It's Just Rock 'n' Roll: Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of Definitely Maybe
By Maura McAndrew | 22 April 2014
1994 was a busy year in rock ’n’ roll—so much so that every time I go to the record store, there seems to be another “20th anniversary reissue” on the shelves. One of these records—Oasis’s debut Definitely Maybe—is not garnering too much fanfare, at least stateside. This is likely attributable not to the album’s place in popular history (it seems, especially in Britain, to be well-remembered and still beloved), but to the fact that it has already seen the release of a box set in 1996, followed by a DVD in 2004, and appears in countless unnecessary “best-of” polls of the type NME publishes monthly. Is another release really necessary? Liam Gallagher, who shared his characteristically Gallagher-esque feelings on Twitter, doesn’t seem to think so: “HOW CAN YOU REMASTER SOMETHING THAT’S ALREADY MASTERED. DONT BUY INTO IT,” he raged, adding the requisite “LET IT BE.”
So in accordance with the younger, more belligerent Gallagher’s wishes, I did not buy/will not buy the reissue. I did, however, just buy my first copy of Definitely Maybe, which was conveniently available in the used CD bin for about six bucks. I’m not sure why I never owned it before, besides the fact that I was too young and too American to know who Oasis was until “Wonderwall” hit, and by the time I was a full-fledged fan, I just somehow became familiar with the majority of Definitely Maybe. That’s the thing about Oasis: they are the be-all end-all of commercial rock bands, and they’ll make sure you hear their songs. No need to lift a finger.
Positioned as an antidote to the waning grunge influence of the time, Definitely Maybe is a supremely commercial record. In fact, it’s so commercial that the band was successfully sued over the song “Shakermaker,” whose melody was actually stolen from the Coca-Cola commercial jingle “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” Oasis is a band known for this sort of lack of nuance; they’re a band whose art is predicated on the sense that nothing they say has any meaning whatsoever, except that it’s vaguely recycled from the vast canon of rock ’n’ roll (and, apparently, Coke commercials). And Definitely Maybe succeeds as a grunge antidote in the most obvious way possible: in its naked desire to be successful, to be beloved, to be immediately legendary, and to prove that simple is better, that you don’t have to be a fucking student to connect with people through rock ’n’ roll.
That label comes from one of my favorite belligerent Liam Gallagher quotes: in the wake of OK Computer (1997), he dubbed Radiohead “A boring bunch of fucking students,” adding (presumably just to be colorful) “I’ll kick their fuckin’ heads in, man, because they’re dicks.” At the risk of being a “fucking student” about to get my head kicked in, allow me to over-analyze the ridiculous, trumped-up, gloriously intoxicating record that is Definitely Maybe. First of all, what makes Definitely Maybe by far the band’s best record is the way it became a self-fulfilling prophecy through sheer ambition and bravado: it’s a record about becoming the biggest rock stars on the planet, which they then did. Easy. It’s noteworthy that it was about that process of becoming, not about being rock stars (like What’s the Story, Morning Glory? ) or being tired of being rock stars (like Be Here Now ) or being…y’know, dead inside (like all that stuff after Be Here Now).
But Oasis’s instantaneous success is, of course, tied to the way they positioned themselves as products and promoters of the capital-“c” Canon of British rock music. This relates closely to a piece my fellow CMG staff writer Conrad Amenta wrote recently on Nirvana’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He writes, “The Hall privileges the myth over the freedom to be different. It takes bands that are sometimes about something and makes them about nothing, except rock and roll.” Nirvana is the wrong band for the Hall of Fame. Oasis, on the other hand, was made for it, as this statement about the Hall itself could just as easily be describing their point of view as a band. Definitely Maybe is, in its way, like a mini-tour of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a tour of the most popular points of rock ’n’ roll history, tweaked just enough to convince us that it’s rock’s future. And we buy it, because it floods our ears with the most satisfying and comforting melodies possible, and it screams at us with walls of guitars, and it implores us to live forever.
Definitely Maybe is an album about nothing except rock music. But Oasis knows that. Not only is it purposely about nothing, the Gallagher brothers have made a point of consistently sneering in the face of anything that portends to be about anything. Radiohead makes an ideas album, and they’re “fucking students.” In the Gallaghers’ world, those who sing about politics and the nitty-gritty of real life instead of champagne supernovas and the morning rain and trains and wanting to fly are met with the utmost disdain. “It’s just rock ’n’ roll,” repeats Definitely Maybe’s leadoff track (“Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”), and they mean it. And once that’s established, Oasis is free to make the stupidest, catchiest, most album-y album they possible can. Every song starts at 60 mph. Every chorus has a pre- and post-chorus. There’s always a coda. The guitars are like jets taking off, Liam Gallagher turns words like “sunshine” into “sunsheeeeiiiine.” It’s irresistible. It’s a riot. And it’s a great record.
Can you read Oasis’s music, and Definitely Maybe in particular, as a pastiche of the lowest lows of Baby Boomer rock, with its ridiculous psychedelia and empty platitudes about individuality and love and changing the world? Absolutely. Are Noel and Liam Gallagher actually social critics, their work a commentary on that most self-important generation, the one whose premature nostalgia gave birth to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? Hell no. And fuck off with that pussy schoolboy bullshit. Fucking students.
To conclude: Happy 20th anniversary, Definitely Maybe. It’s a short period of time, really, for a band founded on the assumption that they would become overnight legends. I can’t wait to see what they do for the 25th.