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WPGM Revisits: Oasis – Heathen Chemistry (Album Review)

Heathen Chemistry Album Review
Friday, July 1 marks fourteen years since Oasis released their 2002 album, Heathen Chemistry. The album was a vast departure from 2000’s Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants. This was a welcome move for many, who really craved a return of the back to basics rock they listened to on the band’s debut and sophomore efforts Definitely Maybe (1994), and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory (1995).

Heathen Chemistry, eleven tracks in duration, was the band’s fifth album, and was produced by Oasis themselves, with this record marking the first time members of the band, other than Noel Gallagher, contributed significantly to the songwriting of an Oasis album. The recording studios in question for those sessions, were Wheeler End in Buckinghamshire, and Olympic Studios in London.

The album cover is a blurred one, of all members, in some sort of tunnel, perhaps the London underground. It appears to be that only the Gallagher brothers are wearing shades, perhaps conveying who’s got creative control, and who’s merely hired help and making up the numbers. The group shot also shows Noel and Liam slightly in front of a rough semicircle, as the photograph’s taken.

The opening track, “The Hindu Times”, is heralded with pounding drums and triumphant guitar. The vocals, nasal and Liam Gallagher as ever, are equally conquering, like “…and I walk on air”. Perhaps he considers himself to be anointed, especially in, “God gave me soul in your rock n’ roll, babe”, and “I get so high, I just can’t feel it”.

“Force Of Nature” opens with what sounds like very industrial, electric drums. The band proper kicks in with Noel, this time, on vocals. The track seems like a mix of jangly guitar and stomping, crunchy rhythm. Parts of it are a tad discordant but not with the intention of offending those who don’t like heavy metal, and the like. Merely it’s rock and roll attitude, badass strutting on the stage. It fades out with bending aplenty on the guitar.

Track three, “Hung In A Bad Place”, kicks off with flourishes of guitar and drum. The former like a cock at the break of dawn; the latter a powerhouse of work, nice and busy. It sees Liam back on vocals, with, what it seems, a Lennon-esque sneer barely concealed. The guitar solo is raucous and, daresay, heroic. It ends with a climbing riff, before fading out with much, satisfying, histrionics.

Now for “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”, arguably, the first anthem on the album. Anthems, of course, are what the band are best known for. It opens with sombre piano, and wails of pain from both brothers bouncing off eachother. The drums, suitably restrained, are the bedrock, and don’t try to be flashy.

They build in intensity when the guitar proper begins. The chorus really soars and, perceptively, tugs on the heartstrings and wells with emotion. Strings add to this swell, really rising to the heavens. Redemption for everyone, in that even heathens can reach heaven? The harmonic refrain on the guitar, as the track closes, is particularly touching.

“Songbird” is Liam’s opportunity to shine. Apparently almost entirely of his own creation, it certainly locks into a sound Oasis aren’t particularly well known for. Anyway, it’s a beautifully constructed, especially the rhyming scheme. This, although perhaps simple in its composition, flows really well, and Liam definitely deserves props for it.

Next track “Little By Little” is, arguably, the second anthem on the album. Noel really hammers home those vocals, more the power of the emotion than caterwauling. The ponderous guitar and bass in the verses helps build into the foundation of the chorus, a real ensemble performance.

The video, with Scots actor, Robert Carlyle, walking as tall as Godzilla, and proud as the Gallaghers, is very evocative. The guitar solo definitely has that larger than life aspect, equally so in the track’s closing moments. The lyrics, “why am I really here?”, are philosophical to the last, and the bass guitar, with its simple yet effective slides, accentuates the feel. Rather touching.

Instrumental, “A Quick Peep”, is a busy and rhythmic effort. A real foot stomper. Bluesy to its core, in a way. This short effort almost segues into “(Probably) All In The Mind”. Again, in this album, there’s a ponderous feel, like searching for answers in life. To say this track is very evocative of The Beatles might incur much chagrin from the band. Maybe even, on the other hand, they’d take it as a compliment, given their adulation of the Fab Four.

“She Is Love” blends quite well into the fadeout of the prior track. Noel’s earnest delivery, combined with hearty organ and scratchy guitar really sets up the listener for an engaging experience that also bares the witness of lads’ lad baring his soul in the name of love. It seems to end as quickly as it begun, in some ways. Better that than getting too bored, one could suppose.

“Born On A Different Cloud” has feedback opening, creating a ringing soundscape that goes for miles. Then there’s the simple, desolate strumming of the guitar and bass, with regimented drum not daring to laugh. To be honest, from what the title infers and Liam’s love of all things Beatles, and particularly Lennon, one assumes this might be his take on the latter’s “Working Class Hero”.

Different clouds being different classes, and all that. A real stinging observation of a system still quite prevalent in British society, basically. The bass seems to be the only element of the instrumentation breaking free. Does this convey, although the rhythm and very much the backbone, the upwardly mobile lower middle classes? The drums being the working classes?

Probably not, but interesting to ponder. With lines like, “you’re classless, clever and free”, though, you can imagine the bass breaking out from the set caste, going to university and never again to suffer drudgery. Again, maybe overanalysing a tad much.

Closer, “Better Man”, seems like another slice of Lennon-esque song writing, the cock at the break of dawn guitar reminiscent of the latter’s “Cold Turkey”. It’s not totally derivative, though. The lyrics of “I want to be a better man” maybe indicate something close to coming off the gear, but maybe more to do with attitude than drugs. What then seems like roughly half an hour of silence, morphs into a spaced out instrumental.

Its’ desolate vibes seem to evoke the barren, a desert soundscape. It’s a real guitar hero moment, expressive and bluesy. Less conventional bands would probably have this as a main track on the album, but Oasis seem to want to convey it as an afterthought. This seems to ring out with what seems sleigh bells. This ‘secret’ track, if you like, lasts almost five minutes. Curious, but it works.

This album definitely marked a comeback for Oasis. The anthems of “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” and “Little By Little”, separated by the almost folksy rock of “Songbird”, make for a varied and satisfying listening experience. Song writing showing the Mancunians to be back at their very best.

This, combined with the brilliance and triumphalism of opener “The Hindu Times”, and the wandering, progressive qualities of uber closer “Better Man”, makes for almost classic Oasis. The latter, like short instrumental, “A Quick Peep”, proved them unafraid of delving out with their usual range of influences.

The moments they do stick to those guns, however, are the seemingly retrospective “Born On A Different Cloud” and “Better Man”. These, of course, are indicative, respectively, of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” and “Cold Turkey”.

For this reviewer, though, the plaudits belong to “Born On A Different Cloud”, mainly because, and neither of them are too derivative, how it made one think of the lyrical content in relation to the instrumentation. Maybe the drums represented the working class, the backbone of society? What’s more, with the bass guitar’s dual roles as both rhythm and, to an extent, melody, perhaps the lower middle class is also represented in the song, too?

Basically it’s one of their best combinations of doing what they do best, no pretences, and slightly, slightly being the word, progressive aspects thrown in for good measure. Purchase Heathen Chemistry on iTunes here.

Words by Andrew Watson

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