Playing God
Oasis: Definitely Maybe

i was intrigued by Definitely Maybe before I ever heard it. Once Oasis hit it big over here with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory and “Wonderwall”, the exposure trickled back down to their first album, and the sort-of narrative I kept hearing about struck me as perfect: A bunch of do-nothings from Manchester with a bunch of songs about being do-nothings that wished/pretended to be rock stars. And of course, they became rock stars. When I finally picked it up, Definitely Maybe mostly fulfilled my expectations, and there’s certainly a clutch of enduring songs at its heart, but the whole thing goes slack at times, and there are a couple of just incredibly bad songs (if I never hear “Shakermaker” again, it will be too soon). The flaws were bad enough, or maybe the album was close enough to perfection, that the 44-minute version I’ve put together below is the only way I listen to the album these days. If Oasis had released this version I’m sure that in addition to maybe getting a bit more respect (which their early work, at least, deserves), there’d be less debate over which is their finest album.

1. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (5:22)
Opening tracks don’t get much more fitting, or indelible, than this. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” lays it out for you, the narrator bragging and boasting of what the lyrics essentially admit is a lie/illusion (“In my mind my dreams are real”). It’s also a great song, of course, especially the droning “It’s just rock and roll” bit at the end.

2. “Columbia” (6:17)
“Columbia” is my favorite song from Definitely Maybe,a thick slice of pounding drugged-up sludge that sounds different from the sound Oasis were famous for—over here anyway. It’s explicit on this album that drugs (cocaine here, specifically) are part of what fuels the rock star fantasy, and as we’ll see with Morning Glory, the reality as well. I wanted to keep a song between “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever”, but instead of the terribly weak, boring “Shakermaker” I put in “Columbia” for a similarly disoriented feel.

3. “Live Forever” (4:36)
After the haze of “Columbia” that classic drum opening feels fresh and clean, and given that “Live Forever” is the most positive song on either version of Definitely Maybe that’s just how it should be. The arrogance here is easier to take than on the other songs (although arrogance is a vital part of Definitely Maybe’s charm), and with “Live Forever” we also have the first instance of Noel (through Liam) admitting some doubt: “Maybe I will never be all the things I want to be”.

4. “Supersonic” (4:43)
But let us not forget that Definitely Maybe is also a hedonistic album, although dubbing it a “party album” might be a bit much. “Supersonic” flips back and forth between the rock star dream and the reality (the tension that defines the album, of course), and when Liam sings of his “friend” who “nobody can see”, “nobody can ever hear him call”, it’s easy to read it as applying to himself. Most of the lyrics are nonsensical, but at this stage of their career that was part of Oasis’ charm.

5. “Bring It On Down” (4:17)
I wanted to slim down Definitely Maybe with this Playing God, and so either “Up In The Sky” and this song had to go. They’re both similarly frenzied but relatively undistinguished, and while neither is a bad song, the album doesn’t need both. “Bring It On Down” won on the strength of the “You’re the outcast / You’re the underclass / But you don’t care / ‘Cause you’re living fast” chorus, again seeing Noel mythologize his then-current state in life while striving desperately for success.

6. “Going Nowhere” (4:44, “Stand By Me” b-side)
Yes, this song was released in 1997, three years after Definitely Maybe. But as the liner notes to The Masterplan reveal, “Going Nowhere” was written way back in 1990. And the lyrics bear it out: “I wanna be a millionaire so can you take me there / Wanna be wild ‘cause my life’s so tame” is the most honest assessment of what life for the members of Oasis was actually like while they dreamed their dreams of stardom. Listening to the Noel-sung 1997 version, one would imagine that if they’d actually included it on Definitely Maybe it would be less polished sonically, but in any case it’s a nice change of pace for the originally monochromatic album, being nearly acoustic. Including it would also have given the listener a break from Liam’s nasal sneer, which doesn’t hurt.

7. “Cigarettes & Alcohol” (4:49)
The major reason I like Definitely Maybe so much is that every time the songs either introduce an element of depressive doubt or overweening arrogance something comes along to right the balance, leaving the whole teetering between the two extremes. So after “Going Nowhere” we need something to pick us back up, and the statement of purpose (“You gotta make it happen!”) “Cigarettes & Alcohol”, complete with more drug references, is perfect.

8. “Slide Away” (6:32)
“Slide Away” is probably the one song that really doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the album; it’s just a love song. But it’s so good that I couldn’t see withholding it from my version of Definitely Maybe. Also, it works well with “Live Forever”.

9. “Married With Children” (3:11)
Just as I kept the original opening to Definitely Maybe, we still have the same closer. The short, acoustic “Married With Children” is telling the same story as the rest of the album, but from a different, rather negative perspective (whoever Liam is singing “Live Forever” and “Slide Away” to, maybe?). Ending the album with “Your music’s shite, it keeps me up all night” is just the sort of ego deflation that kept Oasis bearable in the beginning.

By: Ian Mathers
Published on: 2004-08-03
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