (1986) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-moody-blues-other-side-of-life-1986.html

'Sur La Mer' (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/the-moody-blues-sur-la-mer-1988.html

‘December’(2003) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-moody-blues-december-2003.html



Oasis: Non-Album Recordings Part One: 1993-1998




Please note - several B-sides have already been reviewed as part of our article for 'The Masterplan' and have been skipped rather than re-reviewed here

Non-Album Recordings Part #1: 1993
 [1] 'I Will Believe' is the earliest Oasis recording officially released so far, from the band's first ever radio session in August 1993 and taped at Gleneagles, back when the band had only recently stopped 'The Rain' and metamorphosised into Oasis. Understandably scrappy (this was still a very inexperienced band) it's an interesting combination between what other bands sounded like in 1993 and the Oasis roar to come. Noel's words aren't quite there yet (full of stock phrases like 'main in the middle' and the narrator being 'driven round like a dog on a leash), Liam's vocals are almost gentlemanly and only Noel and interesting Tony McCarroll are on the money musician-wise, playing with a 'harder' edge Oasis will soon make their own. This is still a nice, catchy song though with a nice Oasisy affirmative chorus that whatever the world throws at the narrator he'll always have faith. It's a shame, actually, that the band never returned to this song and dumped it from their live sets long before they got their first record deal. Had it been played by the modern era of the band, with Liam in full sneer,  I reckon it would have sounded rather good. Find it on: the CD single 'Supersonic' (1994)

'Good evening Great Britain!' The live recording of 'Bring It On Down', which predates the studio take on 'Definitely Maybe' by a good year (it was taped the same day as 'I Will Believe'), is a good demonstration of the early Oasis live sound and how the group were evolving in their early days. The song loses the drama from the wall of noise and Tony McCarroll is playing way way outside the box rather than keeping to the beats as per the record, while Liam is an amalgam of so many other lead singers he admires, rather than his own man. For all that, though, the 1993 Oasis still sound great and better than almost everything around at the time, with a sassyness and danger long missing from period rock. It's a real shame that a full Oasis set from these early days was never taped! Find it on: the CD single 'Shakermaker' (1994)

The one song from the eight-track demo that sounded very different to the recordings/mixes made later was [  ] 'Columbia', with the 'demo' version given its own official release as part of Oasis' debut single 'Supersonic'. In common with the other songs from the demo tape, it's close but not quite there yet, with the guitar-work sounding more like contemporary rock (the first Oceasn Colour Scene album from 1992 comes to mind) and Liam is also lacking his usual swagger, singing rather than sneering the vocals in a heavy 'Stone Roses' style Mancunian.  The demo tape - and especially the outtakes (and very especially 'Snakebite') - reveal that Noel was obsessed with busy, manic guitar parts and the same is here too with the familiar crunch of 'Columbia' given a durdurdurdurdurdeedee riff instead of the der der der der der one. Instead of the rip-roaring finale, where Liam is all 'c'mon' and Noel is all 'yeah yeah yeah' we also get spoken word for the first time, apparently sampled from a record of ethnic music, the song skating away on a mass chant of words we can't understand like it's a Pink Floyd film soundtrack rather than a rock and roll song. Noel will later find a way of bringing these spoken word elements into his music, but for now it sounds like the right idea for the wrong song and rather detracts from the impressively tense 'Columbia', which sounds a monster even here in diluted early form. Find it on: the CD single 'Supersonic' (1994)

[2] 'Alive' is another rather odd early song. The heavy electric guitar sound is already there, but the Oasis fluidity isn't as yet. Liam continues to sing as he thinks songs ought to be sung, downplaying his harsher tones and not yet 'living' the song. Then again this would be a hard song for him to sing even now, being one of his brother's wordier efforts. The chorus cry of 'I'm Alive' is very Oasis (sounding like an early version of 'Live Forever') as is the 'warning' lyrics about wanting 'something for nothing'. However the words rattle along at a rate of knots, full of too-clever-by-half phrases and unusual rhyming schemes that make this song sound a little cold and calculating compared to the 'heart' that Oasis bring to almost all their other records. Still, a fascinating little window into what Oasis sounded like before they were famous and while this was one of the weaker songs in the band's early set, right to be abandoned at 'eight-track demo' stage', they're already a tight and charismatic little band. Find it on: the CD single 'Shakermaker' (1994)

The rather strange [3] 'Strange Thing' is more evidence that in their early bands Oasis were like every other British band around in the early 90s, with a Stone Roses type laidback groove and some dappy lyrics about 'looking to the future' even though 'life is a strange thing'. Liam sings this one 'straight' - or at least as straight as you can with a voice as tough as old boots - doing a fair impression of Stone Roses singer Mani The one thing that sounds out of place is Noel's guitarwork, which is already about ten times as loud as anything the Stone Roses had ever done, with a rather awkward ten-note phrase that's quite unlike anything he'll ever play with Oasis again. Kept in the vaults until the 'Definitely Maybe' re-issue of 2013, it's arguably the weakest of the band's early songs and probably the right one to be left on the shelf. However it's still remarkably good for an unsigned band and a fascinating curio of how Oasis sounded on their way to discovering who they really were. Find it on: the limited edition 1000 copy replica of the 'Eight Track Demo' promotional cassette that was part of the 'Morning Glory' deluxe re-issue (2014)

'Cloudburst'  is a fascinating early recoding from the band's earliest sessions that shows the Oasis template falling into shape. 'Wake up there's a new day dawning' sneers Liam for almost the first time, missing only a 'sun-sheee-ine' to be the vocalist we all know and love. A typically Oasis mix of positive and negative, there's a change in the weather and the rain is about to fall, while the wind 'makes me older'. However, along with a punchy aggressive riff (heard en masse for almost the first time) Liam sounds tough enough to take whatever life throws at him. Oasis will go on to write better songs, but here is where their sound truly begins and it's a brilliant performance, taut with tension and full of promise. Find it on: the CD single 'Live Forever' (1994)


The earliest example of a career-long run of acoustic Noel ballads begins with [  ] 'Take Me Away' (B-side to Supersonic). A mournful lament about the need for escapism, this song's earnestness is rather undone by some truly odd lyrics ('I'd rather be under the sea' - quoting from The Beatles' 'Octopuses' Garden' - but I'd probably need a phone'). The most interesting lines come at the end of the song, when Noel takes a rare moment to address his growing audience, an early sign of the 'mirror' held up between band and fans that was perhaps the key reason for Oasis' success in the first half of their career (before the band got further and further apart from their 'roots', as millionaire rock stars so inevitably do). For Noel seems to be addressing 'us' at the end, the listeners, explaining that there's no difference between us, that 'I could be you if I wanted to  but I've never got the time' and that 'you could be me and pretty soon you will be - but you'll probably need a line', possibly referring to both the art of writing and drugs! This song doesn't really have the legs of Noel's later B-sides and it's a surprise it's here at all actually; Noel had much stronger songs ready to go for the back of that all-important second single. Find it on: the CD single 'Supersonic' (1994)

The cute [  ]'D'Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?' (B-side to Shakermaker) is an early example that there was more to Oasis than bluster and noise. A lovely acoustic parable song about holding on to your dreams for as long as you can, Noel's narrator has just bumped into an old friend, remembering playground dreams of being astronauts and realising that, while the images have dulled, the same playful drive exists in him as an adult. His analysis of the difference between children and adults is spot-on ('You don't wanna be a spaceman - you just want the gold') and his narrator's responsibilities relating to bills and children all too believable. While Noel absolutely nails this song, however, with an exuberant vocal, the rest of the band sound less sure - Bonehead, given a rare chance to play lead, simply noodles while a sighing choir of distant voices going 'ahh' makes this song a little too ELO when Noel was probably aiming for The Kinks. Find it on the CD single 'Shakermaker' (1994)

'Right?' 'Wrongggggg!' A multi-tracked Noel is having fun with himself on what's officially listed as the [  ] 'Acoustic' version of 'Up In The Sky' but which sounds suspiciously like a 'demo'. This is one of my favourite of the band's flipsides, with Noel offering a completely new reading of the song to the version on the first album. As usual, Noel sounders wiser and more sober than his younger brother and treats the song as a playful joke rather than a great insult offered by the universe, which is curious because he's actually playing the song not just on acoustic but on bluesy slide guitar (which usually signals 'authenticity' a bit more than 'comedy'). Though Liam sneered that no one would dare be like him, as if challenging all comers, Noel sounds rather pleased with the fact. Find it on: the CD single for 'Live Forever' (1994)


'Whatever' - released to hit the Christmas market in 1994 and marking a neat halfway house between the rockier 'Definitely Maybe' and the more polished 'Morning Glory' - is the first of only two stand-alone Oasis singles. Featuring a mix of heavy rock and violins for the first time, it's probably the first song Noel wrote after knowing that he and his band were a 'hit'. A pretty, chirpy song clearly dashed off in a hurry to 'cash in' on 'Live Forever' and give the public another singalong, neither writer nor band seem to have been very impressed with this song, dropping it from its natural home on the simpler first side of 'Morning Glory' and never playing the song in concert. Even the title 'Whatever' sounds a little off-hand and dismissive, although it is the main hook of the song, and with lots of OTT applause tacked onto the ending perhaps in protest over how insignificant they felt the song was (but how well it was likely to be received in the year that oasis could do no wrong). However this is a pretty song much loved by fans for precisely that informality and the very Oasis lyric that you shouldn't care whatever people what you to be (complete with perhaps the Noel Gallagher nonsense filler lyric that somehow makes perfect sense: 'So just get on the bus and don't cause no fuss'). Noel also got into trouble when, for the first time, one of the sources he 'nicked' from took a dim view of his writing style: Oasis nay-sayers had a field day when it was announced that one of the Beatles parody-band Rutles, Neil Innes, was suing Noel for similarities to his solo song 'It's Good To Be An Idiot' (Innes will sarcastically throw in a line from Oasis' 'Whatever' into Rutles 'reunion' song 'Shangri-La' on their 'Archaeology' CD of 1996 in amongst all the usual Beatles quotes). Too insubstantial for an A-side, but with the potential to be a very lovely B-side, 'Whatever' is a lot better than its reputation suggests. The orchestral parts, which have really divided fans ever since, are a little twee for the most part but work well in the angrier middle eight, adding a touch of 'I Am The Walrus' spookiness to the track. In retrospect, perhaps the best thing about this song is the hilarious demo, which Noel had 'forgotten' was being shot that day. He turned up late, hungover and clutching a McDonalds meal he proceeded to eat during the shooting before deciding to get his own back and sending up his brother every time the camera was on Liam. The result is prime Oasis that says more about the band than any of their ore lavish music videos: hilarious, subversive and fun. Find it on the CD single 'Whatever' (1994) and the compilation 'Time Flies...' (1998)

The mournful [  ] 'Sad Song' is one of Noel's better loved solo performance flipsides for the band. Written during the pre-Oasis years, it finds its narrator lost and frustrated, one of many people 'walking with their heads pressed to the ground'., trapped in a town where 'it's all the same at the end of the day'. Restricted to a life of cheating and lies and getting away with it, Noel pleads with the listener that we can't let life go on like this - we can't go on 'throwing it all away'. A pretty track which again hints at the depth and range of the Oasis sound (something the general public never quite 'got' about this group), this is a fine song that deserves wider release a at a time when maturer, melodic songs like this were clearly being used by Noel to test the waters for 'Morning Glory' the following year and which deserved a higher profile release at the time. Thankfully in the modern age its rightfully restored to its proper place at the end of most CD copies of 'Definitely Maybe' where it 'sounds' like it belongs as a sort-of summary of the whole album, even though technically the recording dates a little after that. Released as a single in France (with 'Cludburst' on the B-side), this track was also a 'bonus' track on some copies of 'Definitely Maybe' and additionally made available on the tenth anniversary DVD version of the album in 2004 and the 20th anniversary 'deluxe' re-issue

One of the earliest of the many Oasis demo recordings kicking around is an early band version of  [  ] 'Cigarettes and Alcohol', finally released some twelve years after it was a recorded. In that time 'Alcohol' has matured into a full throttle vintage, but this early recording sounds more like the 'eight track demo' sessions (though it appears to date from slightly later than those), with Liam so laidback he sounds like he's got his feet up, in great contrast to the 'Definitely Maybe' version, a candidate for the most intense of Oasis' early songs. Just to show you how 'wrong' this is after knowing the future version, Liam sounds almost regretful to not 'find himself a job when there's nothing worth working for' and sings 'sunshine' as a normal two syllable word (!), while the wall of noise comes in two clearly defined sections, neither of which sounds all that desperate. The demo if enough to show off what a great song this could be, though, if given the right arrangement, but as the song says 'you gotta make it 'appen!' This is also pretty much the last time Oasis will demo a song using the whole band - from here on in Noel will perform most of the demos solo. Find it on: the 'Stop The Clocks' limited edition promotional CD (2006) and later the 'Definitely Maybe' deluxe re-issue (2014)


'It's Better People' is a B-side that seems to have been rather forgotten. It's one of the few flipsides of 1996 vintage not to make the 'Masterplan' compilation, for instance, and was never played by the band live. Perhaps that's because Noel sounds like he never finished it, with this track having the 'feel' of a polished demo rather than a 'master' recording. The song is a good one though, Noel taking up the 'hippie' mantra by saying that life is better when we all treat other nicely. A nice guitar riff that sounds like the opening of 'Wonderwall' (which one came first?) is emphasised by some nice tambourine and percussion work and a floaty chorus line about how if everyone could be nice to each other all at once 'life would never be the same'. Not the greatest ever Noel Gallagher song, perhaps, but one that deserved to be remembered - funny how the weakest B-sides of 1995 have been paired with the weakest single of the year. Find it on: the CD single 'Roll With It' (1995)

Oasis taped a legendary gig at Glastonbury in June 1995, their second appearance at the festival and their first with new drummer Alan White having something of a baptism of fire. The concert would still have been fresh in people's minds when the 'Roll With It' single came out in August, with a curiously low-fi recording of [  ] 'Live Forever' that sounds suspiciously as if it was taped in the audience. This suits the slumming-it-but-loving-it recording too, which is very messy compared to Oasis' usual discipline in this period but everything is having such a good time they don't care. This is a song we need to hear people singing along to after all - it's that kind of a song - so for once the audience don't detract, although it's a shame Noel's guitar was recorded so poorly. Find it on: the CD single 'Roll With It' (1995)

'Round Are Way' is another glorious Oasis B-sides most bands would have released as an A-side without question. The setting is an everyday neighbourhood waking up to another new morning, full of pupils doing lines, a football trying to get a goal in the park and - this being Oasis - birds singing for 'yer' because they already know 'yer'. . You can just imagine Noel, cushioned by a year of success, trying to write a song that his fans would identify with and remembering the Manchester of his youth.  The deliberate mis-spelling of the title, Lima's mis-pronounciation of 'singing' as the very 'in' 1995 word 'minging' (meaning manky) and the cheeky repetition of 'Up In The Sky' over the closing bars (the two share very similar tempos) suggest that writer and band didn't think much of this song (another curious absentee from the 'Masterplan' compilation). But it's a delight: Oasis' happy jolly sound really suits this song about the kind of modern-day living all of their fans would have recognised. A glorious harmonica part by Mark Feltham is also one of the greatest guest appearances on any oasis record, which like the song itself takes a theme usually associated with sadness and depression (the same thing happening day after day in the same restricted predictable town) and turning into a hymn for stability and modern day living. Great fun - and why wasn't this on B-sides comp 'Masterplan'? Find it on: the CD single 'Wonderwall' (1995) 

'We're doing it now - we're rocking! What? This is gonna be fooking mega!' Noel's original 'masterplans' included a Ringo-style novelty song per album with family appeal, in the style of 'Digsy's Dinner'. Sensing that Bonehead was the band member most likely to be loved by the aunties and uncles, Noel set about writing a quirky novelty song about an imaginary  [  ] 'Bonehead's Bank Holiday' suffered by the 'everyman' guitarist figure. Poor Bonehead saves up his money for months to go away in Spain and spends most of his time away sitting next to a dotty girl named Avaline and who was with her mother Dot who 'had a face like a nun in pain' and 'didn't half talk a lot'. Bonehead could have got the nagging and rudeness at home if that's what he'd gone away for and he imagines what his 'real' friends are on their 'polluted beach' back home.  Noel spends much of the song listing modes of transport, as he did on 'Goin' Nowhere', and adding in a singalong 'la la la la la' chorus because it was the easiest thing for the people back home drunk on their summer hols to sing along with, apparently. However that was true in the studio too: Bonehead was never a natural vocalist and will, in fact, never open his mouth on any Oasis recording during his time with the band. Sensing his nervousness the day of the recording session, Liam 'kindly' took him to the local pub for a few hours and by the time they turned up later neither was capable of doing anything except taking the mickey out of the lyrics. The most 'Monkees' moment of Oasis' career,  the finished recording is not made for repeated listening but is hilarious - once at least - with multiple aborted attempts by Bonehead to overdub his vocals complete with Noel's urgency and Liam's egging on left on intact, mistakes and all, jabbering on underneath the whole song like an extra percussion track. Bonehead is game for anything, even this song, and puts on his best mockney accent while Liam ruins his voice with an outrageous falsetto, though Noel plays safe by singing the lead vocal himself, treating his voice with echo to disguise the fact it's not in the easiest of keys for him to sing. The song ends with a full minute of Bonehead and Liam still nattering while Bonehead decides to put on his best enunciating voice. They promise they're going to get it right the next time when the song gets played again - but you just know the song's going to end in disaster! Noel's simple demo, where you can finally hear all the words, was also released later but lacks the good-humour of the, erm, 'finished' version which is another welcome link between band and audience, showing they can afford to take the mickey out of themselves sometime. Find it on: Originally this song was only available on the double-vinyl version of 'Definitely Maybe', where the track appeared at the end of the first side between 'Hey Now' and 'Some Might Say'. The studio version and the demo additionally appeared on the 'deluxe' CD re-issue of 'Morning Glory' in 2015.

Taped at a radio session in 1995 and belatedly released twenty years later after becoming a favourite of the bootleggers, Noel's solo acoustic cover of [  ] 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' is one of his better Beatle covers. Lennon's folky song from the 'Help!' album sounds good given a faster paced tempo and a s lightly less moody touch, with Noel sounding joyous rather than upset or guilty. 'Hey!' was a key 60s word Oasis used a lot and made their own, so it makes sense to hear Noel covering this song and shouting 'Hey!' in the chorus the same way Liam shouts 'Hey Now' or the Neil Young cover 'Hey Hey My My'. With no space for the small orchestra of the original, Noel simply 'la la las' the song instead. Sadly the 'released' version spares the blushes of the original tape where a gormless Radio One announcer, not realising the heritage of the track Noel has just played, informs the guitarist 'that could be a single that track!' Sadly The Beatles never did release their version as a single though it's one of their greatest songs from a particularly fab year for the fab four. Find Oasis' version on the deluxe CD re-issue of 'Morning Glory' (2015)

[  ] 'Some Might Say' also appeared in demo form to promote the 'Stop The Clocks' set on a rare CD that became somewhat redundant a few years later when it was re-issued on the 'Morning Glory' deluxe set. A simple acoustic guitar demo by Noel, it's played with a much more melancholy tone a la 'Sad Song' rather than the optimistic anthem it will become. As usual with Noel's demos, the words are already here complete and even the 'solo' passage is here- or at least the acoustic guitar version of it is. Dare I say it though, without Liam's snarl this song sounds a little boring performed like this. Find it on: the 'Stop The Clocks' promotional CD (2006) and the deluxe re-issue of '(What's The Story?) Morning Glory' (2015)

Believe it or not, the best-selling spoken word single in the history of the British charts is [  ] 'Wibbling Rivalry', fourteen minutes of Noel and Liam swearing at each other wich paked at #52 in the UK charts despite the band's best attempts to ignore it and disown it (technicaly the single is credited to Oas*s). I'm not sure what that says for the state of British culture, but it does say a lot for how big Oasis were in 1995. Noel and Liam were meant to be being interviewed by John Harris for NME when he innocently asks the brothers a question about the band 'having the reputation for being rock and roll animals'. This is clearly a sore point between the pair, with Liam almost proud of his antics ('Keeping it real! It's part of it!') while Noel is horrified ('Rock and roll is turning up and doing the gig!') Noel turns on his brother and tells him he should 'support West Ham, get the fook out of my band and become a football hooligan', Liam tries to interrupt only to get knocked back for five minutes while being told to 'shut up!' over and over before explaining that Noel's a lightweight drinker anyway  'I'm sick of all these bands who don't get into situations - that's the way we are', comparing Oasis to the Sex Pistols as 'the best band in the world'. Noel chants 'Bullshit!' for the next minute and complains that as the band only ever made one album that's proved his point. Poor John Harris tries to drag the band back by suggesting the Rolling Stones were a band who managed to do both but Noel's having it: 'Are you saying the Rolling Stones were a great band just because they got into trouble?...It's not about you, it's not about me, it's about the music!' Noel then starts throwing Liam's own quotes at him ('It's rock and roll!'), Liam says a fight 'just happened' 'it just arose' and 'it's reality mate!' while Noel argues 'We're not a bunch of boxers!' Liam adds 'I've got a life outside the band!' Noel asks him 'Well - go and smash that bar up then? Throw the TV out of the winder?' Liam explains 'I don't want to do that!' Noel asks 'What are you about then?' but won't give Liam time to speak. 'Do you think I'm stupid? Don't talk to me like that!' sneers Liam, before laughing 'Sit down, you're getting yourself into a state, you've had too many cheeselets...' 'You don't speak for the band' sneers Noel. 'Do you?' 'Yeah I do!' Liam sighs to the interviewer 'He was born to be a priest, him' but Noel's not having it: 'The difference is I don't get caught! Liam reckons he's worked out how to prove his point to his brother and argues that John Lennon had the same problem. This is too much for Noel who turns round and asks 'Oh, you know John Lennon personally then do you?' Perhaps remembering his visitation in his teens Liam responds 'Yes I do!' Noel jokes: 'Well you must be pretty old then, how old are you?' Liam's feeling old: 'Fifteen Thousand and fooking...' before Noel interrupts 'Remember, I watched you being born!' Liam then sticks the boot in that Noel wants the band to be tee-total ('and go like that...' - sadly the tapes don't come with visuals!) Harris, playing with fire, asks what the line about 'white lines' in 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' is doing there then and the brothers then argue about whether drugs and getting into trouble is the same thing ('We all do white lines!' says a shocked Noel 'That is no big...that's a part of life!') A tickled Harris responds 'The Who hated each other too!' and Liam responds 'There's a line and we're right up to the edge of it and one of these days...' In retrospect it's a miracle Oasis lasted another fourteen years after this.  Split between two tracks, which fade down and up again (and titled 'Liam's Track and 'Noel's Track even though both brothers speak - usually at once), this single contains 79 uses of the 'f' word (or one every eleven seconds). Though fans like to laugh at the stupidity of the battle and the intensity, it's a fascinating insight into what being in or around the band was really like and what comes over most is that both are 'right' as far as they go - it's just that, as with most brotherly relationships, the others won't recognise the other viewpoint as being valid. Find it On: Released as a stand-alone single, amazingly this song was put up for digital download sometime in the 2010s!

Though in truth Noel Gallagher can't be heard much on the one and only song credited to the super-group 'Smokin' Mojo Filters', we leave it here because it must have been such a monumental moment for the guitarist. Noel appears on a cover of The Beatles' [  ] 'Come Together' with not only his idol Paul Weller but a real live Beatle himself in Paul McCartney (making this the only time to date members of the fab four and Oasis will actually play on the same recording). Weller takes the lead on this swampy gutbucket blues so close to his own voodoo style (this cover has a very similar groove to his version of Dr John's 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters' from contemporary best-seller 'Stanley Road'), but Macca can be heard on the backing vocals (losing it on the end as he screams 'come come come' Hey Jude style), while Noel trades lead guitar frills with the modfather on what must have been one of the best (if most nerve-wracking) moments of his life. After all, Oasis have only been around for eighteen months at this time and though Noel was already talking the talk he hadn't been around that many rock legends by this time. This recording also marks the only time Noel ever played with drummer Steve White, a regular in Weller's bands and the older brother of Oasis newboy Alan. Find it on: the various artists charity CD 'Help!' which raised money for refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995)


[  ] Step Out  sounds suspiciously like Noel has been listening to John Lennon's similar 'Steppin' Out', although it was actually the similarities with Stevie Wonder's song 'Uptight' that got him into trouble (when Noel heard a court case was brewing he dropped the song from 'Morning Glory' and agreed to give Wonder a co-credit on the song). However Oasis' song is even poppier, falling over itself to go out for a night on the town with a loved one who hasn't been out the house for a while. Listen out for perhaps the most Noel Gallagher line in this entire book: 'Let's step out - because it's a brand new day!' Like many a B-side this song runs out of ideas before too long but the charming riff, the catchy chorus and another fine band performance (with McCaroll particularly on form) add up to another minor but still under-rated record, senselessly missed out of the 'Masterplan' compilation. Find it on: the CD single 'Don't Look Back In Anger' (1996) and the deluxe edition of 'Morning Glory' (2015)

Running out of the early crafted B-sides from  the band's pre-fame days to get them out of trouble, [  ]  Cum On Feel The Noize (a final B-side to Don't Look Back In Anger) is the start of a run of Oasis cover versions. It's odd, actually, that a few Beatles references aside  this hadn't happened before. While most of the 60s and 70s bands we cover had a love of music somewhere in their DNA, Oasis were true music lovers and part of their 'quest' from their early days was to turn the world's youth back on to rock and roll bands again after a 1980s where synthesisers had largely replaced guitars and pop had replaced rock. Oasis were better placed than most - theirs was the first generation that could have fun rummaging through the toybox of sounds from yesteryear without this looking odd or suggesting a lack of ideas (the way it had if even an 80s band had looked back a mere 15-20 years to the past). This B-side was adopted, bad spelling and all, from Slade who had a #1 hit with it in 1973. Like many a Slade original it's harmless novelty dressed up to sound slightly naughty, cutely rebellious without being in any way threatening. Oasis' version is straighter, sacrificing the arch giggle of the original for pure unadulterated aggression (although they can't resist a comic dig at the band's Birmingham, accents on the fade). The effect is mixed: hearing Liam sing 'we'll get wild wild wild!' like he really means it is a joy, but the rest of the band aren't as clear what their role is, randomly thrashing away in the hope of lasting towards the next chorus. Later Oasis cover songs will be less wild, but also less fun. Find it on: the CD single 'Don't Look Back In Anger' (1996)

The first of two collaborations between Noel Gallagher and The Chemical Brothers, [  ] 'Setting Sun' is easily the worst. Though the title is so Noelly it borders on parody (this is another song where the 'sun' becomes a source of inspiration), the melody is lifted straight out of 'It's Good To Be Free' and sounds hideous against the ugliest set of thudding drums and keyboard effects yet. 'You're part of a life I've never had -I tell you now it's just too bad' Noel sounds as if he's improvising (though a few scant performances during Oasis sound-checks over the next few years suggested he at least the words), while the song was a last minute substitution for one he'd written with his brother in mind, 'Comin' On Strong', which still hasn't been heard yet (even on bootleg). Not one of Noel's better ideas, bizarrely Pitchfork Media rated it as the highest Oasis-linked song of the 1990s in an end-of-decade poll where this song came in at #43. Find it on: the Chemical Brothers album 'Dig Your Own Hole' (1996)

Angel Child is another example of Noel Gallagher not being a typical love song writer. At first 'Angel Child' sounds like a love song - a perfect innocent who can never do no wrong. But Noel keeps interrupting himself from his revelrie and respect for how great a person is with a tired aside about how they're not using their gifts properly. Generally assigned to the lost of Noel songs about girlfriend Meg Matthews, I reckon this is another song that touches on the Gallagher brotherly love. You'd be more likely to describe your younger brother than your wife as a 'child' and while 'angelic' isn't the first word that comes to mind about Liam he does have an innocent butter-wouldn't-melt-in-the-mouth air about him. Note too the line 'does it make up for the shit that you're giving for the songs that you sing?' Ray Davies used to write similar songs about his brother Dave, half proud at his younger sibling's confidence in ways he could never manage and half horrified that his own pushing for fame has turned his sibling into a 'monster' ('Long Way From Home' from 'Lola Vs Powerman' in particular). However this is far from a nasty, bitter song like the ones Noel will be writing about his brother in a decade's time; this is instead a love-hate song about a love-hate relationship that both annoys and thrills big brother, discussing his brother's 'eyes of beauty' and ability to see a different way of living to most people that borders on affectionate. Liam doesn't appear on the song at all, by the way, and probably only heard it once it was finished. The result is a fascinating complex song about a complex relationship that should have been on the Masterplan compilation, if not the 'Morning Glory' LP. Find it on: the CD single 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' (1997)

Heroes is the Oasis cover song of 1997, this time by David Bowie. Most Bowie songs try to shock or outrage or simply confuse, but this one is probably his most covered song precisely because it doesn't sound like a Bowie  track. In fact it sounds much more like Oasis material this one, with a tale about how everyone is entitled to their 15 minutes of fame 'heroes, if just for one day'. Noel takes the lead, above one of the loudest and most distorted backing tracks yet, full of criss-crossing guitars so tightly rammed against each other that it's hard to make out which one plays which part. The result tries hard to sound proud and exuberant, but Noel is a naturally more melancholy character than his brother and only succeeds in sounding falsely optimistic. The result is a rather leaden lump that doesn't have the exhilarating I-can-do-anything the song demands, although to be fair nor did Bowie's original. A rare mistake in the band's B-side career which hints at just how much the band had taken their eye off the ball across 1997 in an effort to sound bigger and madder than ever. Find it on: the CD single 'D'Yer Know What I Mean?' (1997)

The growly (I Got) The Fever  is a Noel song that sounds less happy than at any time so far (was it written to fit with the down-with-food-poisoning A side as a 'theme' about throwing up and feeling rotten?) We never find out what the 'fever' is but it sounds like the 'millionaire blues' - sweating over the songs on the radio, awake in the middle of the night with the worry of whether something is going to be good enough, the pressure of 'all those who came before me'; no wonder Liam screams '...and it's got me on my knees!' half in prayer, half in despair.  Suddenly the entire Oasis exuberance and belief of old is swept away, the sheer fun of it all replaced by worry over letting people down and the band having to top their efforts each time around. We know that Noel was running out of songs, having written a fair chunk of the first two albums, many B-sides and a few songs for 'Be Here Now' before Oasis even had that name, never mind a record contract. Three years of frenzy has left him with no time to write and he can no longer connect to that hopeful, optimistic man he once used to be. A whiny Noel guitar note runs through the entire five minute song and into the next track 'Sister Lover', the recording cutting through the beginning of it, as if the drone of the song lasts long past the end of the record. An odd 'comedy' ending ('Jazz! Nice!') is then tacked on the end and sounding more out of place than it would in any other Oasis song. Perhaps that's the point, Noel's narrator doing anything he can to distract himself or commenting on his need to stick religiously to the same Oasis 'sound' which once came so naturally but now feels like a trap. Or perhaps it's simply there to diffuse the most intense Oasis recording to date. Better songs on the same theme are to come, but in the here and now this is a brave move to make and still surprises you with its attack and sobriety when heard in the context of all the songs that came before it. Find it on: the CD single 'Stand By Me' (1997)

Sister Lover (also B-side to Stand By Me)  is two compositions in one - partly a dappy love song vowing support, the other continuing the dig at organised religion heard on 'D'yer Know What I Mean?' The second is more interesting, Liam sneering that 'faith in the lord is something I will never have - 'cause the lord don't got no faith in me!' A belated attempt to tie the two together ('I got more faith in my sisters') doesn't work: this is all too clearly two very different fragments of a song stuck together, like much of 'Be Here Now' needlessly stretched out to six minutes (long past it's natural breaking point). The generally down mood of the song is once again impressive, though, making for a nice tonic to the rather gormlessly cheerful recent A-sides and the multi-part guitar work of Oasis' first line-up is heard at near its best here, a creepy canopy under which Liam's depressed narrator cowers. Find it on: the CD single 'Stand By Me' (1997)

A live recording of [  ] 'Cigarettes and Alcohol' recorded in Manchester around Christmas 1997 - broadcast as an MTV special in some parts of the world - appeared on the Japanese-only 1998 single 'Don't Go Away'. Nothing special, it's evidence that success had already sharpened Oasis' soft edges in this era. It's interesting as last live gasp of the 'Bonehead and Guigsy' era though. Find it on: the CD single 'Don't Go Away' (1997)

One of the most important songs in this book you might not know is Liam's first ever song, given away not to his own band but Britpop legends The Seahorses, who sadly split up not long after releasing their one and only album in 1999. It speaks volumes that Liam felt unable to offer [  ] 'Love Me And Leave Me' to Oasis, even though it's closer to his brother's style than 'Little James' will be. The words to 'All You Need Is Love' via 'Acquiesce' ('I believe in brothers, I believe in friends') set to the music of 'Songbird' (though at a slightly slower pace), it's oddly romantic and lovey-dovey; perhaps Liam just wasn't ready to show the world this side of him yet. Though no long lost classic of the highest degree, it's a sweet enough song and Liam's vocals go well with those of his idol John Squires, a one-time member of The Stone Roses. This track is very much in the early Oasis mode when the band were desperate to sound like their fellow Mancs and as such lacks the urgency and innovation of the best of Oasis, but the tune is a good one and the words are pretty darn good for someone writing their first song with a few clumsy mistakes ('Don't you ever tell me it came from above, just love me and lead me to love!') but some really good ideas too ('I don't believe in the wars we fight just to prove how real we are!') The Seahorses were also Oasis' support act on their 'Be Here Now' tour and, with a touch of the same fraught atmosphere as the main act, split up not long after. Find it on: The Seahorses album 'Do It Yourself' (1997)

Just to round up a couple of other oddities from this era not worth a full entry of their own - Noel, meanwhile, was hanging around rap stars in this period and his guitarwork can be heard - and seen in the video of - Goldie's song 'Temper Temper' in 1998. I've spent an age looking this track up and wish I hadn't bothered - Noel doesn't sing, barely plays and the hideous backbeat has given me a whacking headache that even 'Talk Tonight' on repeat can't shift. Noel also plays guitar on Travis' 1998 single 'All I Want To Do Is Rock' which is the highlight of a truly gormless song - why sing so much about wanting to rock and then not actually do it on an ugly mid-tempo song that's so unmemorable I can't remember a thing about it and I've just heard the flipping thing twice. 

[  ] The Fame (B-side to 'All Around The World')  is the tipping point for Oasis after several 'nearlies' and particularly for Noel. Having spent most of their short career so far 'celebrating' the lifestyle of cigarettes and alcohol, this is the sound of a man whose caught between relishing all the excess and rubbing it in the faces of people who once wrote Oasis off and would 't give them a chance ('Is my happening too deafening for you?') and laughing at the stereotype addict he's becoming. 'It's because of the fame I've forgotten your name - it's a shame' runs the chorus, as Noel realises that a year of binging on coke and enjoying his money has left him further away than ever from the man-in-the-street he once used to write for. Now he finds himself trapped and transformed into something he vowed he'd never be, a phoney, 'a man of choice in an old Rolls Royce - and I'm howling at the moon'. Noel is still torn, though, laughing at everyone else with their 'quiet life' not knowing what this sort of life could be like. There's even a line about being dragged 'further from my throne' every time the drug pedlar calls and gets him to collect a special parcel or two. For now the Oasis wall of noise sound thunders on for almost the last time, complete with unusually chaotic drumming from the usually precise Alan White, leaving the impression of a song caught halfway between party and hangover. The result isn't the strongest Oasis B-side by any means, but its interesting to hear Noel's usual venom reserved for no one but himself. Find it on: the CD single 'All Around The World' (1998)

[  ] Flashbax sounds as if it came in a pair with 'The Fame' from the first. Going back to the theme of 'D'yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?', Noel tries to connect with the person he was before all this madness happened to him and what it was that once spurred him on. However it suddenly hits him: he wasn't any happier then, he was as lost and lonely as he is now. His conclusion, jokingly added as being given 'in my well paid opinion', is that 'these things they really don't matter': the music, the fame, being a star - nothing at all has changed. A charming lyric is accompanied by an excellent melody which rises and falls as if trying to shrug off a whole lifetime of searching for something. It also goes through several stop-start sections, the very mirror of a person trying to remember something important, the memories on the very tip of their tongue.  The production too is a good one: Noel really does sound lost and alone, his single-tracked vocal (for a change) simply one of many sounds competing for our attention. A murky whistled section adds a nice element of danger, dispelled by a sudden resolution back to where we started. The result is a clever song, one of its creator's best, and suggesting again that a lot of thinking was going on after the poor reception handed out to 'Be Here Now'. What's more, it changes the band sound for good this time: while Liam generally gets one traditional-sounding Oasis single from this point onwards, this is Noel's shift towards thinking differently, using music as a way of working out 'issues' rather than connecting with an audience the way he once did, for the simple reason that he knows deep down the music has changed nothing for him - that he is as troubled and in need of answers as they are. Find it on: the CD single 'All Around The World' (1998)

A brief band argument is drowned out by the crunching sound of [  ] Street Fighting Man, a sign of what an out of control period this was for Oasis. Written and recorded by the Rolling Stones in 1968, it was famously banned by the BBC for 'inciting violence' which is ridiculous - the whole point of the song is that 'sleepy London town' is too backward and polite to ever start the revolution it truly needs to put things 'right'. Reduced to 'singing in a rock and roll band' as their only way of 'connecting' with their audience, The Stones ' version is a typical mix of genuineness and mocking humour. Oasis once again dispense with all that for a noisy abrasive attack on a society that won't change. Liam's sneer sounds good but is too low in the mix to have full impact, cushioned by the usual dizzying array of guitars. Alan White is having the time of his life though, embellishing Charlie Watts' snappy drum licks on the original with thundering Oasis-style drum rolls, neatly combining two bands' sounds in one. The resulting recording doesn't exactly get the mixed message point of the original across, but it's a good song re-done with care and that's more than you can say about 99% of cover versions in this same era. Find it on: the CD single 'All Around The World' (1998)
A rare outside collaboration, the Noel Gallagher/Chemical Brothers song [  ] 'Let Forever Be' even made the top ten after being picked as s ingle from their album 'Surrender'. Like many Chemical Brothers recordings its heavy on sampling and spends too long stuck in a repetitive groove, with the highlight coming from the typically bouncy Noel Gallagher groove over the top. 'What does it feel like to wake up in the sun?' he asks, which given our reading of what the 'sun' means on his other compositions is effectively him passing down the baton of fame to another band and trying to remember what it felt like to live life so intensely. It's pretty much the last time Noel sounds like his old confident, happy self without any sense of regret or guilt or sadness about it all. If Oasis had recorded this track it could have been a winner, but all those irritating effects just distract from the story Noel's trying to tell. Find it on: the album 'Surrender' credited to The Chemical Brothers' (1999) or the CD single released in 1998

Oasis were big fans of and by 1998 god friends with Paul Weller, one of the 'core' influences that Noel had always cited as having an impact on his songs (and, by the time Oasis turn up in 1994, the only one of his main idols still going with anything like the intensity of his youth). Though Oasis didn't often do stuff for 'outside' releases they didn't want to pass up the chance of recording some 'Jam' cover songs and chose some very revealing songs to cover. Typically, the brothers weren't talking at the time and decided to record their songs separately. Liam chose [  ] 'Carnation', an urgent mid-tempo song from their final album 'The Gift' in 1982 which is performed with Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Craddock in the 'Noel' role. It's a good song and one well suited to Liam's sneer, full of self-loathing as the narrator tries hard to back away from an offered chance of romance, declaring 'I would only crush it's tender petals' if given something beautiful to hold. However Liam sounds as if he's sleepwalking through the song and doesn't quite 'feel' the song the way Weller does on the original, going back to his 'auto-sneer' he thinks everyone expects of him instead. The 'la la la' singalong finale is just embarrassing, not wracked with heartbreak the way it should be. Not that Noel does much better on his solo rendition of [  ] 'To Be Someone' (also known as 'Didn't We Have A Nice Time?') from 1978's 'All Mod Cons'. Again this is a song that should be right down Noel's road, a song that like many of his own early compositions dreams of how great life is going to be when he's a success - only to discover by the third verse that he's 'scared without my bodyguards' and 'stuck in an expensive car' kept apart from the camaraderie that made his youth so fun. However, this is a song that really needs a full band behind it to work (it's a song about the importance of friendships more than anything else) and like his brother Noel's at least a take away from truly 'understanding' this song. Both tracks are worth diffing out though, especially if you're a fan of Weller's art too. Find them on: the Various Artists set 'Fire and Skill - The Songs Of The Jam' (1998)

More (much more!) next week!

Other Oasis related articles from this site you might be interested in rewading: 


'Be Here Now' (1997) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/11/oasis-be-here-now-1997-album-review.html
‘Heathen Chemistry’ (2002) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/oasis-heathen-chemistry-2002.html

‘Don’t Believe The Truth’ (2005) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/oasis-dont-believe-truth-2005.html

'Dig Out Your Soul' (2008) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/oasis-dig-out-your-soul-2008_31.html


'Different Gear, Still Speeding' (Beady Eye) (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/news-views-and-music-issue-93-beady-eye.html

'Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds' (2011) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/news-views-and-music-issue-119-noel.html 
'Chasing Yesterdays' (Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds) (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/noel-gallaghers-high-flying-birds.html