Be Here Now is a behemoth album in every sense of the world. Oasis’ record-breaking third album has become a notorious byword for excess and failure, responsible for arguably the death of Britpop as a cultural phenomenon and unequivocally the end of the Manchester giant’s colossal imperial phase. Whatever your opinion of it though it’s long overdue a reappraisal and that opportunity comes with this 3-disc Chasing The Sun reissue.
The first thing that hits you when you listen to the album almost 20 years later is just how relentlessly, loud it is. It’s a heavy album. Not heavy in a metal sense just in its sheer punishing force. Be Here Now is an exhausting album.
The tales of cocaine induced euphoria and complete lack of editorial control that blighted the album are well known and legendary but it’s easy to forget just how many of these songs stack up against the bands best work. Liam’s vocals are at their peak, riding a wonderfully satisfying middle ground between the nasal drawl of the early years and the gnarled growl of his later voice while Noel’s song writing is still witty, hugely melodic and affecting. It’s just that he decided to coat it all in a wash of overdriven guitars and endless solos. The whole album is the musical representation of their bonkers stage set of the time, Rolls Royce, red phone box n’all.
Perhaps the true problem with Be Here Now beyond the sound and the length is Oasis were no longer the band of the people. How could they be following the grand supernova of Knebworth and almost unparalleled fame, celebrity and notoriety? Lead single D’You Know What I Mean aspires to a transcendent coming together of all the bands followers and disciples but in reality the band was becoming more disconnected and ever more fractured from their roots on the council estates of Burnage.
Despite this, the band retained a spirit and sense of unbridled optimism that meant you could still believe in them. They may have been more distant than ever but you still held them dear and aloft as totems to show that you could be whatever you wanted to be. Songs like the glorious b-side Stay Young are peerless odes to the power of youth, exuberance and unshakable belief in yourself that you can’t fail to find stirring. In an age of cynical detachment, no one really makes music like this anymore with that sort of passionate sentiment and it’s to be cherished.
When judging Be Here Now it’s important to look at the context and where the band were at the time. They were never going to make a ‘Kid A’. With hindsight, they should have probably taken a long break but they were going to ride that rocket until it ultimately burned out. There’s still much to be said though about the songs which are pretty much universally better than you remembered. The yearning melancholy of Stand By Me and I Hope, I Think, I Know stand out, as does the gonzo rock of the title track. Even the long-winded 9-minute epic of All Around The World sounds as glorious as any song with a key change as good as that should.
The most interesting part of the reissue package though is the disc of demos recorded by Noel on the island of Mustique in early 1996 at the height of the bands success. Shorn of the coke infused studio bombast and sense of puffed up hubris that lingers over the album the beauty of the songs and melodies comes through on a lighter, softer collection of songs that shine a light on Noel Gallagher’s gift as one of the nations premier songwriters. A particularly moving version of Don’t Go Away is a hidden gem that is worth the price of the reissue on its own.
Everyone will have their own opinion on Be Here Now. Maybe you were one of the 300,000 people that bought it upon week of release or maybe you’re one of the people who swiftly discarded it into the second hand bargain bin after 6 months. Maybe you’re intrigued by its position as the unloved, banished ogre of Oasis back catalogue or maybe you still carry a candle for this bonkers document of a crazy time and a band careering dizzily out of control. Either way the record provokes emotions or this comprehensive re-package is a fitting way to celebrate an important flawed landmark in UK rock history.