Album Review

Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe' at 20: Classic Track-by-Track Album Review

Oasis, Definitely Maybe, 1994.
Courtesy of Creation Records

Cover art for the 1994 Oasis album "Definitely Maybe."

If Blur hadn’t made it big, frontman Damon Albarn would’ve been A-OK. He’s a clever guy from a good family, and one way or another, this handsome, multi-talented Londoner was going to leave his mark on the world. The same is not necessarily true for Noel and Liam Gallagher, the brothers behind Oasis, Blur’s chief rival during the Britpop boom of the mid-‘90s. For these Northern blokes, it was rock ‘n’ roll or back to the building site, and a sense of desperation fuels their best songs.

Oasis was arguably never better than it was on its debut, Definitely Maybe, released 20 years ago this week, on August 30, 1994. In the U.K., the album arrived on the heels of three hit singles and rocketed straight to the top of the charts. In the States, it reached No. 58 on the Billboard 200, setting the stage for the following year’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, a huge, bloody brilliant record that had American grunge fans affecting British accents.

Morning Glory was one for the masses. Definitely Maybe is a different animal. Loud, brash, and completely devoid of the cleverness that had critics buzzing about Blur’s Parklife a few months earlier, it sounds like it was recorded one drunken afternoon in the back of pub. Nothing could be further from the truth. Oasis cut the entire album twice, and both times, they were unsatisfied with the results. The hero of this story is mix master Owen Morris, who re-recorded some of Liam’s vocals, punched up Tony McCarroll’s thudding drums, and stripped away Noel’s layers upon layers of extraneous guitar overdubs.

Blur's Parklife at 20: Classic Track-by-Track Review

Morris got a fantastic sound -- the guitars and drums hit like hooligan fists -- but it’s Noel Gallagher’s songs that make Definitely Maybe one of the all-time great opening salvos in rock ‘n’ roll history. Many of them succeed in spite of themselves. Noel is hardly an inventive musician -- “spot the reference” was never a tough game with Oasis -- and as a lyricist, he often manages to be vague and trite at the same time. Other times, he’s something like a generational spokesman. Tunes like “Live Forever” and “Cigarettes and Alcohol” are testaments to his unwieldy genius.

Whether they’re waxing philosophic or talking complete gibberish, Oasis plays these songs with unflinching conviction. Yeah, they steal from their idols -- the Beatles, the Stones, T. Rex, the Sex Pistols, and the Jam -- and yet as they hark back to the classics, they infuse just enough snottiness and anger to avoid sounding like nostalgic gits. They live for the here and now, no matter how lousy things get, and if you feel like having a drink and a laugh and taking a break from the grind, the Gallaghers have an invitation for you: “Shake along with me.”

As the ‘90s wore on, Oasis’ fiercest competition wasn’t with Blur. The challenge was living up to the high standard the group had set for itself on its first two albums. Some might say Morning Glory is the stronger disc, but it’s like arguing for Revolver over Rubber Soul. There’s no wrong answer. Read on to get our track-by-track take on Oasis’ coming-out party -- a rager thatpeople are still talking about.

“Columbia”: Buried in the thick swirl of psychedelic guitars is one of the disc’s most honest lines: “I can’t tell you the way I feel / because the way I feel is oh so new to me.” Rather than try to articulate feelings he doesn’t even understand, Noel pours all of his energy into creating music that makes his confusion sound sexy.

“Slide Away”: Similar in sound and feel to “Live Forever,” “Slide Away” is the album’s only real love song. It’s more “us against the world” rhetoric, though Noel says more with his soaring guitar licks -- composed on a Les Paul borrowed from Johnny Marr -- than he does with his lyrics.

“Married With Children”: Although “Definitely Maybe” is a distinctly British record, it ends with an acoustic tune inspired by American sitcom heroes Al and Peg Bundy. As Noel told the NME, he was thinking about the travails of cohabitation when “Married With Children” happened to pop on the TV. “It’s another song that anybody could relate to,” he explained, “because if you live with a girlfriend or just a flatmate, there are always pretty things that you hate about them, and the song’s just about pettiness.”