This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Oasis’ highly anticipated third album – the infamous ‘Be Here Now’.
Since its release, the album quickly lurched from being the most critically celebrated and fastest selling ever on its release, to just a few months later being derided by virtually everyone (including its composer) and being blamed for the demise of Britpop, writes James Llewellyn.
Last year the album saw a re-release in expanded format as part of Oasis’ ‘Chasing the Sun’ campaign, which afforded many people the opportunity to re-evaluate it. Now 20 years on, does ‘Be Here Now’ really deserve its tainted place in musical history?
The numbers alone for ‘Be Here Now’ are still bewildering. On its day of release it sold over 424,000 copies.
Unusually the album was released on Thursday, but this didn’t stop it from dominating the Album Chart by the Sunday, having sold 663,389 copies and becoming the fastest selling album in British chart history (until Adele’s ‘25’).
At the end of 1997 the album has sold over 8 million copies worldwide. Not bad for such a derided album. Perhaps more starkly though, by the end of the year sales of the album had retracted dramatically, with most of its impressive sales being achieved in the first 2 weeks of its release.
Bluntly, critics and the public had seemingly realised this was not another ‘Morning Glory’, and by 1999 it was reported that most copies of the album were sold to second-hand stores. The numbers for the actual lengths of the songs themselves are also bewildering.
The shortest song on the album is 4:48 (apart from the reprise of ‘All Around the World’), and the longest is 9:21 (‘All Around the World’ itself, which amazingly became a Number 1 single). The album’s total length is 71:33, which critics seized upon in citing the record’s overindulgence. It was therefore stated that nearly all of the songs outstayed their welcome.
To understand why the album has become so infamous, you have to recall the sheer hysteria that had built in anticipation of the album’s release.
Its predecessor, 1995’s ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory’, had been a cultural and musical phenomenon, perfectly capturing a generation’s mood through modern day classics such as ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and ‘Wonderwall’.
Britpop had become big business, culminating in two sold out Oasis shows at Knebworth during the summer of 1996, with more than 2,500,000 fans applying for tickets. Consequently, anticipation for the band’s third album was sky high.
Music critics, who bizarrely had badly misjudged what the public reaction would be to ‘Morning Glory’ by roundly criticising it upon its release, were determined not be caught out this time, and heaped such monumental praise on its initial reviews that it seems comical 20 years later.
Furthermore, the Britpop generation, who had just ushered in Blair’s New Labour Government promising that “things can only get better”, were determined to keep the culture and good feeling going, and eagerly embraced ‘Be Here Now’ as their generation’s answer to ‘Sgt Pepper’.
The band’s record label Creation and their management Ignition also stoked the frenzy, ludicrously controlling the album’s promotion by placing embargoes on radio stations previewing tracks, and forcing DJ’s and Journalists who had been given preview copies to sign clauses stipulating that they couldn’t even discuss the album with anyone else, let alone play it to them.
Following the album’s drop in sales and the critics hasty revision of their earlier gushing’s (not helped by Noel Gallagher’s panning of the album right from its release), the album was labelled the moment that Britpop was killed, such was its perceived let down.
In truth, it was never going to survive such expectations, the like of which had seldom been seen before and will likely never be seen again in today’s digital age. Even ‘Morning Glory’, although undoubtedly a better overall album, would have struggled against the weight of such hype.
In all likelihood too, the Britpop culture was on its way out anyway, which like any culture could only survive for a few years at the most, and had probably already outstayed its welcome by the time of ‘Be Here Now’s’ release.
What really did for ‘Be Here Now’s’ reputation is that those who had most to gain from the culture (Record companies, clothing designers, journalists etc) made the album its scapegoat once Britpop inevitably faded away as quickly as it had arrived.
But when regarding the music itself, is Be Here Now really all that bad? I have to admit that I may be slightly biased here, but Be Here Now is my favourite Oasis album, and always has been. I was only 9 when it was released, and I remember it being the first CD I bought with my own actual money. As a result my love for the album may be slightly nostalgic, but also because by and large the songs are monumental.
‘Be Here Now’ – the songs
Take lead single ‘D’you Know What I Mean’. 20 years on it seems unthinkable for a band to release as the lead single for their forthcoming album a song that begins with a minute and a half of helicopter sounds, feedback and morse code before the first verse starts; let alone one which is a blatant rewrite of one their biggest hits, and contains the grand chorus statement of “All my people right here right now, d’you know what I mean?’ Erm, not really Noel. Still sounds brilliant though.
‘My Big Mouth’ is a really underrated classic; ‘Magic Pie’ for some reason gets a lot of flack from fans but has always been one of favourite Oasis songs; ‘I Hope, I Think, I Know’ is a great pop song, which probably would have made a great single (better than ‘Stand By Me’ anyway); ‘Don’t Go Away’ is one of Oasis’ best tender moments, and features one of Liam’s most haunting vocals; ‘All Around the World’ is fundamentally a cocaine fuelled ‘Hey Jude’ rehash, but is so enjoyable that the 6 minute long nah nah nah outro only outstays its welcome by a minute or so.
There are of course some lesser moments on the record, which is natural for a 71plus minute album. ‘Stand By Me’ has always dragged a bit for me, this being one of the songs which would have benefitted from a stripped back production (and a less obvious rip off of ‘All the Young Dude’s’ chorus); both ‘The Girl in the Dirty Shirt’ and ‘Fade In-Out’ come and back without leaving much of note; the title track is probably the worst song on the album, the lyrics being the fag-end of Noel’s cocaine fuelled creativity, and the song going nowhere.
Speaking of which, as usual for early Oasis, the album’s B-Sides could have made a far stronger record; ‘Going Nowhere’ is one of their best songs period, a homage to Burt Bacharach and a highlight from B-Side compilation ‘The Masterplan’; ‘Stay Young’ nearly made the album but was dumped because Noel didn’t like it. It received a lot of airplay and was played throughout the Be Here Now tour, and rightly so because it’s a great track. ‘The Fame’ and ‘Flashbax’ are also great tracks – not album material but still better than either ‘The Girl in the Dirty Shirt’ or ‘Fade In-Out’.
But then again, I wouldn’t change a thing about the album. It’s a rogue (much like Oasis themselves), but it’s a lovable one.
Much of the criticism levelled at the record concerns the production and mix. Owen Morris, who had mixed ‘Definitely Maybe?’ and produced ‘Morning Glory’ was back on board, and had already made a name for himself with his famed ‘brick-walling’ production style.
But on ‘Be Here Now’ this was taken to max – so much so that many of the tracks have a muddy sound, which makes some tracks sound dirge like (such as ‘The Girl in the Dirty Shirt’ and the title track). However, on others, such as ‘My Big Mouth’ and ‘I Hope, I Think, I Know’, the production adds greatly to the songs, and carries them to the level of bombast they clearly require.
Noel and Owen have both confessed that the making of the record was fuelled by large quantities of cocaine – Noel stating that “it’s the sound of … a bunch of guys, on coke, in the studio, not giving a fuck. There’s no bass to it at all; I don’t know what happened to that…” Guitars were layered up to such an extent that there are instruments throughout the album which are still unheard today. This was especially telling in Noel’s 2016 remix of ‘D’you Know What I Mean?’, in which many of the guitars were stripped back to reveal a brilliant string part in the chorus which is barely audible on the original mix (and which makes you think just what was possible had someone who wasn’t off their head on coke been in control of the mixing).
But having said all that, for me the production and mix is just as much a part of the record now as any of the tracks on there. It adds to the long list of imperfections which make ‘Be Here Now’ so enjoyable.
Ultimately, ‘Be Here Now’ is what it is. For all the grand statements that the band and the music press made upon its release, it isn’t a classic album, or an artistic breakthrough. Far from it. But that doesn’t matter when the finished product is so enjoyable.
The very fact that people have never stopped pouring scorn upon it for what they perceive as a great disappointment to them merely emboldens it in my eyes. What people tend to overlook is just how different those first three Oasis albums were from each other (and that probably includes ‘Standing on the Shoulder of Giants’ too, although the less said about that album the better), and Be Here Now represents the natural metamorphis of their 90s progression: the punky upstart brashness of ‘Definitely Maybe?’; the grand artistic statements of ‘Morning Glory’, culminating in Be Here Now’s bloated but glorious realisation of a band who have conquered the world, and are binging on the fruits of their labour.
It’s a record that celebrates success, and ultimately, who (even Noel) can argue with that?
By James Llewellyn