Be Here Now (25th Anniversary Reissue)

Sep 06, 2022
Web Exclusive

By Michael James Hall


On the morning of Monday 21st August, 1997 we lined up outside the local Our Price record shop, all Caesar haircuts and parka jackets in spite of the warmth of that sticky summer. Yeah, “D’You Know What I Mean” had been an underwhelming, overblown choice of single ahead of the new album from “The Best Band Since The Beatles,” but even after the unprecedented peak and burn-out of the previous summer’s massive Knebworth shows, and the constant parade of drug, disharmony, and damnation tabloid headlines, we still had faith. Faith that our working class rock n’ roll heroes, Oasis, would pull through with another dynamite album to rival the uncanny melodies and unbridled attitude of debut Definitely Maybe, or the skyscraping anthems of the era-defining (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and we could carry on drinking endless cans of cheap Stella and pretending to be Mods with a whole new set of bangin’ tunes as our soundtrack.

Sat in the shambling, plate-stacked kitchen of our student digs, we huddled around a ghetto blaster and got stuck in to Be Here Now for the first time. Nobody said very much. A head bobbed occasionally. Gazes were averted, conversation avoided. As the album plodded on and on, seemingly unendingly, finally lolloping to a close on a reprise of a song that had already run nine-and-a-half minutes, there was nothing to be done…but to listen to it all over again. We were trying to will it to be good. But it wasn’t. It was fucking rubbish.

Did we have a clue that we were listening to the album that would chime the death knell of Britpop? Could we have known that, from there on out, no band would ever again unite and dominate UK pop culture in even close to the same way? Maybe we were cursed with the slightest inkling, at least, that being the “best” band in the world would never again coincide with being the biggest.

Listening back to Be Here Now 25 long years later, the weight of expectation stripped from its bloated form, decades of British pop history firmly in its rear view mirror, the memories come flooding back, bittersweet in the back of the throat, like that tang of cheap drugs and alcopops that illuminated those naive, wilder days.

Having not listened to the album in full since around about 1998, it’s astonishing how familiar it all seems—at least in terms of the songs themselves. The brave but ludicrous melodrama of the instrumentation and shallowness of the wince-inducingly trebly sound are as alien as ever—one almost marvels over their ambitious, if bombastic folly.

Hyperbole and nostalgia aside, there are real positives to be found on this reissue of the 2016 remaster. Liam Gallagher’s voice is phenomenal throughout, a roaring force of nature that gives legitimacy and edge to a set of songs that often need it. His interplay with brother Noel Gallagher’s high, reedy harmonies works beautifully at times, particularly on the truly uplifting “Stand By Me.”

There are moments of true warmth here, too. For what’s supposedly the ultimate cocaine album, the tenderness of the melodies on the otherwise silly “Magic Pie” and grandiose ballad “Don’t Go Away” betray a more vulnerable, loving side to the band’s aggressive swagger.

One of the real sticking points of the album has always been the earlier alluded to, “All Around the World.” Yes, it’s almost 10 minutes long and boasts three key changes. Yes it’s mid-period Beatles cosplay. It also soars to heights other tracks here, such as the title track and, say, “It’s Gettin’ Better (Man!!),” never really reach, in spite of their bluster. Again there’s that unexpected kindness and heart—“All around the world, you gotta spread the word/Tell ‘em what you heard, we’re gonna make a better day.” It also contains the most entertaining annunciation of the word “shine” in the history of popular music.

In many ways, then, in spite of its musical grandstanding and endlessly layered guitars, it’s a more selfless and inclusive album than its predecessors. Even on the bruising ego trip of “I Hope, I Think, I Know” Liam begs “If I stumble catch me when I fall” over an absolutely irresistible chord sequence. Noel’s lyrics, always quite hamfisted, seem to have become more personal, more human in inverse proportion to the bluff of his musical braggadocio.

Admittedly there’s no excuse for “The Girl in the Dirty Shirt,” a lifeless chug that barely gets out of the gates, but remember this is the band that put “Digsy’s Dinner” on their debut album. It’s still vaguely disappointing to that diehard Oasis fan deep down inside that rambunctious B-side “Stay Young” wasn’t included here instead.

Everything’s too long. There’s no bottom end in the sound (partly remedied on the remaster, thankfully), there’s way too much going on, all over the place, everywhere at once. Many of the songs feel like, instead of being “finished,” they’ve been swollen to bursting and rolled onto the album. There’s augmentation and inflation everywhere you look – the near seven-minute blues of “Fade In/Out” typifying this approach—a simple, swampy rocker that grinds into a distended, painfully extended blur. But sometimes, as on The Stooges-inspired glam stomp of “My Big Mouth,” the vast wall of sound they’re aspiring too really does tower above the squall.

There are plenty of good songs here, a few great ones, even. For their bare bones to stick in the memory for all this time must be a credit to them. That they’re overdressed, overcooked, and over the top is a given. That the material and performances are able to regularly transcend all that is a pleasing surprise.

Back in ’97 a fanbase that shared the Gallaghers’ overconfidence predicted another stone cold classic and many were let down. That Oasis would change never crossed anyone’s mind—aside, perhaps, from perhaps Noel Gallagher’s—and change was not acceptable in the simplistic, bucket hat universe of Britpop.

No, we had no idea of the revisionist importance that would be placed on this record as we listened, disappointed, that Monday morning in ’97—we just thought it was a shit album—but we certainly acknowledged an unwelcome shift, and really, in terms of the musical movement that dominated the UK in the ‘90s, things would never be quite the same again. In the end then you can’t, it turns out, will an album to be good, but, given a quick quarter of a century breather, you can find some joy in it. (www.oasisinet.com)

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