Pretty Green

The (Secret) Best Oasis Album

oasis heathen chemistryLet’s get one thing clear from the start: I am in no way saying that Heathen Chemistry is better than Definitely Maybe or (What’s The Story) Morning Glory; that opening salvo is the Britpop shot heard ‘round the world. Those two records can almost literally not be touched. They will stand the test of time, not just as a testament to the 90’s or Cool Britannia, or whatever, but also as truly great rock and roll albums. I could spend countless pixels and lines talking about those two records, but that’s not what we’re here for; Today’s topic is the criminally underrated Heathen Chemistry.
I will admit that when Chemistry was released, I purchased the record, listened to it once, and then filed it away. I guess I had taken too many supposed young and fresh reviewers opinions as fact. Most dismissed Chemistry as a leaden, by-the-numbers relic released by some Alt-rock dinosaurs. If I remember correctly, at that point in time, most reviewers liked to throw around the term “angular” to describe everything they thought was good at the time. Oasis doesn’t need angles or dance beats, that’s not their game. Anyway, it was filed away with a shrug and sigh. Yeah, that was a dumb move on my part. That’s the secret success of Heathen Chemistry: it germinates. It’s definitely not a first listen type of record, it’s a repeat listen on headphones album.
Heathen Chemistry had a lot of obstacles to overcome from the get go. It was actually the first album recorded by Oasis version two. While the previous record, Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants is considered the birth of the new lineup, it was largely a Gallagher Brothers/Alan White solo effort. New recruits Gem Archer and Andy Bell only played on the subsequent tour. Also, Chemistry was coming off the relative failure of the Giants album, and there were always the brotherly quarrels to deal with in the Oasis camp.
So, Chemistry had to step up and become the new calling card for Oasis. Not really the best time to release a slow grower of an album. However, what seemed to be, at the time, the worst move possible, now looks like a shrewd bit of maneuvering on the band’s part. Heathen Chemistry is the most complete album since Morning Glory. It has more hidden gems and little twists than previously thought.
What Heathen Chemistry does best is showcase Noel Gallagher’s singing voice. Noel tends to be thought of as the McCartney of the Oasis camp. Which means he gets saddled with being thought of as the sappy balladeer. Don’t get me wrong, he writes some damn fine weepers. However, this time around, the elder Gallagher shows off his vocal and arranging skills on the tracks where he takes the lead. “Force of Nature” is a whip-smart indictment of hangers-on and, more than likely, critics. “Little By Little” is an honest-to-God, rafter-reacher. The high note Noel hits on the chorus is hard to hit even in the shower on the best of days. Not to be missed is the pleasant surprise of “She Is Love.” If ever the Macca comparisons were deserved, it’s on this track, and that is great company to keep. It’s upbeat declarations of his lover’s “high and steep” ways wouldn’t be out of place on Sir Paul’s Ram or McCartney albums.
Also, not to be forgotten are the Noel penned tracks that little brother, Liam, heads up. Album opener “The Hindu Times” is an absolute stomper and is a clear indicator of the further move into psychedelia that later Oasis albums would take. That brings us to the standout track on Heathen Chemistry: “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.” Most, if not all, agree that “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is the premiere Oasis torch song, but I have to disagree and go with “Stop Crying.” There is something about this tune that makes me continually reach for my lighter and then for a pocket square to dry my eyes. This ballad is perfect in execution and placement on the album. It’s hard to believe it didn’t do more on the charts or even in the garage-rock obsessed America, at the time. “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” is also one of late-period Liam’s best vocal performances.
That brings us to the rest of the tracks on Heathen Chemistry. Gone are the throw away, faux-blues rockers of Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants(I’m looking at you “Put Yer Money Where Yer Mouth Is) and the coked-out excess of Be Here Now. In their place are tracks like the breezy, Liam penned “Songbird” and the actual stomper of Gem Archer’s “Hung In A Bad Place.” Even the Andy Bell authored instrumental “A Quick Peep,” which has always been seen as a mistake, makes perfect sense in the context of this sleeper of a record.
All in all, Heathen Chemistry is the best representation of Oasis 2.0. Subsequent albums may have performed better on the charts, and may be thought of as “comeback” albums, but it’s time to rewrite the record books. Heathen Chemistry is the comeback underdog that gets little to no love and is generally written off. Those reasons are precisely what makes it the best of the post-Morning Glory records. It has a lot of heart and fight hidden underneath its critically underrated veneer, and that’s what makes all good underdog stories worth revisiting.

I'm a professional cynic, but my heart's not in it.

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