Only A Northern Song

During the mid 1990's, Oasis reigned as the undisputed, unapologetic poster boys for stereotypical rock-star behavior: drunken and drug-enhanced shenanigans and arrests, overall bratty attitude and a battling-brother act (between singer Liam and songwriter/guitarist Noel Gallagher) that rivaled Cain and Abel. Or Ray and Dave. Beloved by England's pub-crawling, soccer-loving lads and lionized by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Oasis became, of all things, a symbol of Britain's creative and economic rebirth. Which, of course, only furthered the evolution (?) of Manchester's Gallagher boys into snotty, slurry but ever-quotable (at least in the UK) voices of a generation. After a three-year hiatus highlighted by personnel changes, marriages, children and a very public cleanup of the Gallagher's very public fondness for pharmaceuticals, Oasis have finally returned with a new album. It's a moody, dark, and trippy — but also often exhilarating — celebration of rock 'n' roll.

The collection kicks off with the percussive, feedback-filled "Fuckin' in the Bushes" (RealAudio excerpt), a song that mixes tape loops and ambient noises into a cacophonous instrumental of brash bombast. Its sound, all vibey and thundering, speaks to the growing influence the British club scene continues to have on Noel Gallagher's song construction. Don't forget, that in the time off between albums, Noel linked up with the UNKLE collective and the Chemical Brothers, and that hazy electronica undertone fuels much of this effort. Of course, longtime fans (and foes) of Oasis know that it's not just club culture that serves Noel's muse; after all, the elder Gallagher (who, by the way sings more this time around), has never met a Beatles riff he didn't want to steal. At this juncture, it's almost pointless to criticize him for it — kind of like trashing a rapper for sampling.

If all Noel did was Xerox Abbey Road it would be one thing, but as he proves again, on this album, he does have a flair for hook and melody, even with all of the thievery. Moreover, just to show he's not in a rut, Noel "borrows" a Doors groove on the somewhat lame "Put Your Money Where Yer Mouth Is." That song, along with Liam's first (and hopefully last) attempt at songwriting, the treacly "Little James" (written about his stepson, awww) are the only serious missteps on the album. The remainder is filled with vibrant, emotionally charged music. The lumbering "Gas Panic" (RealAudio excerpt) has the paranoid, harrowing feel of a late-night, drug-induced nervous breakdown, while the soaring "Where Did It All Go Wrong" (RealAudio excerpt) finds Noel looking into the mirror and confronting himself with the dark side of the high life.

Good grief! An all-grown-up and mature Oasis? Well, perhaps — but, thankfully, not at the expense of this strange band's patented swagger and sonic swoon. Just remember: It's only a Northern song.