| Oasis – Don’t Believe The Truth (Epic)
Gorillaz – Demon Days (Virgin
On August 14th, 1995, Oasis and Blur, the two biggest bands in England (that week), put their money where their cockneyed mouths were. Both groups, famous for their dramatic internal rivalry and their distinctly British flavor, i.e. Britpop, found it necessary to prove which was the more popular band. The marketing forces behind Blur and Oasis decided to release a first single from their respective upcoming albums on the same day and let the public chose. Whoever debuted on the charts at #1 would be crowned England's favorite sons.
Unfortunately, Oasis chose "Roll With It" from What's the Story Morning Glory?, undeniably the weakest single from this hit-heavy record, while Blur picked The Great Escape’s "Country House,” a playful, catchy song that carried along a semi-political message about excess. Granted, Morning Glory would go on to sell more records than The Great Escape, but ultimately, the better song, Blur's "Country House," premiered on the pop charts right above "Roll With It."
And ever since, this victory has haunted the Gallagher brothers—Noel and Liam. And ever since, Oasis has shied away from any experimentation that might risk their slot at the top of the charts. On the other hand, Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur, proceeded to reinvent himself and the band from album to album, and ultimately created a truly novel outfit with the Gorillaz. In the last half-decade, Albarn's output screamed of creative restlessness, displaying his admirable been-there-done-that eclectic thirst. While Oasis sang about looking back in anger, it seems that Albarn has decided not to look back at all.
Sounds like a bad idea, right? Create a fictional band of musical gorillas, animate them as a cartoon and then record that fictional band's album with a rotating cast of musicians, including De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, MF Doom, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and Dennis Hopper. You need to give credit to Albarn for not only successfully pulling this off once (with the self-titled debut), but for also producing a sequel that comes close to impressive. Combining the genres of trip-hop, rap, funk, punk, dance and pop, the Gorillaz's second album, Demon Days, is an admirable and interesting mess. The record, led by the hit "Feel Good, Inc." (currently featured in the latest iPod commercial), is a spastic, danceable soundtrack for people who both liked the concept of Josie & the Pussycats and also use words like "zombie" and "doomsday" when discussing politics. Albarn's side project revels in the dark side of the force, but never loses its sense of humor (a cartoon band of gorillas discussing the dangers of a loaded weapon in the household, anyone?).
Having a sense of humor is something the Gallagher Brothers would know little about. Don't Believe the Truth, their sixth record comprised of laughable re-creations of yesteryear's hits, doesn't warrant all the fanfare surrounding their big comeback. (By the way, didn't they release an album just a couple of years ago?) After listening to this sub-decent record, I can only wonder when these songs were actually written; are they leftovers from the Definitely Maybe sessions? There hasn't been an ounce of change in the Oasis aesthetic since 1993. This kind of stagnancy is baffling.
Furthermore, at this point, the cliché lyrics ("…I'm at the crossroads waiting for a sign/My life is standing still, but I'm still alive") and nasal-heavy vocals of Don't Believe are simply irritating. Will Lou Reed please file a suit against Oasis for the royalties to "Mucky Fingers"? (And my God! Why would anyone let Noel sing? His vocals on "Mucky Fingers" make me want to break out into a homicidal rage.) Where are Mick Jagger's writing credits for “Lyla"?— a track that comes so close to the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" that it should have been listed as a cover. Oasis focuses on giving their fans exactly what they want, though only half-heartedly supplying the demand. In fact, this testament to laziness sounds like there was barely any effort involved in creating Don't Believe (I mean, when was the last time you broke a sweat over using a photocopy machine?). Perhaps we need to accept that the Beatles-redux shtick was great for two albums—Definitely Maybe and What's The Story Morning Glory?—or maybe we should make peace with the fact that Oasis will leave a legacy of two great albums (and a handful of singles), declare their day done, and then move on to another band that’s at least trying to hold our attention. And a band like Albarn's Gorillaz does just that. While not a classic, astounding album, Demon Days entertains the listener. It's experimental without being off-putting. Fun and silly, without being ridiculous. It's no “wonder wall” of sound, but it is another victory, thus leaving the score at Albarn-2, Gallaghers-0. Arye Dworken