August 23, 2017 | by Ryan Bray
“What will they, or their records, mean in 20 years' time?," David Fricke wrote to close his analysis of Oasis' third record, Be Here Now, for Rolling Stone. "Who cares? Be here now. History will take care of itself.”
Two decades have come and gone since that writing, and it's fair to say that Fricke's analysis has thus far missed the mark. Oasis' legacy as one of the best guitar rock bands of the '90s is more or less set in stone. But the verdict is still very much out on Be Here Now. Depending on who you ask, Oasis' third record is either an adventurous step forward for the band or a messy, drug-induced failure. It's a record that both basked in waves of praise upon its release and retroactively became the subject of derision. Even the Gallagher Brothers (unsurprisingly) can’t agree on the end result of their junior effort. Noel has thrown the record under the bus, while Liam, in an interview with NME from 2006, stood behind it. “I don’t know what’s up with him, but it’s a top record, man, and I’m proud of it,” he said. “It’s just a little bit long.” History may one day take care of itself, but it hasn't yet.
Good or bad withstanding, Be Here Now is nothing if not interesting. By the time Noel and Liam Gallagher, guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, and drummer Alan White began recording the record in the fall of 1996, Oasis was indisputably the biggest band in the world, nowhere more so than in their native Britain. With just two records to their credit, the band had the UK’s fastest selling debut and an even bigger follow up in (What's the Story) Morning Glory, which broke through stateside to reach number four on the Billboard Top 100. Oasis were a young, brash batch of rock ‘n’ roll hotshots batting .1000 for their career. But instead of sticking to their proven formula of tidy pop songs and anthemic rockers, the band's third record is loudly compressed, overlong, and excitingly erratic. For a band that always demonstrated a great command of its massive, arena-ready sound, Be Here Now sounds like Oasis throwing considerable caution to the wind. For once, the band succeeded in making a record as outsized and volatile as the personalities behind it.
The record's almost defensively aggressive tone is set right out of the gate. Two year's earlier, Oasis won over fans and critics with pristine pop gems like “Wonderwall” and "Don't Look Back in Anger." Now singles took the hazy shape of “D’You Know What I Mean,” a song written in the same chords and key as “Wonderwall” but stretched to an almost obscene eight minutes in length. Brick by brick, the band and producer Owen Morris built an unscalable wall of sound around the record’s 12 tracks. There are layers upon layers of guitars and crashing drums. Wails of feedback introduce almost every song, while scores of electronic blips and bloops are scattered about throughout.
Noel has gone on record in the past to say most of the songs on Be Here Now are holdovers from before Oasis even had a record deal. Considerably more time and energy was evidently put into the record's studio flourishes than the songs themselves, which on their own stand up as perfectly fine Oasis tunes. “Don’t Go Away” has as much hook quality as any single in the band's songbook. Elsewhere, it's easy to envision “Stand By Me,” with Noel's perfectly-placed guitar solos and accompanying string section, finding a home on Morning Glory, or the angst-ridden Sex Pistols homage “I Hope, I Think, I Know” slipping its way somewhere onto Definitely Maybe. That's all if the band had opted to pare everything else down. Morris has said that if he and the band stuck closer to the record’s original demos, Be Here Now could have been a hit.
Instead, the end result was a record defined largely by ego, ambition, inter-band tension, and narcotic excess. To this day it's hard for many to discuss Be Here Now without some mention of cocaine. Liam’s lyrics, in particular, seemed to creatively strain under the weight of druggy indulgence. “Kickin’ up a storm / From the day that I was born,” he sings on the record’s tripped-out title track. “Sing a song for me / One from Let It Be / Open up your eyes / Get a grip of yourself inside. You betcha!” The rest of Be Here Now is checkered with similarly nonsensical rock star gibberish absent of any real meaning.
But more than anything else, it’s volume and length that make Be Here Now an exercise in extremes. With its piercing decibels, the record owes as much to the likes of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain as it does the Fab Four the band will forever be compared to. Lost somewhere beneath all of the guitar girth is McGuigan’s bass, which while there hardly manages to stand up above the noise. It's also, by a wide margin, the band's longest record. All but two songs running beyond the five minute mark, while four push their way past six minutes. There's evidence of bloat on almost every track, be it the 30 or so seconds of psychedelic electronics that close out “D’You Know What I Mean,” or the minute-long stretch in which Liam repeats “Fade In-Out”’s titular refrain to close out the nearly seven-minute song.
Chalk it up to balls, arrogance, or both, Be Here Now sounds like the work of a band unwilling to make Morning Glory Part II. Nevertheless, the music press, perhaps predictably, ate it up. It’s easy to see now that the worldwide success of Morning Glory played in Be Here Now’s favor. A chart-topping smash typically leads to generous returns for its follow up, at least initially. Add that to the stratospheric hype that surrounded Be Here Now’s release, and you had the makings of a critical lovefest. Fricke gave the record four out of five stars in his Rolling Stone review, while Pitchfork’s Ryan Schreiber went as far as to call “D'You Know What I Mean,” length be damned, “the catchiest song of the year.” The accolades came almost begrudgingly to other writers who seemed very eager to knock the crown off from atop the Gallaghers’ heads. Simon Williams, writing for NME, went as far as to call Be Here Now “one of the daftest records ever made,” only to acknowledge just a few paragraphs later how effective the record's 12 songs actually were.
“And then, halfway through the epic ablutions of ‘All Around The World,’ you realise that every single hair on your arms and neck is standing erect," Williams wrote. "And you think, defiantly, but very, very quietly, ‘Bugger.’”
It takes an understanding of just how big Oasis was in the mid to late '90s to see how the media’s fear of being on the wrong side of history in part influenced initial critical response to Be Here Now. But journalists weren’t the only ones still under Oasis’ spell circa 1997; Be Here Now burned straight to the top of the UK charts, selling over 400,000 copies in its first day alone, making it the fastest-selling record in the history of the British charts. But as the hype cooled down, so too did public perception of the record. It’s a common tale for bands left to follow up on massive success. Morning Glory set Oasis’ third act up pretty nicely for success, but while the honeymoon was good, it would have been almost impossible for such a willfully cranky and boisterous record to hang on to the mantle for the long haul. The commercial momentum behind Be Here Now was not to be sustained, as it fell down the charts almost as fast as it climbed them.
Critical praise for the record also waned in the years since its release. The media, operating now outside of the bubble of adoration that once shrouded the band, began walking back some of the record’s acclaim. In his review of the deluxe reissue of Be Here Now for Drowned In Sound in July 2016, Andrzeg Lukowski described the record as the one that “essentially broke Oasis”, noting the band’s failure to reclaim its critical and commercial peak. Pitchfork sized up the record retrospectively as “bloated and indulgent.” Even Oasis’ beloved admirers over at Q Magazine failed to stand behind their initial five star review 19 years later. But perhaps no one more bluntly spelled out just how out of favor Be Here Now had fallen than Rob Sheffield in his 2016 reevaluation for Rolling Stone.
“There will never again be a rock bomb like Be Here Now, and as such its memory should be honored,” he wrote backhandedly.
Twenty years out, Oasis’ third record sounds neither like the fantastic work it was first proclaimed to be nor the misguided noise fest it’s since been painted as. Maybe it’s easier to just call Be Here Now what it is: A record with the unfortunate luck of having to follow two modern rock classics. It would have taken a superhuman effort to one-up a record like Morning Glory, especially circa 1997. Perhaps sensing as much, Oasis opted instead to follow a different, more adventurous path. “An extraordinary guy can never have an ugly day,” Noel sings on “Magic Pie,” as if he could see the inevitable backlash coming far around the bend.
What Be Here Now might be is the record that best sums how the world looks at Oasis. You love them or hate them, but very few people abstain from having an opinion about them. Oasis has always been stellar at stirring up fans’ and critics’ thoughts and feelings, and no one of their records accomplished that the way Be Here Now has. Everything else falls into neat categorization. Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory are the proven classics, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and Heathen Chemistry are the relative flops, while many true believers see late entries Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul as comebacks.
But Be Here Now’s fate hasn’t yet been completely sealed. Unlike other Oasis records, there may still be some room for it to evolve in stature. For all of the talk about the volume, length, and extracurricular distractions that continue to hang over any discussion of the record, Be Here Now isn’t without its bright spots. “D’You Know What I Mean” is surprisingly catchy in spite of its bloat. “My Big Mouth” and “It’s Getting’ Better (Man!!)”, meanwhile, are scorchers that support the record’s overarching thesis that bigger is actually better. And what would happen if those early demos were to be released that stuck a little closer to Oasis’ bread and butter? All of this suggests that while Be Here Now has thus far led a complicated life, but like many of its bloated track times, has yet to truly die.
Listen to Be Here Now in full