TOP OF THE CLASS
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:22 December 2023
If being dux of the School of Britpop was the masterplan of British rock giants Oasis, by the mid-90s they had aced it. Listed on the honour board in bold, gold letters were two gazillion-selling albums, followed by a third that critics lambasted but which sold 8 million copies*. (Who wouldn’t want to fail like that!)
What exactly is The Masterplan?
And what exactly is a B-side?
When artists put out singles in the first vinyl era they were on 7" records with the main track, or A-side, filling the obverse (lead) side and another song on the back. The B-side. These may have been extra songs recorded during album sessions or something that had been sitting on the shelf for ages. Sometimes B-sides were inferior songs, but not always. The Beatles were rightly praised for the quality of their Bs; just listen to the Past Masters albums. More recently, Crowded House gave very good B-side indeed.
Albums of B-sides were frequently flung together from throw-away tracks, a desperate money grab by a record company alarmed that their cash cow might be ready to go out to pasture (or worse). In the UK, Oasis fans already had at least a few of the singles and knew their quality, while in the US no-one bought CD singles so were ignorant of their very existence. Unsurprisingly, given our cultural history, Australia was somewhere in between.
So is The Masterplan a soulless round-up of random songs not good enough for album release?
The Masterplan is, simply put, a brilliant, carefully curated assembly of some of Oasis’ best work. It isn’t extraneous, it’s essential.
Opening cut "Acquiesce" is the quintessential melding of the talents of singer Liam and brother Noel the songwriter. Liam leads the vocals, before Noel sings the refrain. Because we need each other / We believe in one another. They’re collaborating rather than confronting, joining rather than jousting. It’s a thrilling beginning.
"Underneath The Sky" is classic Oasis; strutting, exhorting, Liam’s nasal voice adding a pleading quality to a crisply structured song. Then a perfect segue into a slower, more wistful song: "Talk Tonight". Acoustic guitars, space to reflect. Is it Liam who Noel wants to talk to?
"Fade Away" is a favourite of this unapologetic Oasis fan. It’s a fast rocker with some McCartney DNA, hiding a wistful undertone. While we’re living / The dreams we have as children fade away. Yes, Noel is channelling The Beatles (doesn’t everyone?) and yes, he adds his own Manchester stamp. Oddly, their live version of "I Am The Walrus" actually drags a bit. Substituting live wattage for studio effects doesn’t add an awful lot to the song, despite the shooting star psychedelic guitar solo. Still, it’s a minor lull and a kind of semi-colon at the end of the first disc.
"Listen Up", the opening song on the second LP, pulses with Rolling Stones swagger. With a double dose of codas it is the longest original in this set. The side concludes with one of Oasis’ strongest songs, period. "Half The World Away" is a simple song that simply catches the heart. Melodic, touching, tender even, its’ strummed guitar and electric piano are perfectly balanced.
That last phrase could easily be applied to this outstanding collection. Kick arse rockers ("Headshrinker"), indelible refrains ("Fade Away"), Beatlesque symphonics ("The Masterplan"), this album tells you all you need to know about what made Oasis great. As Noel conceded in a 2019 interview, “The Masterplan should have been Be Here Now, and Be Here Now should have been a bunch of B-sides.” Go to the top of the class, brother.
* Albums preceding The Masterplan
Definitely Maybe — 1994
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory? — 1995
Be Here Now — 1997
© Bruce Jenkins—December 2023