Oasis - Definitely Maybe

Back in April, we marked the 20th anniversary of Britpop with Stereogum’s Britpop Week. We chose the date for a few reasons — the week marked the anniversaries of both Pulp’s His ’N’ Hers and Blur’s Parklife, Damon Albarn was conveniently releasing his first solo album almost to the day of Parklife’s 20th birthday, and it fell just after April 11, the day Oasis released their first official single, “Supersonic.” Though “Columbia” had been circulating for some time before that, the band hadn’t yet caught fire. “Supersonic” was the first in a stretch of three singles (followed by “Shakermaker” and “Live Forever”) that drummed up excitement for Oasis’ debut before its August 29, 1994 release. Which, you know, worked, considering Definitely Maybe was the fastest-selling debut album ever in the UK to that point.

There’s a fair argument to be made that we could’ve just as easily done Britpop Week now, around the anniversary of Definitely Maybe, despite how packed and symbolic April was for Britpop. (“Supersonic” was released just six days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and in a music history sense, there’s a clear delineation between one era and another occurring there, if you’re the sort of American listener who was paying close attention to British music in the mid-’90s.) For many Americans, Oasis — and, specifically, the band’s first two albums — sum up Britpop, partially because Oasis had a much more significant footprint in America than Blur or Pulp or anyone else in the whole mob of British bands with single-word monikers. Years on from the end of Britpop and in the throes of a time where internet media and the rise of mainstream indie were rearranging awareness and perceptions of the legacy of a band like Blur, I was still far more likely to hear someone strumming “Wonderwall” than “This Is A Low” when walking through my college dorm hallways. “Live Forever” and “Supersonic” are still amongst the more immortal and representative singles of the whole era, still the songs more likely to be heard in a public space in America than, say, even “Common People” or even (tangential to Britpop, in this sense) “Song 2.”

Outside of all those particulars, though, and applying the narrative to Britain itself as well as how Britpop figured in here, is the fact that Definitely Maybe was the final shot in the first round of the genre’s peak. As Michael Nelson pointed out in his intro to Britpop Week, the beginnings of Britpop stretch back before 1994, but that was the year where it all came to fruition. Where its frontrunners all released seminal, definitive albums, and where the sound and ethos and times all came together into a movement. In that sense, Definitely Maybe was the capstone on the young, hungry, wildly ambitious first phase of Britpop. It set the stage for the next chapter and the ones after that, the even more stratospheric successes to come and the eventual burnouts alike.

While its stature is monolithic — especially according to the British music media — there’s a part of me that was underwhelmed by Definitely Maybe originally. Like many music fans, I discovered Oasis early in high school, early in the development of my music interests. They’re a perfect band for that — you can use them as a jumping off point for classic rock as well as for various strains of British alternative. They have lyrics that hit you at your core as a teenager, and maybe, uh, don’t do that so much when you’re a bit older. Back then, I found my way in through (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, and I was actually more drawn to the insane, overblown spectacle of Be Here Now than I was to Definitely Maybe, for a time.

Considering that, the thing that’s so interesting — to me, at least — about revisiting Britpop this year and revisiting Definitely Maybe this week, is how much this album surprises me. How much I’ve reconfigured my conceptions of it. There’s a pureness, almost an innocence, to Definitely Maybe that’s striking. Soon after the album’s release, Oasis became a sensation: the tabloids, the massive celebrity, the spats with Blur, and the general reduction of the Gallaghers to caricatures. These guys were always meant to be rockstars, but they weren’t quite yet, for this brief window in their career and development as artists. There’s no other listening experience in Oasis’ canon that’s remotely like Definitely Maybe in tone, because it has all the bluster and bombast of everything they’d craft later, but also a real sense of yearning. Can you imagine someone singing a song like “Rock ’N’ Roll Star” now? It became a shtick and a punchline, but there’s something so inspiring about returning to a record, and hearing a band that believed so wholly — because they needed to — in the rock and roll dream.

Compared to the dramatic orchestration Oasis would favor on future releases, Definitely Maybe was raw — it’s much more of a straight-up rock record than many of the other classics from the Britpop era, by Oasis or otherwise. There’s a reason Oasis are often considered the pub band of the bunch — there’s a drunken fervor to how their guitars charge forward, how the band swaggered. Part of what I love about Definitely Maybe now is the particular genre strains that would become less prominent as Oasis’ career continued. “Bring It On Down” is straight-up punk, and “Cigarettes And Alcohol” is straight-up glam. (I mean, obviously, on the latter.) The shoegaze elements of Definitely Maybe mean the whole thing has that sort of aqueous vibe you could lose yourself in, but in the case of Oasis, electricity crackled across the surface of the water. The self-assured nature of Oasis at the time gives the whole thing this feeling of being unrefined and youthful while also managing to be an already perfectly crystallized representation of an artist’s vision.

One thing I’d forgotten about Definitely Maybe: It might actually be the band’s druggiest sounding album, an honor I’d previously bestowed upon Be Here Now. Or, at least, it’s druggy in a different way. It’s a wash of cathartic noise, but never confrontational — much of the record is one unerring endorphin rush. While Oasis are easily the bluesier, rawkier Britpop icon, the way that stuff’s deployed here is firmly in traditions of psychedelia. The middle of the album is perhaps the best in this regard — there’s the Stone Roses-esque guitar lopes of “Up In The Sky,” next to the haunting and euphoric “Columbia,” next to the late-night peak drone of “Supersonic.” “Columbia,” in particular, stands out — long my candidate for the most under-appreciated song of Oasis’ early prime, it’s Oasis at their most indebted to shoegaze and Madchester, and it’s Oasis at their most addictive. Even when I’ve gone a year or two without putting on an Oasis album, I get this song stuck in my head, and I have to listen to it two or three or four times in a row. Psychedelia was by no means something Oasis abandoned in the future — you can check anything from the otherworldly air strike guitars of “Morning Glory” to the trippy singles on Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants (the parts of that record that work, if you ask me), to the fried, arid blues-psychedelia of the band’s final album, the late-period gem Dig Out Your Soul. The difference with Definitely Maybe is the drugginess sneaks up on you because it’s also such a consummate pop record, such a consummate rocker. But its aesthetic is simpler and more cohesive than the band’s more expansive later work, which ironically can make it feel like one long bleary-eyed trip.

As Oasis soldiered on well past the expiration of Britpop, they were increasingly dismissed. The Gallagher brothers’ arrogance — though, in my opinion, always entertaining and, I would argue, often performative — came off as increasingly delusional when the songwriting well dried up (to some extent). It became a common refrain to hinge on Noel’s supposed oversized debt to the Beatles, and sure, there’s a good deal of that. But wherever you stand on the band, the people, and their legacy, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that when Definitely Maybe was released, it did sound new. Sure, the DNA is pretty easy to read, but that’s the case with a lot more music than we usually account for, and in any case, it just didn’t matter — Noel could wear his influences on his sleeve, but he was doing something exciting and vital with them, and he was writing unstoppable pop music at what seemed, for a brief and overwhelming time, an unstoppable speed.

What I mean by this is that in hindsight, Oasis are often relegated to being considered something of a karaoke machine for classic rock songs that never existed but sound like they could have, which isn’t totally fair. Particularly in the case of Definitely Maybe. The band’s debut was before the point where they started embracing the Beatles-isms more wholeheartedly — for a comparison point, consider the squall of “Columbia” against the balladry of “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” When Definitely Maybe came out, Oasis had just as much Madchester and Stone Roses and Smiths in their blood as they did the Stones and Beatles. That former list of influences was, by 1994, the dead sound — hell, when Food Records forced Blur into a baggy-aping aesthetic on 1991′s Leisure, they were lambasted as also-rans for a dwindling movement. There were so many ways in which the Gallaghers (or, at least, the British press’ obsession with the Gallaghers) could try our patience in the last two decades, and one of the ultimate results is that there’s a simple fact that has gotten lost in the shuffle of pop history: Definitely Maybe quoted what it did, both recent and not-so-recent to its time, but it also sounded alive, and exciting, and like the beginning of something else entirely. And, of course, it was.

Out of the Britpop greats, I’ll take Blur and Pulp over Oasis any day. But I still have a lot of respect for Oasis, and a record willing to simply rock the way Definitely Maybe does, and if there’s some twinge of nostalgia I feel on the album’s 20th anniversary, it’s for the fact there just aren’t these kinds of rock bands anymore: the kind that play music this way, and not only hope but expect and know that they will be superstars, and that live with all of the comical excess and decadence that come with all the myths they’ve been handed down. It’s easy to look at 1994 Oasis in 2014 and, knowing how it all crashed down, scoff at this, but: Sometimes I yearn to have some more bands like them — bands willing to be badass, willing to be ridiculous, but having enough unimpeachable songs where they absolutely deserve to feel that way. Given, there isn’t really a pop space for that sort of band in the landscape these days, and there may never be again. Which, hey, isn’t necessarily something I’m lamenting — the rock idiom I’ve just sketched out can get real banal and boring, real fast. Still, there’s an exhilarating feeling in revisiting an album like Definitely Maybe, and remembering that the wild-eyed, desperate ambition is palpable. Against most expected odds, Definitely Maybe shocked me when I returned to it. It sounds invigorating in 2014; it sounds foreign in 2014. It’s the sound of a band that knew it could take over the world, and it’s imbued with extra power for the hindsight knowledge that, yeah, they did. It’s the sound of something that happened in my lifetime, and may never happen again.

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Comments (53)
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  3. Not being there to witness the cultural impact of Definitely Maybe may have something to do with it, but I’ve always been more drawn to Morning Glory and Be Here Now. Still a good album though, much better than the stuff Beady Eye has made…

  4. I’m also more of a Morning Glory kind of guy, but that “Columbia”-”Supersonic” 1-2 punch is undeniable.

  5. This one makes me feel very, very old. I was pushing 30 when this came out. So I was already rapidly approaching middle age. To read that this thing is 20 years old hits me straight betwixt my very own eyes.
    It’s a great album. I know it’s a complete rip-off of well…gosh…EVERYTHING IN THE HISTORY OF ROCK but it’s such a great amalgamation of everything it comes off as fresh. And now 20 years later it doesn’t sound nearly as dated as many of the hot bands back in the day.

    • Damn. I was pushing 2-and-a-half when this came out, rapidly approaching potty training. I wasn’t ready for it. Luckily, the confident, sometimes arrogant, smirk of a rock album that Definitely, Maybe sought out to be gave me strength to both shit and get off the pot.

      Thank you, Gallaghers.

  6. It’s worth remembering DM because of the fuss it made and the impact it has had, but the music isn’t really something that would get me excited in 2014. One album that I got excited about lately from that era is Dog Man Star by Suede. I don’t know why people keep forgetting about Suede when talking about best britpop bands, it really surprised me how amazing their first three albums were.

  7. So much lame negativity in this comment section. This is a fantastic album and part of the great British rock lineage going down from The Who to the Sex Pistols to The Smiths to Oasis.

    But I guess the original post needs to be more “this album kind of sucks” in order for most of the comments to be positive (see: Ryan Adams on Be Here Now).

  8. cast  |   Posted on Aug 29th +7

    “It sounds like everything and nothing I had ever heard before.”

    Thats a quote that accurately describes Oasis. I personally think Definitely Maybe is up there in terms of being the best debut in rock n’ roll history. Those 11 songs (and a majority of their songs from 94-96) are outstanding and capture a feeling that very few bands can replicate. Noel’s melodic songs of longingness combined with Liam’s swaggering snarl made Oasis so special during their early years.

    Is there an album that even comes close to establishing a bands ethos/mission statement so bluntly obvious and cocksured as Definitely Maybe? Oasis didn’t make music you think deeply about, you just feel it in the songs.

  9. I was 15 years old when that album came out and at the time, I was into US alternative rock, moving increasingly toward metal. Quite logically, therefore, I resisted Oasis, as well as most of Britpop, which I found superficial and heavily marketed. What changed my mind was the release of the Strokes’ Is This It? in 2001. Like Oasis, these guys were not inventing something new but they had some great songs and the right attitude. Ultimately, they ended up being quite like Oasis, releasing a pair of great albums and then some uneven records. But I liked the Strokes so much that I thought I owed Oasis another shot. What’s left when you remove all the Britpop hype is a handful of classic songs and Noel’s incredibly thick guitar sound. Also, while I hated the guys back in the 90s for their pretentious statements in the press, I now see them as outrageously funny.

    • Also, something that needs to be stressed more, though it might be more specifically related to the European/British context, is the sociopolitical subtext of the album. ‘Definitely Maybe’ is the unadulterated sound of Britain’s working class, just before Tony Blair was elected. Following ten years of Thatcherism, the country had become richer but the working class had been repressed. Now there was a sense that they needed some kind of payback and that there was the need for an act that would express how proud the youth emanating from those poorer areas of UK was and how willing it was to take its share in the British society. Oasis was a highly politicized band, not in the sense that their lyrics had political content, but in the sense that their behavior exuded their pride of being from the working class and living the great life not only in theor own name but in the name of all of their fellows. That’s why a lot of people who hate Liam Gallagher, who they see as a disdainful jerk, simply misunderstand the meaning of his attitude, which is intended as a revenge on Britain’s high society. Of course, Blair’s legislature would soon destroy this feeling with even more class inequality and now it becomes less and less likely for a band like Oasis to emerge in the near future.

      • Yann, I agree wholeheartedly with 90% of what you say but the working class didn’t become “repressed” during Thatcher’s reign and even less so in Blair’s. True enough that the manufacturing industries were radically depleted, but a key tenet of Thatcherism was that anyone who had entrepreneurial spirit and the ambition to succeed was encouraged to realise their dream, regardless of background. And the Gallaghers bought into that ethos as much as anyone. As a result the “working class” in its traditional sense, even the class system as a whole, is now something of an anachronistic concept in our country– like so many other things the lines have blurred– you only need to look at the regeneration of our once most depressed cities (including Manchester) for proof. However complacent they became in later years, I’ll always take my hat off to the Gallaghers (and their backing band) for this debut which as a 22-year-old in 1994 was pretty much the most thrilling record I’d ever heard, and remains so to this day.

        • Point well taken. I also believe that the class system as a whole is now an anachronism. But I’m not sure that was already the case in the mid-1990s. Think about Pulp’s Common People for instance. And yes, I also agree that in some way the whole Britpop movement was the culmination of the entrepreneurial spirit that Thatcher and her followers encouraged. Yet I think it is more an irony of history than something these musicians and labels were aware of at the time. I remember that most of these artists supported Blair. But I must confess that, not being British, my perception of UK politics can be inaccurate. So thanks for this nice comment.

      • I can agree with you on many of your thoughtful and salient points. But as an Oasis fan I really feel sometimes it’s important to call a spade a spade. Maybe Liam was making some socio-political statement (as you mention above) but to be perfectly honest I think he’s just a twat. I love him….but he’s a f’ing twat.

        • A friend who worked as a PR in the 1990s met Liam and found him a nice guy to hang out with. So she asked: “You’re so nice. Why are you acting like a twat?”. And his answer was: “You know, I am no guitar player and no songwriter. So I have no other thing to do than being a twat”. I think I loved that guy more after hearing that story.

  10. This is a great album, but there’s only one album anniversary that is really meaningful to me today:

    THE HOLY BIBLE TURNS 20!!

    …no?

    ….okay…

    • Yes, seriously! The Holy Bible is a gem of an album, almost obscure compared to the massive success of Definitely Maybe (and what Manic Street Preachers themselves would go on to later), but hugely influential and just so very good! I believe the British music press has covered the 20th anniversary quite well recently.

      I doubt we’ll see it mentioned here though, as neither the album or the band had a huge impact in the US.

      • You’re definitely right and I can’t say I’m surprised; it’s just always been a bit disappointing to me that even in spite of their huge success in the UK they’re pretty much ignored in the US and that album in particular has a cult following at best. I just genuinely see that album as a huge, huge achievement that hasn’t been replicated since and probably never will be.

  11. Love Oasis’s entire catalog! No other band as dynamic since they came on the scene. Happy 20th! Can’t wait for the deluxe “Be Here Now” LP in 2017 when you can hear the band doing drugs with Johnny Depp Plus, maybe a couple recorded fights between Noel and Liam!

  12. I’ve always been a fairly dedicated Oasis fan, but Definitely Maybe always seemed a tad overrated to me. I came upon them as Morning Glory hit and just didn’t see how the two were comparable at all. Took me years to realize how great their debut really is. This album definitely has aged rather well.

    Oasis is the kind of band whose best albums were SO DAMN GOOD that I always bought their new ones in the hope that somehow they’d make another like it. They came close with Don’t Believe The Truth in my opinion. Though they never matched their early glory, Oasis will always be legends to me.

  13. This album became so overrated that it became underrated. When I first heard it, probably later that fall, it was a breath of fresh melodic air. I wonder if I heard it now for the first time if I’d still like it as much or if it would register as something far more crappier like Jet.

  14. Great album start to finish (except maybe Digsy’s). The haters need to try harder. “We see things they’ll never see.”

  15. What about this anniversary tomorrow? I can’t be the only one willing to admit its significance.

  16. “There just aren’t these kinds of rock bands anymore: the kind that play music this way, and not only hope but expect and know that they will be superstars, and that live with all of the comical excess and decadence that come with all the myths they’ve been handed down…”

    Kings of Leon?

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  18. I was at the mall right before university started in 94 and read the Select magazine review of DM that basically said it was the greatest thing ever. I went straight to the record store and bought it, didn’t do much for me. Then about a month later I went on a family road trip and on the way home for some reason I started thinking about it. When we got home I listened to it and basically didn’t stop for almost a year. Still in my top 3 faves of all time.

    Anyone else’s copy list “Digsy’s Dinner” as “Digsy’s Diner”?

  19. This album deserves far more praise than the begrudging respect it gets in this retrospective. Blur wore their influences on their sleeves just as much (the kinks???). Blur, Pulp and Oasis were all at about the same level, but Definitely Maybe’s music, not to mention Morning Glory’s, will resonate more with anyone unaware of the context of the movement, and that impact can’t be dismissed.

    • Great post. Blur were just as derivative as Oasis, only in more of a winking kind of way that pleases the critics. They have their handful of good songs, but I’d take DM (or Morning Glory) over any Blur album from start to finish.

  20. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Oasis’s debut Definitely Maybe came out on the same date – 28 years apart – as The Beatles’ final “official concert” at Candlestick Park – which Consequence of Sound wrote about Friday, complete with audio of a cassette copy of said legendary concert. Just some food for thought.

  21. BTW, Song #2 is heard everywhere – AOR and “alternative” radio, sporting events, TV ads. Much more than any Oasis song today.

  22. I also got into What’s the Story…. first in high school, but this is a damn fine, vital rock record. The only thing that bugs me about it at times is my biggest Oasis pet peeve – a lot of their songs go like a full minute too long, just to allow them to repeat the chorus/mantra/refrain over and over. Seriously, “Slide Away”, to name one, would be so much better cut by a minute (it’s also not the best Brit-pop “Slide Away”, that honor goes to the Verve).

    But that said, great anthemic rock songs that always sound good on the radio. Less ballad-heavy singles then the follow-up (which is also still very good).

  23. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I actually think this one blows Morning Glory out of the water. Not a single skippable track on the album and it’s basically 11 of my 15 or so favorite songs by them. And while I’m airing my unpopular Oasis opinions I’ll also go ahead and say that I think “Wonderwall” is an awful song.

    • This is WAAAAAYYYYY better than Morning Glory. Not even close. This album sounded fresh and new and old and familiar all at the same time. Morning Glory is a poppier watered down version of the band. For the record I feel the same way about Coldplay (who I don’t really care for even though I think they are very good at what they do). The first album is relatively new and fresh. Everything after that sounds like a band trying to sound like the first album

      Wait a tic……..is this one of them there Interpol threads?

    • I am SO glad someone has finally said that about Wonderwall. Oasis wrote a hundred songs better than that one. I just don’t get it. And DM is way more consistent than Morning Glory for sure– the way the momentum is sustained through the album is fantastic, it just never lets up until right at the end.

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  25. I’m not just saying “Be Here Now” is my favorite because Ryan Adams co-signs (although I think he’s awesome too). It has a complete “letting it all hang out”-ness to the songs and the choruses. Also, there “Stand by Me” is superior to the Ben. E. King clas

  26. classic

  27. clothes in the 90′s were fuckin jokes lol
    #history

  28. I still like it. I still consider it to be a classic. It has it’s place in 20th century culture. It has it’s place in that line of debut albums by British bands – Pistols, Roses, Oasis. The most amazing thing about it in many ways is how 90% of what came after turned out to be such utter dogshit. How they completely lost it in a matter of months. Morning Glory is a terrible sounding record that hasn’t aged very well at all, apart from maybe ‘Some Might Say’ and at a push, the title track and ‘Champagne Supernova’. There were some decent b-sides on the Morning Glory singles – and then the odd track on the later albums. But to me, the DM Oasis, and the post DM Oasis are like two completely different bands.
    I always thought Definitely Maybe sounded like punk kicking the dying corpse of baggy and shoegaze back to life. Bands had tried that mix before through the early 90′s, but none of those bands had Liam’s voice. It’s what made them their money and gave them their fame.And then they wasted it recording Morning Glory and Be Here Now, doing far too much coke and believing their own ridiculous declarations of greatness.
    The biggest mistake Noel made was believing that McCarroll, McGuigan and Bonehead weren’t good enough. On the contrary Noel, they made your best album.

  29. gruff  |   Posted on Sep 2nd +2

    Pistols, Roses, Oasis

  30. cast  |   Posted on Sep 10th +2

    Definitely Maybe returns as the cover story?

    MAD FER IT

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