It’s high time we reappraised Oasis’ underrated fourth album, the hungover Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. When it was released, the expectations were astronomical – Oasis were still the biggest band in the (rest of the) world, albeit weighed down by/wrestling with the question of how to follow-up the relative “failure” of Be Here Now (it only sold eight million copies), a record which has rightly come to symbolize the utter hollowness of 90s Britpop hubris/excess. If you’re Noel Gallagher, you toss your brother a few swaggering anthems and spend the rest of the disc getting introspective.
There’s always been a moral undercurrent to Gallagher’s tunes, usually covered up in melancholy, but it’s never been as prominent or sincere as his trio of regretful masterpieces on SOTSOG, “Gas Panic,” “Where Did It All Go Wrong?,” and “Sunday Morning Call” (not to mention the closing prayer, “Roll It Over”). They’re all thoughtful ruminations on foolishness, mortality and hypocrisy, which is perhaps a bit surprising coming from a guy known mainly for his incredibly brash self-belief.
The specter of a Roman Catholic upbringing rears its head all over the place, especially in “Sunday Morning Call,” in which Noel comes as close as he ever has to a Romans 7 ‘despair in the flesh’ moment: “In your head do you feel/ What you’re not supposed to feel?/ And you take what you want/But you won’t get it for free/ You need more time/ Cause your thoughts and words/ Won’t last forever more/ And I’m not sure if it’ll ever work out right.” Not exactly the So-Sally-Can-Wait singalong that fans were hoping for. Indeed, instead of glorifying rockstar mythology with slightly obscured platitudes, as he ingeniously did on their first three records, SOTSOG weighs the cost and comes clean about the consequences – and does so with humility. No wonder it didn’t sell all that well.
On the next record, Heathen Chemistry, an exhausted Noel retreated from the confessionalism, relegated his more personal statements to B-sides (“Just Getting Older,” “Idler’s Dream” and “Shout It Out Loud”) and handed over the reigns to his bandmates, effectively throwing in the towel. With a few notable exceptions, that is – he is Noel Gallagher after all. But here’s to hoping his solo career taps a similarly vulnerable vein: