Happy 25th birthday to Be Here Now, Oasis’ third album and one of the most notorious bombs in rock history. The boozing, brawling Manchester lads were on top of the world in 1997, coming off two perfect albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? But on August 21, the Gallagher brothers dropped the big one. Be Here Now is a lot more than just another flop album. It’s the kind of flop that legends are built on. It’s a rhinestone-studded dinosaur that cannonballed into a kiddie pool. It’s a massive, preposterous, mega-budget, drug-addled mess of Oasis Agonistes. It’s a monument to a tradition of rock excess we won’t see again.
Not just a flop. The flop. The flop that killed the 20th century. We’ll never get another rock flop like this one, for the same reason we’ll never get another Hindenberg. It only takes one exploding gas-stuffed blimp to ruin the fun for everybody.
In Rolling Stone, I described Be Here Now as “a concept album about how long all the songs are.” Noel Gallagher, the genius songwriter who gave us “Wonderwall” and “Slide Away” and “Live Forever,” went for coked-up windbag guitar epics, 3-minute songs dropped into 6-minute vats of Crisco. Poor Liam spent the album trying to climb Deep Thoughts Mountain on roller skates. Oasis were so proud of themselves, they put the release date on the cover, to commemorate it as a historic occasion, a day to tell the grandkids about, the D-Day of nasal cartilage trauma. They even gave it the cosmic title Be Here Now, which basically translates as Here We Were While We Were Getting High.
So how did this happen? “I know where we lost it,” Noel Gallagher told Q magazine in 1999. “Down the drug dealer’s fuckin’ front room is where we lost it.”
He’s not kidding—Be Here Now is the album you would play for a Martian who just landed in your yard and asked what cocaine is. As Noel explained, “If you’re given a blank cheque to record an album and as much studio time as you want you’re hardly gonna be focused. There’s a pub round the corner and Kentucky Fried Chicken—you just get lazy. [Be Here Now]’s not as inspired when you put it next to the other two albums. We weren’t pushing ourselves in the studio. We nearly split up when we came back off tour before it and it was like, ‘Uh, we forgot to split up.’ Good for the bank balance, though.”
Be Here Now (which got reissued for the 25th anniversary) stands as a monument to the days when rock stars could release an old-school mess like this in the purest confidence that people would stampede over each other for the chance to scoop it up at full retail. Like millions of Oasis fans around the world, I bought Be Here Now the day it came out, got it home, popped it into the stereo, and immediately started to look back in anger at the $20 I spent.
The Brothers Gallagher became folk heroes in the Nineties because they reveled in all the tropes of rock & roll excess, from onstage fistfights to marrying movie stars. Other bands drank and drugged and decadenced to escape their grunge angst or the pressures of fame. The Gallaghers did it for dumb fun. They loved their mum, hated the Tories, couldn’t even spell “irony,” wanted to live forever and to beat each other’s faces in. Always up for cutting a promo with their rivals in Blur. Never into misogyny, because the only time they sang about women was when they needed a Sally to wait or an Elsa to sniff Alka-Seltzer. These boyos approached guitar rock in a totally pop way, making it nonstop fun to be a fan—what a concept.
Everything about Oasis got slightly more ridiculous every week. While making Be Here Now, Noel bought a fancy London mansion that he dubbed “Supernova Heights,” with the name emblazoned in stained glass. The kind of party palace where Kate Moss could move in for a few weeks without anyone noticing. Shockingly, drugs were popular on the premises. As he told the Guardian in 2000, “I must have wasted years sitting there with the curtains closed talking about bullshit—aliens, pyramids, debating ‘did they really land on the moon, let’s watch the footage again in slow motion’ or ‘crop circles’ — what’s that all about?”
Meanwhile, Liam found true love with actress Patsy Kensit, a matrimonial bond summed up by Noel as “little blonde chick, lunatic with a beard.” Even Noel’s Beatles worship went off the rails, to the point where he boasted that Oasis were bigger than Jesus. He later clarified, “What I meant to say was taller. I believe Jesus was 5ft 7in and I’m 5ft 8 1/2 in.”
Okay, so there were warning signs. But then came “D’You Know What I Mean?,” the mega-pomp slow-mo lead single. Liam spends five, six, seven minutes promising this anthem is gonna blow our minds, as soon as Noel gets around to writing it. Helicopters hover loudly in the mix, ready to do an emergency rescue mission to save the lads in case all their genius rockness causes rioting in the streets. But by the 60th or 70th chant of “All my people, right here, right now, d’you know what I mean?,” the concept of “my people” feels a tad strained, while the fine line between “right now” and “some time in the next month or so” crumbles into dust.
Noel told Q, “I was sitting there, out of it, fucking strung out, going, ‘They’ll play all eight minutes of it. They’ll play all three guitar solos, ‘course they will, because it’s got my name on it and I rule the fucking world!’ And of course, they didn’t.” To make matters worse, “D’You Know What I Mean?” came out the same summer as Robyn’s “Do You Know (What It Takes),” and the teen Swede wiped the floor with the Manchester bards.
Yet this was the single, because it was downright catchy compared to horrors like “Don’t Go Away,” “Fade In-Out,” or the nine-minute orchestral faux-Pepper “All Around The World.” Bizarrely, two of those were singles later. The other has guitar from Johnny Depp. Noel fills the album with clever references like “Sing a song for me/One from Let It Be,” or “There’s blood on the tracks and they must be mine/The fool on the hill and I feel fine.” But he needed a little less “Fool on the Hill” and a lot more “I Feel Fine.” Sonically, it’s 71 minutes of bangity-bang dubbed on top of thumpity-thump, with Owen Morris cramming every inch of the mix full of guitar overdubs.
“It’s Getting Better (Man!!)” is the most cynically blown-off tune here, seven minutes of groovily brain-dead guitar slapstick banged out as filler, but it’s the peak moment by a mile, because Oasis remember to rock. In the late Nineties, the music world was consumed with debates over whether rock bands should rock or not. It’s not clear why this is ever a controversial question, given how rock bands suck at not rocking; nobody ever suggests a baseball team should send nine dudes out there to play croquet (though the Red Sox should consider it). But Be Here Now is a case study in the categorical imperative of rocking. Fast stupid songs are always better than slow stupid songs, and “It’s Getting Better (Man!!)” is all the proof you need. Ace title, too—that second exclamation point is doing a lot of heavy lifting.
“Be Here Now” is another stroke, with some of Liam’s best “come on”’s, plus the catchiest “you betcha” since Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages.” “The Girl In The Dirty Shirt” goes even harder, with Noel/Liam harmonies, like maybe they were even in the same room at the same time? (Surrre.) Really, you can assemble a decent half-hour album: those three tracks, plus half of “Magic Pie,” maybe one-third of “D’You Know What I Mean?” But Oasis were brilliant at going for the obvious, so who wanted to work so hard at hearing them?
In 1997, the top-shelf Britpop bands were looking to stay fresh and avoid getting trapped in last night’s champagne supernova. That meant bold experiments like Blur’s Blur in February, Radiohead’s OK Computer in May, Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point in July, my beloved Pulp’s This Is Hardcore that winter. Classics, all of them. Oasis, more popular than all these acts combined, suddenly weren’t ready to compete in this league. Their foes Blur had their surprise U.S. breakthrough hit in “Song 2,” with the hook “It wasn’t easy, but nothing i-i-is.” Oasis sounded more like, “This is ridiculously easy, so let’s make it pointlessly difficult.” But sadly, they weren’t in shape to muster up a decent “woo-hoo!” among them.
It was the last gasp of the classic Oasis lineup, with the guitar magic of Bonehead. After Be Here Now, Noel quit cocaine and declared that he’d learned his lesson. “I’ve started writing songs about things now, rather than abstract fucking shit.” But the next single, “Go Let It Out,” proved that Noel and Abstract Fucking Shit were madly in love again. The happy couple have been together ever since, and really, that’s the way it should be. As he once put it, “You gotta be who you be,” you know? The legacy of Be Here Now is that it’s so massively, ridiculously, self-parodically Oasis. It’s a statement that could only have been made in this time and place, by this band, with this quantity of toxic chemicals. 1997 was full of mediocre music nobody recalls. Let us honor Be Here Now as a flop to remember.