3 out of 5
Produced by: Oasis, Mark Coyle, Owen Morris, David Batchelor
It’s hard considering how to review an Oasis disc. There’s the legacy, of course, which is apparent when you glance at a five star review like Allmusic’s, and then there’s the context in which the album was released, which the recent Story of Indie made clearer to me was quite a revolution at the time, akin to Nirvana – who may sound generic nowadays to new listeners – and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ when it was released. In both cases, the music was a direct response to what else was available. Released on Creation – technically an indie – Oasis’ debut did away with the dreaminess of the indie scene and sets its sights on the sky, with telling track titles like ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Up in the Sky.’ Hell, songwriter Noel – in a history of Britpop book paraphrased on the wiki page for the album – made it a clear goal to work toward superstardom from the outset. So in 1994, amidst a sea of shambly outsider pop, four working class boys sneered fuckit and tried to make the biggest sound possible. And, apparently, it worked.
How does it sound now? How does it sound, knowing of the Oasis to come, knowing of the Britpop to follow and the ups and downs of music in this album’s album? Well, much like Blur’s debut disc, it’s okay. It is loud, and certainly affects bold, but it’s not quite the solid slab of headiness (What’s the Story) would be, nor does it even come close to the learned-and-earned sound of the group’s final two albums. Setting aside the sensation and context, it’s just a rock album. Hailing Noel as the best songwriter of all time and Liam as an ear-grabbing singer seems a far stretch; the former writes solid compositions, undoubtedly, but I’d argue that Definitely Maybe lacks clear beginning, middles and ends, focusing more on grabbing the listener from the outset and then just following suit with verse-chorus-verse-solo-done. And the latter’s contributions have rarely grabbed me, especially when he leans toward God mode with a sneer apparent in his nasally croon. The times when the songs open up and include “we” pronouns – Shaker Maker, Columbia – or when the group seems like they’re just getting down for a good time – the way too short Digsy’s Diner – hit closer to what I want from the band, and thus why I got more into them on their later albums.
Again, though, it was the directness of both Liam and Noel’s approaches that was grabbing at the time, and I can appreciate that. It just doesn’t really tighten up the album into something amazingly genius to me. It’s a solid rock disc, but when the Oasis and Blur war heated up and forced each group to slot more fully into their identities – and when the Britpop scene exploded and demanded its parents show the kids how it was done – it pushed them both to deliver albums more bursting to the brim with feeling and bravado.