Were Oasis ever cool? Even in their mid-’90s heyday, when their skill at bashing out killer rock songs was actually rewarded by a worldwide fan base eager to receive them, it’s hard to remember any wide-eyed American critics frantically waving the Union Jack in support of Manchester’s finest. Pundits here were always more comfortable lauding the considerable but decidedly less immediate pleasures of the safely hip, moderately popular crews of the Blur and Pulp stripe.
For that reason, it’s kind of hard to stomach the glee with which some critics have twisted the knife into Don’t Believe the Truth, Oasis’s sixth record of new material. It’s rightly described as a continuation of the rapidly deteriorating creativity the band has exhibited since 2000’s Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, but where was the peak they were supposedly sliding away from? For all we’ve been told, this is their sixth bummer in a row rather than the culmination of some grand artistic collapse.
Truth be told, Oasis were making some of the best no-frills rock music around all the way through the B sides of 1997’s bloated but unfairly maligned Be Here Now. Their dedication to two-sided singles, harking back to the Smiths in spirit if not sound, meant there were all sorts of would-be hits floating around, from the enormity of “My Sister Lover” to the lazy charm of “Alive,” that didn’t make it to the albums—which, therefore, even in the beginning, weren’t the end-all distillations of Oasis’s talent.
What was then a bounty of shiny, instantly accessible songs turned to crumbs with Giants, and the drought continued through 2002’s dismal Heathen Chemistry. The only bright spots were the Noel Gallagher–penned-and-performed stompers “Where Did It All Go Wrong?” and “Force of Nature.” On the former, Noel bared his fangs at all the plastic people around him while trying his best to fashion the question in the song’s title as an accusatory lash rather than a paranoid lament. On the latter, he reads the riot act to the would-be pillagers of his cocaine and money with all of the “stop feeding off me!” disgust of Cool Hand Luke.
So wouldn’t you know that the best moments on Don’t Believe the Truth, wherein Noel’s iron grasp on songwriting is loosened to include not just Liam Gallagher but faceless bassist Andy Bell and rhythm guitarist Gem Archer, are his alone. “Mucky Fingers” rides the “I’m Waiting for the Man” guitar riff for all its worth as Noel berates no one in particular, and the harmonica freak-out toward the end brings the whole ordeal just one jug-blower short of a proper hoedown. “Part of the Queue” is a dark, dusty dark number that builds more tension with an acoustic guitar and a piano than any Oasis song ever has, while “The Importance of Being Idle” is a flashback to the focused bombast of the band’s 1998 B sides.
Elsewhere on the album, things are only marginally brighter for the Liam-sung material than they have been for the past five years. “Love Like a Bomb” and “Turn Up the Sun” are the half-assed filler we’ve become accustomed to, weighted down by clumsy rhymes (“You turn me on/Love’s like a bomb/Blowing my mind”) and an utter lack of momentum. “Lyla” is the same sort of flailing attempt at an anthem as “The Hindu Times” from Heathen Chemistry, and only gets props for a winning, but wasted, vocal from Liam.
In the end, it’s Oasis’s attempts to capture former pinnacles, from trying to re-create the simple sunny-side-up pleasures of “Live Forever” to trying for another album-ending mountain like “Champagne Supernova,” that keep their latter-day output so entirely forgettable. Those were singular glories, and five years of mostly lifeless retreads does a number on an audience’s tolerance as the band continue its slooow ride to the end of the tunnel.