More than a year after Noel Gallagher modestly admitted that Oasis is no longer “the most important band in the world,” the cantankerous guitarist/songwriter has given the world reason to believe that he and his brother, lead vocalist Liam, are still capable of compelling rock ’n’ roll. To be sure, Heathen Chemistry is an uneven effort, mixing a number of sophomoric duds with some of the band’s strongest material since its 1995 breakthrough album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? But the frenetic energy, rugged chops and devil-may-care attitude that once invigorated the band’s most lasting anthems — Definitely Maybe’s “Shakermaker” and Morning Glory’s “Hello” spring to mind — remain vividly evident in the righteous swagger of “Force of Nature” and the majestic drone of “(Probably) All in the Mind.” Clearly, the Gallagher brothers can still captivate audiences with their bombastic bar-rock, as they did so effortlessly on 2000’s rousing live effort, Familiar to Millions. The only question is whether they’d prefer to spend their days making music or feuding in the British tabloids.
As with any Oasis album, Noel Gallagher’s star-studded cast of muses looms large on Heathen Chemistry, a collection of insta-classic rock numbers that should probably credit Brit Pop luminaries such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend in the liner notes. It’s hard not to spot the “Won’t Get Fooled Again”-inspired bluster at the outset of “Hung in a Bad Place,” a solid rocker that sounds so familiar it might have come from a how-to manual for aspiring bar bands. “All in the Mind,” featuring ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, borrows its swirling, psychedelic backbeat from the Fab Four’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” And “Better Man,” one of three Chemistry experiments written by Liam Gallagher, sounds like a catchy little castoff from Yellow Submarine, a cut from the same cloth as “Hey Bulldog.”
The good news is that the album’s finest cuts — “All in the Mind,” “Force of Nature” and the blistering opener, “The Hindu Times” — boast the same hook-laden melodies and sing-along choruses that propelled Morning Glory and 1997’s Be Here Now to the top of the charts worldwide. There’s no tour de force in the tradition of “Wonderwall” or “Champagne Supernova” here — “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” is a wannabe epic that falls flat — and the band’s biggest misstep, the lyrically inept “Little By Little,” is proof that Noel should stop indulging his weakness for maudlin ballads. Even so, it’s clear that Oasis still has an ear for great, albeit derivative, rock ’n’ roll, and the proof is in the Chemistry.
Oasis will perform Wednesday, August 21 at the Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit). For information call 313-983-6611.
E-mail Rossiter Drake at [email protected].
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