The Masterplan (1998)

Track Listing:

  1. Acquiesce
  2. Underneath The Sky
  3. Talk Tonight
  4. Going Nowhere
  5. Fade Away
  6. The Swamp Song
  7. I Am The Walrus
  8. Listen Up
  9. Rockin' Chair
  10. Half The World Away
  11. (It's Good) To Be Free
  12. Stay Young
  13. Headshrinker
  14. The Masterplan

Has Oasis' peak past? If you ask Liam Gallagher he'll probably tell you that they're still the biggest band in the world, but the general consensus is that they'll never be as big as they once were. They're still a huge live draw, and they've managed to outlive many of their Britpop alumni, but the days when Oasis made headlines for record sales instead of bar fights have past.

Since the release of their debut album, Definitely Maybe, they were breaking attendance records for concerts, selling millions upon millions of records all over the world, and taking guitar music back from American bands. 1995's (What's The Story) Morning Glory was the record that made them stars worldwide, and the songs from that album did a lot to define the sound of Britain, not to mention the entire world, during that time. They were hitting heights that bands since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had struggled, and mostly failed to hit. So where did it all go wrong?

August 1996 saw two of the biggest concerts in the history of the world. Oasis played to 250,000 people over two days at Knebworth, and it looked as though their momentum was unstoppable. But just two weeks later, the cracks in the band started to show. At the taping of their MTV Unplugged special, lead singer Liam Gallagher pulled out at the last second, forcing brother Noel to take over vocals. The next month, it was Noel's turn to leave, when he abruptly returned home to England in the middle of an American tour after a fight with Liam. While by that time, it was nothing new for band members to walk off stage, or disappear during tours, in hindsight the summer after Morning Glory was when Oasis started coming back down to earth. Less than a year later, the most anticipated and hyped album of their careers, Be Here Now, was released. Reviews were hardly scathing, but things would never again be as they were for Oasis. Initial sales were strong, but the album quickly started showing up in used record stores.

So what was Oasis to do then? The answer was The Masterplan, a collection of b-sides that showed Oasis at their prime. Their sales figures had proven that their singles could sell records, but among the fans it was well known that you risked missing their best songs if you only bought their albums. Oasis had hidden at least as many hits as b-sides as they had released on their albums. The Masterplan, chosen mostly by fan votes on the band website, spans b-sides from 1994's Cigarettes and Alcohol to 1997's Stand By Me, picking up the best bits from their rough-edged beginnings to their polished present-day.

The album opens with rousing live favorite, Acquiesce, featuring both the Gallagher Brothers sharing lead vocals. An almost-single at the time of its recording, a live performance of Acquiesce was used in the music video released with the album. The general tone of the rest of the album is set with the next song, Underneath The Sky. It's the first of a number of songs that have a lonelier, more sombre mood about them. They rarely let this side of them show on their first three albums, (except for possibly Slide Away, and Champagne Supernova), but has become more common on their albums since. Three songs from the Cigarettes and Alcohol single are present: the fast paced and punky Fade Away, the rebellious but melancholy Listen Up, and the Beatles' I Am The Walrus. They highlight the three main strengths of Oasis: good old fashioned rock anthems, medium tempo songs for long drives, and borrowing (or plagiarizing, depending on who you ask) from their heroes. Also here are two more songs, in addition to Acquiesce, from the a-side without a home Whatever: (It's Good) To Be Free and Half The World Away. These date from around the time of a lost weekend in Las Vegas that Noel embarked on to get away from the pressures of touring, and also from Liam during one of the band's early trips across America. This period also spawned Talk Tonight, with Noel singing over an acoustic guitar. It is a favorite with fans, and probably the most heartfelt song that they've ever recorded. It also appears in the Unplugged special where Noel plays it after a fan in the audience shouts out "Talk Tonight!" The rolling instrumental that appears as two untitled tracks on Morning Glory shows up here as The Swamp Song, featuring Paul Weller on guitar and harmonica. Rockin' Chair is another song in the same vein as Underneath the Sky, though it suffers from lyrics simplistic even by Oasis' standards ("You bring me down I think you're rude"). Tellingly, only two songs from the Be Here Now era made the cut. Stay Young bears a strong resemblance to I Hope, I Think, I Know from the third album, which is probably why it was left as a b-side, but is a standard Oasis anthem worthy of inclusion. Going Nowhere was a song written before they were signed, but re-visited after Be Here Now, and with its morning-after lyrics and feel, is a fitting epilogue to that era. The Masterplan closes with the title track, a song that Noel Gallagher considers the best he's ever written. Lavishly produced, with a climactic chorus, it embodies Oasis at their best: it's a feel-good sing-along song.

The album, The Masterplan, represented a look back to the good old days before they set out in a new direction. Be Here Now was the peak of youthful excess, and after The Masterplan, they were ready to grow up and move on to new things. Also, despite being an album of b-sides, it succeeds as a greatest hits compilation beyond the later live album, Familiar To Millions. The Masterplan is worth a look for anyone with even a little more than a passing interest in Oasis.

The Masterplan liner notes Artist Homepage:Oasis

There are a few other b-sides that are worth checking out that do not show up on The Masterplan. On the Japanese Don't Go Away single are Sad Song (also on the vinyl and Japanese CD versions of Definitely Maybe) and the Warchild version of Fade Away (also on a War Child benefit album). The War Child Fade Away in particular is much mellower (and in my opinion, worlds better) than the original, and has Noel singing the lead while Liam takes backing vocals. On the Go Let It Out! single are Let's All Make Believe and (As Long As They've Got) Cigarettes In Hell (I love that title.)

Oasis also has some interesting covers as b-sides. On All Around The World, Oasis cover The Rolling Stones' Street Fighting Man, on D'You Know What I Mean? they do David Bowie's Heroes, and on Who Feels Love? is The Beatles' Helter Skelter.

Yes! Finally level 2!

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